Tennessee: Salsiccia at Bella Napoli Pizzeria in Nashville

Here’s the situation:

I’m wrapping up a work trip in Chattanooga this morning, and I know there’s a pizza in Nashville waiting for me. I was flying home via Nashville, and it was 8AM and I KNEW that I could make it to get the pizza and still catch my flight. After missing my Little Rock pizza (though I got it back), I didn’t want to find myself losing a pizza opportunity again. I packed my bag, cleaned my hotel room (because I’m a weirdo who can’t leave it for the maid), hopped in my rented Hyundai Sonata, turned the “Eco” button off, and put the pedal to the metal to get to Nashville in time to stop at Bella Napoli Pizzeria. Well, I got there in plenty of time, and I sat in the car for 45 minutes waiting for them to open at 11:00 because I forgot that I was reentering the Central Time Zone. And because Siri is bitch and didn’t update my arrival time until I was back in Central Time. I hate her.

At 10:52, I trekked from the car through the rain to this little neighborhood pizzeria, and I stood there in a tank top in the rain in 50ish degree weather staring at the door. When someone came out and turned the OPEN sign on, I realized how pathetic I was, and to avoid looking even worse, for some reason, I decided to stand there for two more minutes before I walked in, even though I knew I only had 30 minutes to get in, order and eat, and get out. This place  wasn’t what I expected when I saw that the pizza was going to be in Nashville. I expected something in the heart of downtown Nashville with all of the liveliness that is Nashville, but what I got was a quaint little neighborhood pizzeria, and I found myself wishing that I had something like that nearby where I live. It had a great ambiance and feel, and it was tucked so far back from the road, that I would never have found this place without the article to drive me there. Isn’t it quaint?

Tennessee Storefront

If you ever find yourself at this place, ask for Alex. The service was FANTASTIC. Unfortunately, that’s the last good thing I can say, but keep reading… I don’t think it’s Bella Napoli’s fault. Let’s dive in.

From Zagat:

Tennessee- Salsiccia at Bella Napoli Pizzeria in Nashville

Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables, so throw it on your pizza and you’re eating health food, right? Ok, maybe not, but that’s not going to stop us from enjoying the Salsiccia at Nashville’s Bella Napoli Pizzeria, which also features Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella and garlic. They import most ingredients from Italy and list details about them on their site. This isn’t a place with a massive menu or crazy ingredients, but one that has a great assortment of traditional pies.

So that’s exactly what we had… a wood fire (yay again!) pizza with broccoli, garlic, olive oil, and sausage, and mozzarella. Sounds good right? Not even close. First, photo. Then review:

 Tennesee pizza

This is probably the closest that I have come to finding a pizza photo from Zagat that actually matched what I received. That is the only positive thing that I can say about this pizza. I wasn’t all i on the idea of broccoli on a pizza, but I was willing to try it. I was expecting it to be more of the floret part than the stem part though, and my first bite of pizza, I got a big chunk of partially cooked, hard broccoli stem. Also, as I picked up the pizza, it immediately fell limp. There was entirely too much olive olive, too much grease coming off of the sausage, and too much water coming off of the broccoli. How the hell COULD the crust have held up? The garlic was the kind of minced garlic that you can buy from the grocery store in a jar already in water or olive oil, and it was just thrown on the pizza in clumps. I love garlic, but that’s overkill. I could have done with either less garlic or having it all spread out.

So, the pizza was terrible. I ate two pieces to make sure that I tasted everything I needed to, and then left the rest of the $16 pizza. No need trying to get THAT into the airport. All of the horribleness said, I think Zagat just screwed the pooch on picking this pizza. There were plenty of other pizzas on the menu that looked fantastic, but this pizza was just not worth it, and there is NO way this is the best pizza in Tennessee. I’m starting to think a staffer at Zagat just Googled wood fire ovens in every state then picked the strangest pizza off of the menu and called it the best. I BELIEVE that next up will be Florida, where I’ll be eating python on a pizza, but we’ll see!

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Arkansas: Special Pie at Zaza Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza Co. in Little Rock

Between our last excursion to Minneapolis and this next excursion to Little Rock, something pizza-blog worthy happened. Co-Pilot Brandon proposed at sunrise on a beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and of course, I said yes. Well, actually I blurted out a shocked, “Are you sure!?” but you get the point. While I am so happy to be marrying the love of my life, it’s going to put my pizza travels on hold. Brandon and I had planned to take a couple of weeks at Christmas and drive down the east coast and back up the middle-ish of the country to tackle, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and Indiana, but since we decided to get married in Florida on January 3rd, we will have to put our pizza journey  on the back burner for a bit. Don’t worry. We’re going to spend our honeymoon in Italy, and I assure you, I will eat every pizza that I come into contact with during that time. As much as I enjoy talking about my human love, let’s now talk about my pizza love—

I visited Little Rock in May, and I was so tired, that I skipped getting my pizza. I had been on the road for something like 6 or 7 weeks in a row, it was raining, and I was exhausted. I’ve been mad at myself since, so when my client in the Rock asked me to come back, I happily agreed because (A) He fully understands my love for sloths though he thinks I’m weird as hell, and (B) I could have a second shot at the pizza. Our meeting was going to be Monday at 2:00, and I knew I couldn’t waste any time… so I flew in Sunday. I was determined to get this pizza, so before I even checked into the hotel, I had the cab driver take me to Zaza in Little Rock. Of course this caused him to give me a funny look, so I explained that Zaza was alleged to have the best pizza in Little Rock. He quickly told me I was wrong and started telling me where the best pizza was, but I don’t recall what he told me now.

We found the restaurant, and I made the driver give me his cell number  so I could call him to come back and get me since it was Sunday evening in Little Rock, in a non-hopping part of town. I grabbed my carry on and traipsed right into Zaza, bag and all. I wheeled my carry on right over to the bar, then ran to the register to order. DAMN YOU AGAIN, ZAGAT! The special pie changes fairly often… much like the last time I had this issue, I believe in Denver. So this was the special:

Ark Sign

Zagat said to order the special, so I ordered the special… then while I waited, I had to Google was calabresi was….

On we go! Zagat, you’re up!

Arkansas- Special Pie at Zaza Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza Co. in Little Rock

Arkansas-grown wood goes into the oven at Zaza, helping create the thin, slightly charred Neapolitan-style crust the place is known for. Owners use fresh ingredients, many of them imported from Italy and San Marzano tomatoes. Try the special pie, a not-run-of-the-mill combination of those three ingredients plus caramelized onion, cherry tomatoes, lemon, Parmesan and mozzarella. It’s the best of this place’s salad and pizza, combined.

My photo:

Ark Pizza 2

That’s a pretty terrible photo, so I apologize, but have I mentioned that I’m phobic of taking photos of food in public, especially alone?

So, for the special, we had calabresi (though Google tells me it’s spelled calabrese?), green onions, garlic, oregano, Fontina, mozzarella, Parmesan, and caramelized onions. As I sat at the bar (which only holds about 5 people; this isn’t a bar kind of place), a man came in and placed a to go order and sat next to me while he waited for it. I sipped my wine and waited for my pizza to arrive, and when it did, the man asked how it was after I’d eaten a couple of bites. I despise being talked to in restaurants, on airplanes, in airports… anywhere. I have always enjoyed my alone time, and I have no problem going places alone. So when this man asked me how my pizza was, I gave a nonchalant, “It’s okay,” despite that it was actually awesome. “It’s great” or “It’s terrible” might have invited further conversation, and I just wanted to hang by myself and eat my pizza.

So, calabrese… IS AWESOME. It’s perfectly spicy, not too much, not too little… it was just right. (I’ll be the Goldilocks of Spice if I damn well please, thank you.) There’s this place where I’m from in Albany, GA called Gargano’s and my mom always added green olives to our pizza, and I hated it. I love green olives; I love to eat them from the jar; I love them in Bloody Marys, and I really love them stuffed with Bleu cheese in a Ketel 1 Martini, straight up, dry, and dirty, BUT I have always hated them on my pizza. Nope. I was doing it wrong. The saltiness of the olives with the spice of the calabrese and the sweetness of the caramelized onion was nothing short of perfection. The crust was the closest to being perfectly done yet. Sorry Minneapolis, you’ve been booted. (Side note: This was a wood fire oven, yet again. Score!)

The man next to me continued to ask questions (kind of my fault for bringing a suitcase into the place with me), and it turned out that I had just told the owner and chef that his pizza was “ok”. WHOOPS. I explained my pizza blogging, and  he was really nice and asked several questions. I told him where to go read the blog, so Mr. Pizza Chef, if you’re reading, I apologize for telling you that your wonderful pizza was “okay”. He took his food home to his family, but not before telling the staff that my gelato was on him. I’m not a gelato gal (except for the grapefruit stuff in Minneapolis), and I was stuffed after eating all but one piece of my pizza, so I called my new cab-driving friend, and he came back to get me. I had the last piece of pizza wrapped up and I gave it to him, but I’m willing to bet he didn’t eat the leftover pizza from the tiny blonde girl in the cab who demanded his cell phone number and later demanded that he eat cold pizza. Who knows?

One thing that I haven’t pointed out about Zaza, is that it’s full title is Zaza’s Fine Salad + Wood Fire Pizza Oven Co. This is probably the only time that I’ve ever eyeballed a salad bar and thought that I may want it instead of the pizza. My clients also told me the next day that their gelato is the best, and I’m an idiot for passing on it. So if you find yourself in Little Rock, Arkansas, make Zaza a stop no matter what you want from pizza to salad to sweets!

Minnesota: The Forager at Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis

Yet again I’ve been fortunate enough to have a trip coincide with pizza-time! Co-pilot Brandon’s coworker, Mary, just got married in Minneapolis, and with a pizza on the list there, we couldn’t miss out!

Brandon and I packed the car and got ready for a 5 hour drive to the Twin Cities, with time built in pizza before the wedding! The only hitch to that was that about 3.5 hours into the trip, Brandon looked at me, and said, “Do you know what I forgot?” Yup. Brandon forgot his CLOTHES. So built in pizza time became “Man, we gotta get there and scarf this pizza!”. It actually wasn’t that bad. So upon walking up to the restaurant, I see this sign:

Minnesota Sign

 

Of course I fell in love with it, as I rather obviously love pizza. Their quirky charm continued to get to me, as we ordered and they brought our plates. Not a single plate in the restaurant matched, and they were all pretty tacky.

Minnesota Plate

So Brandon and I ordered (he had to have a pizza with an egg on it, of course)—and our pizzas came right out! (That’s one of my favorites things about using a wood fire grill, like Pizzeria Lola does, is how quickly it cooks.

As always, let’s start with Zagat’s photo and review:

Minnesota- The Forager at Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis

If you head to Minneapolis’ Pizzeria Lola, you can find some of the best and most unique pizzas around. So it stands to reason that even though owner Ann Kim is Korean, she would find a way to create a pie that pays homage to the Scandinavian side of the state. Hence, The Forager pizza, a wood-fired pie topped with an array of mushrooms including crimini, shiitake and portabella, as well as truffle oil, tarragon, taleggio and fontina cheese. Okay, so the ingredients aren’t actually foraged in the wilds of Minnesota, but we imagine if any of the iconic Norse chefs came here and wanted to make a locally harvested pizza, it would taste a lot like this.

My turn!

Pizza

Slice

Despite that being NOT A PHOTO OF THE PIZZA AT ALL, ZAGAT!!! this pizza was fantastic. It was very similar to Mellow Mushroom’s Holy Shiitake which I still claim in the best pizza on the list. Mellow’s crust is thicker, which I normally wouldn’t like, but Mellow’s crust is the best. It was still a clear #2 best pizza so far though. The mushrooms were done perfectly. When you think of a Pizza Hut or Domino’s style mushroom, you think of a raw mushroom that has been tossed on and is dried out and hardly tasty. These mushrooms were sauteed beforehand, and they were absolutely perfect. I’m finding more and more that a wood fire crust is hard to perfect. Either the edges have black bubbles or the middle is too soggy and won’t stand on its own as a pizza slice should. This was the closest to perfect that I’ve had yet. There was a little sog, but nothing like it could have been with all of the weight and moisture from spinach, mushrooms, and olive oil.

Brandon gave a rave review of his pizza also, and we both ate our entire pizzas before Brandon ordered a build-your-own ice cream sandwich, and I had the most incredible grapefruit sorbet. I wasn’t sure how grapefruit would play into dessert, and it was perfect. I’m not a huge fan of sweet things, so this was perfect.  Overall, this place beats the pants off of Mellow Mushroom for ambiance and other menu variety, but pizza to pizza, the Holy Shiitake is still number one.

Wisconsin: Green and Gold Pizza at Wild Tomato

I am incredibly indecisive which often leads to me being very impulsive.  It normally takes me forever to make a decision, but once I make one, I stick to it. One Saturday afternoon, while Co-Pilot Brandon and I were playing a game of “Let’s get ready to go to the gym,” “Ok,” every 25 minutes, I looked at Brandon and said, “Let’s go get my Wisconsin pizza tonight!” We made a deal that we would go to the gym first, but after that, we would drive 3 hours north to Fish Creek, Wisconsin to go eat the Green and Gold Pizza.

I learned my lesson after Alabama. I stopped what I was doing and CALLED the restaurant to make sure that they were (A) Open ,(B) Were indeed going to be able to make the Green and Gold pizza tonight (that question was met with an, “Uhhh, yeah,” so I’m sure at this point the poor girl was wondering what kind of whack job was on the phone, and (C) I wanted to know if the mutt could come with us. All three questions were answered and there was just a trip to the gym standing between me and pizza! We actually went to the gym (YAY, US!), and then we loaded up the mutt and were Fish Creek bound!

Anywhere named Fish Creek, I expected to be a hole in the wall, po-dunk town, but I could not have been more wrong. It was like Wisconsin’s own little Hilton Head Island, add a lake and subtract an ocean. It was filled with people, shops, and restaurants! We found Wild Tomato, and settled in for what it looked like was going to be a really long wait. After about 30 minutes, Brandon, mutt, and I were taken to an outdoor area where V (mutt) let all of our table neighbors know that she would be open to treats.

This is the first pizza that Brandon and I actually shared. Normally there is usually something on mine that he dislikes (normally a vegetable), but this one, well, I’ll let Zagat tell you:

Wisconsin- Green and Gold Pizza at Wild Tomato

 

“As you may have heard, Wisconsin makes some of the best cheese in the country. They’re so well known for it that residents are called cheeseheads and fans of their football team wear cheese hats at games. One of Wild Tomato’s pizzas is an homage to that team (the Green Bay Packers) – the Green and Gold has roasted chicken, bacon, grilled broccoli, spinach and real Wisconsin cheese curds on top. Be sure to follow their advice: “Ask for some ranch for dipping to be a true fan.”

First of all, ZAGAT-What an awful photo. Shame on you. Now, on to the pizza. It is true that Wisconsinites are OBSESSED with cheese. The first time I went to Wisconsin to visit Brandon and we went to a grocery store, I was in awe of the cheese aisle. Back to pizza…

Here are my photos… Well–Here are Brandon’s photos. Since I am terrified of photographing my food, my sweet, sweet co-pilot did it for me.

Wisconin Slice

Wisconsin Whole

 

I did take the advice from the Zagat article, which was actually written on the menu too, and I ordered a side of ranch with it. The idea of putting cheese curds on a pizza was absolutely unique, but it didn’t really add much. As soon as they started to cool, they became more of a hard gooey pain in the butt than anything else. Bacon, Spinach, and Chicken are all great pizza toppings, and though they suggested that I add the ranch, and I did… If you have to create a pizza that needs to be dunked in something, I can’t say it’s the best pizza you can make. Maybe adding a swirl of ranch would have made me happier, but all-in-all, it was pizza with cheese curds on it. I’ll take pretty much anything from Toppers Pizza in Milwaukee over this one any day.

 

Alabama: Margherita Pie at Bottega Cafe in Birmingham

When my flight landed in Birmingham, I was really excited to get a chance to take down my Alabama pizza and to get to do so with my cousin, Jamie, and his wife, Catherine. I saw Jamie back in June in Kentucky, and I told him about my odd pizza excursion, but he didn’t share this information with his wife, so I;m sure seemed like a nut job during my group text when I tried telling her that we had to go to Bottega Cafe to get “my pizza”. 

With the arguable exception of South Carolina, all of these pizza places have been pretty casual. I’m a huge fan of dive bars and hole in the wall restaurants, because they have the BEST food. (Side Note: If you ever find yourself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin–you MUST visit 4th Base. It’s a dive bar with maybe 10 tables that serves gourmet food that you pick out of a cooler, and the cooks prepare it, well… however they damn well please. They’ll accept some direction from you, but trust me–just let them do their thing.)

When I sent Catherine a text that I wanted to go to Bottega Cafe for dinner, she told me that it was actually closed on Mondays. Seriously—I HAVE to learn to call ahead about these things. In January, luckily I looked at the website before driving 3.5 hours to go to Fish Creek, WI to a pizzeria that is closed about 4 months out of the year.

So Bottega was closed, but I did have a wonderful evening with the at a great little pub near their house. The next day, I arrived at the television station that I would be working at all week. Their GSM actually asked me if I wanted to have dinner or if I wanted to just go back to my hotel and do work. I travel so much now, that it was actually greatly appreciated that he asked, because there are a lot of long days where I do just want to go home, but I was on a pizza MISSION. I immediately responded, “Sure! If I can pick the place…” which seemed to throw him off, but after I explained my pizza blog, he even checked and said that we could go for lunch in just a couple of hours. 

When I mentioned to Jamie and Catherine the night before that I was going to go to Bottega for a pizza, they explained to me that it really wasn’t a pizza type of place. Their direction was that I was going to be pretty upset if I got there and saw the menu and realized I had to order pizza. I have a feeling if I had gone for dinner, I would have felt the pain, because lunch was tough enough. My new friends/co-pilots/clients Wayne and Anthony each had the crab cake lunch special, and it was all I could do not to knock them down and steal their crab cakes. 

Upon walking in I immediately recognized the wood-fire grill, and I started taking mental notes. Remembering all my knowledge gained from my NYC Pizza Tour, I thought back to the wood fire over there, and what I learned about them. (A) They’re freaking hot. (B) They cook quickly. (C) I remembered the crust. 

Bottega was a pretty non-diverse lunch crowd.,, professionals in suits and women with blonde curled hair who look like “ladies who lunch”. I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle, as I refuse to give up my blonde locks. 

When the pizza came, I was pretty excited. It was a reasonable size for one person. I could have finished it all, but I didn’t. I, again, explained to my co-pilots that I swear I don’t always take pictures of my food, but before we get to my photos, let’s look at Zagat’s photo and review:

Alabama

You can find some seriously respectable wood-fired pies at Frank Stitt’s Bottega Cafe in Birmingham. While varieties like smoked salmon with capers, red onion and mascarpone or the shrimp with guanciale, habaneros and sultana raisins are out of the ordinary, the classic Margherita pie is our favorite go-to. 

 

Now here’s my photo:

Alabama Real

Come on, Zagat… Is that even a pizza from Bottega? I can see how maybe the basil is just shredded differently, but those aren’t even the same tomatoes. The Zagat photo looks like nice sliced tomatoes. Mine were all mushy, and might I add EXCELLENT. the tomatoes made the pizza. They may have come from a can, but they had a nice, fresh taste to them, and they’d been marinated in something delicious. You can see that the crust was a little overdone, but you wouldn’t be able to tell in the “body” of the pizza. In fact, the “body” seemed gummy and possibly overdone. Two things may be happening here: One-Old dough, just tossed dough, non-homemade dough -OR- Two: Pizza oven operator needs a less in pizza oven operating. All in all, it wasn’t a bad pizza, but there’s no way that it’s the best in Alabama. I get that there’s a lovely chef name on the door, and he must be friends with someone at Zagat, but I’d give this pizza a 6.5 out of 10. There’s nothing horribly wrong with it, but I won’t be craving it or sending people to get it. It was nothing better or worse than a margherita pizza. 

I need Zagat to step this game up. I’m over mediocre pizzas. 

 

Michigan: Detroit-Style Pizza at Buddy’s Restaurant, Auburn Hills, MI

Thursday, May 15th, my flight landed in Chicago, and I scampered outside around 8:00PM to hop in the car with Co-Pilot Brandon and Co-Pilot Viona the mutt, and we were Flint, Michigan bound. 5 hours later, we wandered into a house that I’d never been in, and we were promptly greeted by this guy!

Michigan-Reggie

It was around 2AM, so Reggie (above) was in his crate, and Brandon was adamant that I not let him out. For once, I complied with his wishes. The next morning, I was allowed to free Reggie from his crate, and he promptly thanked me showing me his gratitude and enthusiasm by pissing all over my feet. Brandon quickly said he must need to go outside and volunteered to take him, which I thought was sweet until I realized that he was sticking me with cleaning up the Yellow River of China.

On to the journey—

Brandon is from Flint, Michigan, so we were there for him to see his family, and for me to meet them for the first time. I recently saw an article naming the 10 Most Dangerous Cities in the US, in the categories of small, medium, and large cities. My hometown of Albany, Georgia made the small list; Brandon’s Flint made the medium, and my new home of Milwaukee made the large cities. Apparently we’re #&$*%@& SURVIVORS.

Anyway– While we were there, we stayed with his friends Mike and Rachel and their two sweet boys. Explaining my pizza journey to others, especially those I don’t know, is always uncomfortable for me, but luckily, with two boys, Mike and Rachel were completely down for Friday night pizza dinner. I didn’t meet Mike and Rachel until the next day. We all went to grab a drink at happy hour, and then Co-Pilot Brandon and I went to get the pizza. Buddy’s Pizza has several locations all over the state of Michigan, and I was lucky enough that there was one in Auburn Hills, Michigan, just 20-ish minutes from their house.

I called in the pizza, and Brandon and I set off to go pick it up. This was one of those damn-you-Zagat-for-being-so-vague-moments, as this is the only direction I had from the article:

“What exactly is Detroit-style pizza? Well, it’s square, deep-dish and features the sauce atop the cheese and other toppings in healthy blotches. We realize many of you NY-style pizza fans may be cringing at this point, but the pies at Buddy’s are truly delicious. The rich, buttery, but not too heavy crust is perfectly crispy and chewy, and the sauce is the perfect balance of sweet and savory. If you happen to be in the Detroit Metro area, you should give these Midwestern pies a whirl.”

Well, thanks Zagat. My go-to pizza is pepperoni and jalapenos, but given that I’m the only person who likes to sweat when I eat, we went for a cheese pizza and a pepperoni pizza (with a container of jalapenos on the side for my fire-breathing purposes). I start humming with energy when I get near my pizzas. I get excited. I get nervous. It’s almost like I’m meeting  a Match.com date, and I’m worried that they won’t live up to their profile… I’m also worrying this opposite… What if they don’t like me?? I know this is ridiculous, but have we met? I’m not exactly normal. You should see what happens with sloths at the zoo! I digress…

As I approached the pizza that I knew was waiting just for me, I took this candid shot. As you well know at this point, I hate taking photos of my food in public because I just know others are judging me and wondering what the little blonde girl is going to hashtag her #yums. I did it anyway:

Michigan-Boxes

The boxes alone were promising! Look at that!! Look at all of those awards!! After riding in the car for 20 minutes with the wonderful pizza warmth in my lap, I was ready to get down to business and do the damn thing. I had my almighty pizza conquering face on, and Detroit was going down… Too soon?

We enter the house with Co-Pilot Brandon carrying the pizza because, well, I spill. As soon as we walked into the house, Mike and Rachel’s youngest also came running and took a spill. Out of nowhere, a maternal instinct came out, terrifying me to my core, as I scooped up this child who had just eaten in right in front of my feet, and I told him he was fine. He hugged me, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be best friends for life. Well, definitely were for the rest of the weekend, but I’m sure we’ll make it in the long-run.

Boo-boos were avoided and it was pizza time. Let’s check out Zagat’s:

Michigan- Detroit-Style Pizza at Buddy's Restaurant, Multiple Locations

WAY TO GO ZAGAT! You have finally posted a photo of what my pizza will realistically look like when I get it. I was starting to feel like I do every time I leave the Taco Bell drive-thru expecting a massive new burrito concoction and it’s the size of my palm. I have a love-hate relationship with Taco Bell (just like the rest of America), but this isn’t the place for that.

Now my matching photo!

Michigan-Open Box

Mine was smaller, but that’s the closest to accurate that we’ve seen yet. We all dug-in in shifts, and I have to say it was a pretty darn good pizza. It’s no 10 on the food scale, but the CSR was good. What’s the CSR? Well, I’m so very glad you asked. I recently took a pizza TOUR. Yup. A pizza TOUR in New York City, where I met Scott Weiner, “Pizza Enthusiast” and he taught me more than I ever thought I could know about pizza.

So, CSR… Cheese to Sauce Ratio. So many places mess this up! When you have a thick, fluffy pizza like this, it’s hard to get the right amount of sauce and still get the crust to be crisp and the dough and cheese to be fluffy. Buddy’s NAILED it by adding those big heaps of marinara sauce on top. This is the perfect pizza for a family takeout Friday like that night or for a football game or other sports gathering (though I don’t know why anyone would gather for anything but football, but whatever). It’s also a great late-night pizza, which we all quickly found out after a bonfire night and a few adult beverages. It was amazing how the extra slices hanging out on the counter disappeared one by one until we all finally admitted sneaking “a slice or two” when going inside for refills.

Perfect pizza for a night in!

Oklahoma: Paradise Pie at Hideaway Pizza: Tulsa

I have to say when I started this journey, and I didn’t think that Oklahoma would be a state that I made it to this year, but my job let me right to the door of Hideaway Pizza in Tulsa. 

I now travel a lot for work, and I have always been really comfortable eating alone. However, on this particular pizza journey, I had an unexpected co-pilot. I was working with a fabulous television station in Tulsa for the week, and when we were wrapping up the day, we were at that awkward part of the evening, where the television folks have to figure out what to do with me. I explained that I instead of being dropped at my hotel, if I could be dropped at Hideaway Pizza, that would be perfect, and I would take a cab back to the hotel. Gay, an account executive for the television station, offered not only to drop me off, but to have dinner with me as well. After an awkward round of, “only if you want to”s and “I don’t want you to eat alone”s… It was decided that Gay would accompany me. 

Gay is much older than me, and I wasn’t sure that we were going to have a lot to talk about… In fact, I worried it would be excruciating. As I was hopping out of Gay’s car, I spotted a book on tape in the side pocket of her car… It was, “The Secret”. The same book had been given to me during a time when my best friend was dying of cancer. When we were inside and seated, I asked Gay about the book in her car. We spent the rest of the evening with tons to talk about, and I am so thankful to walk away with Gay as a friend now. 

If you haven’t read “The Secret”, do so. It’s a wonderful book all about the power of positive thinking, and Gay told me all about how it changed her life. I remembered reading the book and the positive effects it had on me as well, and I was able to walk away with not only another pizza down, but a renewed outlook on life. 

Now on the to pizza! 

There are multiple Hideaway Pizzas in Oklahoma, and I was fortunate enough that there was one in Tulsa, where I was spending the week. Hideaway Pizza reminded me a lot of Beau Jo’s in Colorado. We were there early (before 6pm), so there wasn’t a lot happening. Older couples and younger families were scattered at tables around us. 

I’ll let the cover of the menu speak for itself: 

Tulsa Hideaway Photo

If you’re a Spongebob Squarepants fan, I think this guy would fit into the intro to the show very well. 

The menu was packed with subs and pizzas, salads and cheesesticks, all the makings for the perfect pizza place… and I spotted it. My pizza. The one I was here for… 

Tulsa Menu

As usual, let’s see what Zagat had to say about it:

“Oklahomans have been swearing by these Hawaiian-themed joints since the 1950s, and no pie is more emblematic of the Kahuna (the pizzeria’s mascot) than the Paradise Pie, topped with alfredo sauce, mozzarella and smoked provolone cheese, garlic chicken, smoked bacon, fresh sliced mushrooms, fresh spinach and diced Roma tomatoes.”

 

Now, let me be the first to tell you that Oklahomans repeatedly told me that I was going to the wrong place if I wanted the best pizza in Oklahoma. In fact, they all told me that the best pizza was at Joe Mamma’s, so don’t take Zagat’s word on this one… Here’s Zagat’s photo of what they claim to be the best ZA in OK. 

Oklahoma- Paradise Pie at Hideaway Pizza, Multiple Locations

 

And here’s mine:

Tulsa Real Pizza

 

Let me start by telling you that I am biased against the sauce… Alfredo does not belong on a pizza. It belongs in pasta. This pizza was a 3.5 on a scale of 10. The cheese was store bought and stringy. The chicken tasted like it was heated from a frozen bag, and the crust bubbled in all of the wrong places. My best guess is that it came from a gas oven and was thrown together. The bite was gummy, telling me that the dough wasnot made in house, was too new, or was too old. I ate the pizza. Don’t get me wrong, I ate all but two slices of it (Gay had one and took the other home). The bacon was clumped and not evenly distributed (the same may be said of all of the other toppings as well). As I already mentioned, I’m not a huge fan of an Alfredo fan to begin with, on a pizza that is. This took the cake of bad Alfredo sauces. Everything about this pizza tasted like it came from a jar or a frozen bag. 

In short, the only thing I enjoyed about this pizza was the company of my new friend, Gay. If you’re visiting Oklahoma, take the advice of the locals, and seek out Joe Mamma’s, because Hideaway Pizza needs to stay hidden. 

 

 

Colorado: Mountain Pizza at Beau Jo’s Pizza in Arvada

Were you thinking I would make it through the month of March without a pizza update? Thinking I abandoned my blog? Nope. Just a had a lot going on. Specifically, switching jobs. So I know I said that Fish Creek, WI would be next, but I really just need to stop declaring what’s next. I was going to try to make it to Fish Creek on my last trip, but my new job will allow me to spend a lot more time in Milwaukee, so there was no need to rush that one. Instead, I’m out at my new company’s home office just outside of Denver in Westminster, Colorado.

So, I took this new job for personal reasons, as I loved my old company dearly, but it wasn’t long after accepting the job that I realized what this meant. I now cover over 10 states… which means I have access to MORE PIZZAS! Today, I’m on my 3rd day with a great new company, and I’m having to explain to my new coworker why we have to go eat pizza tonight. It went something like this:

Elizabeth: Let me know if you want to get together for dinner tonight.

Ashley: [Awkwardly staring at feet…] Well… um… this is going to sound weird, but Zagat posted an article about the 50 best pizzas, one in each state, and I’m trying to eat my way through them. There’s one close to here, so I was going to go tonight. You are more than welcome to join, but I understand if you don’t.

Elizabeth: Awesome! Let’s do it!

I think we’re going to get along just fine.

So around 6PM, Co-pilot Elizabeth and I Uber’ed on over for the 7.4 mile and $84 ride to Beau Jo’s in Arvada. Now, let me paint the picture for you here. Beau Jo’s might just be the most redneck place in Colorado, and trust me… I know redneck. This place was filled with the same clientele that would frequent the Pizza Hut buffet in my hometown. Little League teams, senior citizens, families… This was the CiCi’s Pizza of Colorado. That said, the pizza was much better. Since Elizabeth and I just met this past Monday, I won’t give her the hell that I generally give my co-pilots. She was perfectly well behaved, and the bulk of the conversation centered around work. So… The menu… I wasn’t quite sure what I was walking into with this pizza, because the description was so vague. I’m pretty darn sure at this point that Zagat did no homework on this list of 50 pizzas. I think it was some staff writer who posted to his (or her) Facebook page for everyone they know in each state to post a pizza. Any pizza. Damn you, Zagat… if this blog ever gets traction, I’m going to ask to see the research on this. Here I am committed to running all over the country to chase down your pizzas and this is what I get? A build-your-own-pizza? What am I supposed to build!? Not wanting to seem like a whiny little thing, As I’m clearly confused, I asked the waitress if she knew about the Zagat pizza. Of course not. Why, because this was the description (and obligatory photo post from Zagat):

Colorado Real

 

In a land where everyone stereotypically skies, hikes, snowboards and goes white-water rafting, it’s only fitting that Colorado’s iconic pizza isn’t a thin, plain slice but rather a hearty, deep-dish pie filled with energy-giving ingredients. The hand-rolled thick crust – choose between honey white, honey wheat or gluten-free – nicely contains the filling, and any leftovers make a nice dessert when dipped in honey. First choose your sauce – homemade standard red sauce, pork green chile, ranch dressing or even fresh salsa. Next, pick as many topping as you want, with options including turkey pepperoni, red-hot chicken, green chiles, three types of olives, ricotta, feta and even Swiss. Even if some of the additions sound strange, Beau Jo’s must have had the right idea because now they have seven statewide locations, all selling these filling pies

As much complaining as I have done, I actually figured out what they were telling me to do, and my pizza was awesome. #3 thus far. In case you were wondering… Georgia’s is 1, Kentucky’s is 2, Colorado (this one) is #3, South Carolina is #4, and Chicago is #5… be default. I’m going to go ahead and bet that Chicago ends up somewhere between #40-50.

Colorado Real

So here’s the deal. Pick your crust. Pick your toppings. Pick your cheese. I chose Mountain Hand-Rolled Thick Crust-Honey White, with the Beau Jo’s sauce (red sauce) with turkey pepperoni, red-hot chicken,  and pepperoncini topped with Swiss cheese.  It was great. My ruffled feathers aren’t over the pizza. It really was great, but rather the lack of direction here. The pizza is really, really doughy, so I ordered a side of marinara (different from—and better than—the Beau Jo’s sauce). I’m not a sweet eater, so the honey thing wasn’t up my alley, but I am sure if you are, the crust was excellent. It was quite similar to a Mellow Mushroom crust with the thick dough. All in all, a great pizza and a great choice, but I’m disappointed in Zagat’s lack of direction. If you’re looking for atmosphere and menu cohesion, skip this one, but if you want a darn good slice of pizza, do it!!

Next up: Fish Creek, WI. Let’s see if this happens like I say it will.

 

South Carolina: Vanwall Special in Charleston

It had been two weeks since my Kentucky incident pizza excursion, and it was time to take down a pizza closer to home. Yet again, Co-pilot Brandon was in for this one. I’m starting to notice that when there’s food involved, he’s down like Mississippi’s SAT scores. Brandon was in Savannah for the weekend, but having lived in the Carolinas for several years, he still has friends there. Two of those friends just welcomed their first child into the world in Charleston, so we killed two birds with one stone. Brandon got to welcome his new buddy, and I got to consume my South Carolina pizza.

Forgoing a Saturday morning sleep in, we made a Starbucks run for my morning latte and two Artisan breakfast sandwiches and hit the road. After jumping off of I-95, it was time for a pit stop, and where did we just happen to pull into but a curb store with a TCBY? Again the jokes of, “Haha, let’s eat fro-yo at 10AM!” turned into the reality of us eating frozen yogurt at 10AM. Always with the food.

After visiting with Brandon’s friends, I was just in a good mood to have been around two people who are just happy and excited. New parents always terrify me, because you never know what you’re going to get. However, I am driven by my hunger. If I’m hungry, don’t even bother talking to me. You could offer me free designer handbags, and unless there were hotdogs in them, I wouldn’t be happy.

This was my third trip to Charleston (ever), and I was starting to get the layout of the city. We were looking for Monza on King Street, and since we’re in the low tide of tourist season right now, it was easy to find a spot relatively close to the restaurant. As we were walking in, I noticed that there was an article on the door. Wait… wait… It wasn’t just an article. It was a Zagat article. A Zagat article about… you guessed it… the 50 best pizzas in each state. FINALLY. I was surprised that more of the places I’ve been haven’t been boasting this! However, I did, in true woman fashion, proceed to analyze why this might be. All of the other places I’ve been have multiple locations, so it probably wasn’t the same as Monza who, as far as I can tell, only has the one location. Either way, pure excitement rushed over me that I wasn’t the only person in the world paying attention to this list.

South Carolina 2

 The restaurant have a very cool modern yet quaint atmosphere, and there’s a bar you can sit at that overlooks a giant wood fire pizza oven, where you can watch the cooks toss dough, assemble toppings, and slide pizzas into a fire that would surely mean the loss of a limb if I were to try to do that. Brandon picked a pizza and his toppings, then ran back to feed the meter, leaving me with the terrifying task of ordering for him. No, no, no… It couldn’t be something on the menu, he had to build his own. I repeated the order in my head over and over until I was distracted by something on the menu. You could have a sunny-side-up egg cracked atop your pizza if you felt so inclined. I have the rule of not altering the Zagat pizzas, so I couldn’t do it to mine, but I did add it to his. Ladies, if you’re ever going to take this kind of risk with a man’s food order, you better be really sure when you do it. The waitress came, I ordered his pizza (with egg! HA!) and then ordered the Vanwall Special for myself.

So here’s Zagat’s photo and review:

South Carolina- Vanwall Special at Monza in Charleston

Named after a legendary Italian raceway, Monza’s racecar theme may not be the classic Italian atmosphere of most pizzerias, but there’s no doubt they take their pies seriously. The Neapolitan pies feature locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, and a good part of their appeal lies in the crust. The dough is made with imported San Felice wheat flour and natural Neapolitan yeast, then wood-fired at 1,000 degrees. The Vanwall Special features local white shrimp, pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes, and you can taste all that attention to detail.

Now here’s mine… and remember that I have a fear of being seen taking photos of my food in public, so they’re likely never going to be GREAT photos.

South Carolina

There’s some good, some bad, and some ugly to this pizza. The Good: It was awesome. The crust was perfectly done, the flavors all tied together well. The Bad: There were only 8 shrimp on it, but they were at least large. However, it’s almost impossible to get a good bite of pizza and shrimp. I ended up just picking the shrimp off and eating them separately. I’m sure they have to be large not to over-cook in the oven, but there has to be some sort of compromise here. I wanted the shrimp flavor to tie in, not be picked off. The Ugly: Brandon’s pizza was so much better than mine, and the egg (which he was indeed thrilled about) made the pizza. It makes me all the more excited to eventually get to the Sunny Side Up Pizza in Cleveland.

All-in-all VERY cool atmosphere. It would probably be a great first date spot. It’s nice enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a pizza joint, but not fancy enough to be considered even close to upscale. Go. Try it. ADD THE EGG!! Next up: Fish Creek, Wisconsin

 

Kentucky: Meats Pizza in Louisville

Are you keeping track? I said Charleston was next. I (unintentionally) lied.

Ladies, listen up… As most of you may already know… at some point, you might lose your mind and do something ridiculous. This was new experience for me, but 48 hours ago, that is indeed what I did.

This past Monday, I came home from Wisconsin. I settled in and got ready to take on my solid two weeks of solitude in Savannah, when on Friday afternoon, I completely lost my mind. I was leaving my office, on my way to the gym, when I saw that my fuel tank was empty. I pulled over to fill up, and I thought it was a shame that I wasn’t going anywhere for the weekend, and I was getting a little stir crazy in Savannah… so, at 5:45pm, like a normal person I turned right onto I-16 and went to the gym, I turned left onto I-16 and drove 658 miles and 10 hours to Louisville, Kentucky. Folks, I didn’t have a bag packed. I didn’t have a jacket. I didn’t check the weather. I didn’t do anything that a sane person would do. (Let’s note here that my apartment is 6 miles from where I work, but that the time, that seemed so far away, and I felt in my bones that I needed to go to Louisville, Kentucky.)

Do you know the rule of how women lie? Whatever we tell you, you can multiply it by two then add two to get the truth. Now… remember the rule. Men, it will be important to you for the rest of your lives. (“I ordered wings for lunch, but they were fatty so I only ate 4.” That means 10. “I’m going out with the girls, but I’m only going to have 1 drink.” Four. She’s going to have four drinks.) Guys and gals, remember the rule for this next statement: On my way to Kentucky, I may have lost my mind even further and spent the bulk of it crying, but I mean… only like twice. Remember co-pilot Brandon from the Chicago pizza? He may have gotten to be on the receiving end of two of those. Lucky guy.

In case you couldn’t tell, I have some ties to Kentucky. Growing up, I spent a lot of holidays there, and from November of 2012 until this past July, I called it home before moving to Savannah. So, I have a group of friends there, who were not expecting me, but very graciously agreed to go tackle a pizza with me that Saturday night. So, let’s fast-forward to the next day, where I actually tackle pizza. Co-pilot Brandon and I head out to meet our new co-pilots at Impellizzeri’s Pizza on Bardstown Road in Louisville. (Did y’all catch that? Yeah, Brandon didn’t know he was coming to Kentucky either, but like a champ, he rolled in around 1PM on Saturday after battling Snowmageddon for 9 hours from Milwaukee through Chicago and Indianapolis to Louisville.) We met our new co-pilots Tara, her two awesome daughters, and my friends Chris, Kara, and Katie. I called ahead since we were going to have a party of 8, but they told me that they wouldn’t take it. However, upon arrival, they saw that we had a large party and two little ones with us, and our 45 minute wait, magically became only about 20 minutes.

I’ve discovered at this point that I panic when I pick up the menu to find the pizza that I’ll be ordering. What if it isn’t there? What if they don’t make it anymore? What if I have to look like an idiot and explain to the server that I just drove 10 hours to eat this pizza, and I don’t care if it isn’t on the menu, they are damn well going to make it for me? I pulled out the menu and began anxiously searching for my pizza. Bingo. There it was. Crisis averted.

One thing I’ve learned so far through my pizza journey is that I am not a picky eater. However, everyone else I know seems to be. Carla, from the Georgia pizza, as you may recall won’t eat iceberg lettuce. Brandon won’t eat tomatoes or onions. Carrie and Gina don’t eat meat. I eat all of these things. I like all of these things (in fact, I like all of them together). So, when there is a pizza on the menu that I actually get to share with the person I’m with, that’s kind of awesome! Well, Impellizerri’s had (almost) just that. See Zagat’s photo and review below:

Kentucky- Meats Pizza at Impellizeri's in Louisville

Impellizeri’s makes its pizzas with two layers of toppings and two layers of cheese, and for that fact alone we understand why it’s so popular. It applies the “you can’t have too much of a good thing” mentality to its meats pizza, topped with pepperoni, homemade Italian sausage, ham, bacon and housemade meatballs. Here’s hoping all that meat doesn’t flop off when you pick it up.

Now, on to MY photo and review:

Kentucky 2

Now, you have to specify when you order the Meats Pizza that you want it Sicilian style. It’s an extra $2, and it’s worth an extra $20 easily. This monster of a pizza was eight slices, of which I could only take down one.  If you read this blog, I’m assuming that you know me and that you know that I’m 5’3″ and 115 pounds… however… I can decimate a Thanksgiving spread before you’ve even figured out how to arrange your plate. It might not by my most attractive quality, but hey… I assure you, I have more appealing attributes. However, on this trip, I was fortunate enough to have Brandon and Chris along, and together, they allow me to talk trash to almost anyone I desire in a 60 mile radius. In fact, I can pick fights with perfect strangers then run and go hide behind the two of them and get away with it. (To date, I’ve yet to do more than use them as guiding beacons through Oaks/Derby.)

One of my self-written rules for this pizza journey is that I cannot change anything about how the pizza is supposed to be ordered. It MUST come exactly as described by Zagat. So, if I had my choice, this pizza would have come sans sausage, but as that is now how it came on the menu, I didn’t get my way… and since I was sharing with Brandon and Chris, I’m pretty sure that I would have been outvoted on removing a meat from the Meats Pizza anyway.

Long story short, this pizza was fantastic, but it was so loaded down with meat and cheese, there wasn’t a lot of sauce. I ordered a side of marinara, and it made it pretty close to perfect. If it wouldn’t have had the sausage, I would have called it perfect. Co-pilot Brandon, however, deemed it the best pizza that he’s ever had, so if you like the meaty pizzas, this one is for you!  I made it through my one slice, Brandon and Chris each had 3, and one went home with Chris and Kara.

Next up, hopefully for real this time… Charleston, South Carolina.