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:
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:
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.