Thursday, March 16, 2017

Fort Worth Spring Break Adventures: Pizza Snob

I wasn't even trying to go for pizza this time. We had an unexpected lunch to ourselves (the kids were off to the botanical garden to feed the fish) and I've been craving Smashburger. The Austin and Waco locations recently closed, but I was hopeful for the Fort Worth location. It was closed. The natural course of things, therefore, was more pizza.

Pizza Snob

The first thing we noticed when entering Pizza Snob is that the layout and menu emphasize build-your-own pizzas. Build-your-own-pizza as an option is a business giving you enough culinary rope to hang yourself. The more toppings, the more non-standard the toppings, the more likely you are to end up with a mess. Pizza Snob only allows 4 toppings on a pizza, so they are doing their part to prevent pizza abominations (though I'm sure the practical concerns of an overloaded pizza are also in play), but with options like potstickers and salsa verde there are bound to be both stinkers and flavor symphonies coming off of the line.

We opted for one "novelty" pizza and one standard. I confess that I am not a very good follower of my own rules. At any new pizzeria I like to try a standby (like a margherita, marinera, or pepperoni pie) and a "specialty". For the latter, I like whatever seems to be unique to that pizzeria. Pizza Snob seems obsessed with its alfredo sauce and I just couldn't bring myself to order it. I am a biased woman and I don't want cream, mayonnaise, ranch sauce, or alfredo gumming up my pizza. If I were a local, I'd eventually give it a try, but I'm not risking it on a vacation when there are more reliably edible options.

Which brings us to the pizza pictured above... the "Thai Potsticker". I loved everything Thai on it and could have done without the potstickers. It had Asiago, smoked mozzarella and smoked provolone cheeses, garlic chicken sausage, sweet chili sauce, cilantro and “Hot” honey in addition to the potstickers. The cheese was greasy and salty, cut by the sweet and spiciness of the sauces. Adding in a very present garlic flavor, each bite was nice.

I love loved the crust. It came out soft throughout but with enough firmness to hold up. Perhaps it was the lack of sauces, but it only started to sag when we were almost all the way through. It reminded me a bit of a cross between a traditional pizza crust and a flatbread.

Alas, there were also potstickers on the pizza, which could have been left off without losing anything. When everything on a pizza is soft, the last thing it needs is overcooked pasta wrapped around a relatively mushy and tasteless filling (or at least tasteless against a background of chili sauce and smoked cheese).

Our second pizza was the "Galic-Buttered Meatball" which had (list directly from their website) "Rosey Goat Cheese (w/blend of Mozz/Provolone), Garlic-Buttered Meatballs, Shredded Parm, Olive Oil, and Fresh Basil". I forgot until this moment that there was goat cheese on it. It was lost in the buttery savory tsunami of the rest of the pizza. I'm sure it contributed, but I couldn't pick it out of the other flavors. It was still a good pizza and there's nothing wrong with transporting garlic butter into my mouth on a good crust.

This is right on the TCU drag, so I'm not sure how convenient it would be to get to while school is in session, but I'm glad we made the trip.

Bonus pictures:

Their order call system is an old BINGO call board, which I loved

A+ to this employee working that robotic-looking gas oven. He got some great leopard spotting on our pies without burning them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fort Worth Spring Break Adventures: Thirteen Pies

I didn't come here expecting to pizza adventure. In fact, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to be eating out at all (my grandma is a cook-at-home-then-eat-leftovers-forever kind of gal). But she offered to watch the kids and give Adam and I a chance to get out by ourselves, so we took advantage.

Thirteen Pies

It was #1 on Yelp and I was hesitant. The menu seems to contain some ingredients that are there purely for the pretension (i.e. truffle oil on a pepperoni basil pizza, which I couldn't bring myself to try, so I hold on my principled disdain of it without hard evidence that it is, in fact, a pizza abomination). But, it also had some delicious looking stuff. So we went. I wish I knew I'd be blogging this at the time, because I would have taken more photos. I loved the interior decor of Thirteen Pies. It's dark, deep wood and leather with an open kitchen area and two big wood ovens with vents ascending through the ceiling.

The gimmick is that there are 12 regular pies on the menu and a mystery 13th pie (though this turned out to be more of a chef's special posted on the wall than a true mystery like The Thing from Southside Flying Pizza where you don't know what you're getting until it arrives). The current 13th pie was cuban sandwich inspired and very very tasty. (and here again comes my want of additional photos, because I'll have to try to remember the ingredients by memory) It had pulled pork, ham, ricotta, gruyere, mustard, and bread and butter pickles. The pork had maintained its moisture and, as the heart of a cuban, put my mind in the right place to enjoy the rest. The bread and butter pickles were a great choice to add crunch and a little bit of sweetness. They offset the salty ham and general savoriness of the rest.

My nitpicking suggestions for this pizza, my husband assures me, would take this pizza further from its cuban roots, though I argue farther into deliciousness. I wish it had been more mustard forward (which can be done, I've had pizzas at both Pinthouse and House that perfected the balance on a mustard sauce), I wish the cheese had been more there flavor-wise. My husband argues that the cheese in a cuban sandwich is always just there. Again, these are nitpicks. We enthusiastically ate this pizza.

Next we tried the "Straight", which is a plain mozzarella, basil, and pecorino pie. You know my opinion on aged cheeses shredded on a pizza: If it needs to be there, it should be on the menu and come that way. This needed to be there and was really the star of this pizza. The sharp lemony flavor of the pecorino worked with the milder sauce and mozzarella to create a bite with layers of flavor to experience. I had to balance taking my time and enjoying it with wanting as much of this pizza in my face as possible.

For dessert we went with the zeppole, which are fried dough balls. They were served with a tart jam (the waiter wasn't sure whether it was cranberry or rhubarb) and honey. It was a great way to end the meal (though, to be nitpicky again, because I can be, if I were to be a place that insists on turning wagyu beef into meatballs, I might also be the kind of place to spring for varietal honey to be super-fancy).

I don't know why I'm still so contrary about Thirteen Pies. Everything we had was delicious and the atmosphere was great. If someone took me here on a date I'd be impressed. Maybe someone else can check it out and find out whether or not their meat parade (named "Crumbled Meats") needs truffle oil or not.

P.S. I am reminded by their Twitter profile that the service was fantastic. Attentive, friendly, there when I needed them, not there when I didn't need them.

Next up:
Pizza Snob
Canne Rosso (which now has a location in Austin)

Monday, August 1, 2016

The People vs. Jet's Pizza

Jet's Pizza is a national chain which has opened its first location in Austin, on Brodie Lane.

Majority Opinion from Chief Pizza Justice Kevin

"Good" is a difficult word to parse sometimes, so let's simply say that I would call Jet's good, and my doctor would not agree with me.

Jet's is that kind of chain where anything that can go through a pizza oven and come out decent is on offer. Wings, salad, subs, and of course, pizza. Subdivide the pizza into round, square, New York, and gluten-free crusts, and throw in the kind of bizarre creations that bored delivery guys make. Oh - and don't forget to "flavorize" your crust with eight varieties of special ingredient, including "Jet's Turbo Crust". Jet's is delivery and carry-out, at least in our neck of the woods, so Karin and I took home three items: Jet's Bread (a sort of deep dish cheesestick covered in butter); a four corner Meatball Supremo; and a small (round) vegetarian.

Let's get the bad out of the way. The vegetarian was a pizza and not much more. The ingredients and the crust were both pretty bland - you could forget you're eating it while you're eating it. The crust appeared to go through some kind of machine that was visible from behind the counter. It went in a lump, and came out flat and round. I'm not enough of a connoisseur to tell you how much that hurt the crust, but certainly the crust lacked the fluffiness and texture I'd like to see in even a chain crust. Two thirds of the pizza died an inglorious death, reheated and slathered in enough ranch to make me forget how bland they were.
Mind you, that ranch.

Which brings us to the good, and there is no quicker way to summarize the good at Jet's than "Ranch Dressing". Their menu lists their ranch as "world famous". Like all lunatic marketing lines, "world famous" made me want to try the ranch so I could find out how terrible was. I was disappointed and pleased to find that the ranch dressing is some of the best I've ever had. It occurs to me I never realized ranch dressing could be particularly good. This ranch was buttery, with a viscous consistency, and I may actually be buying the bottles they apparently sell.

The Meatball Supremo won considerable praise. Pepperoni, mild peppers, and meatballs. I was initially concerned that the meatballs would be nothing more than an inconvenience, but the garlic undertone they supplied went perfectly with the pepperoni, and the pepperoni, as I believe I've mentioned in discussing other pizzas, were the perfect vehicle to provide an undercurrent to the spice of the peppers. The crust, which is specifically the crust on their four and eight corner pizzas, is square and deep. It is reminiscent of Via 313 - certainly not that good, but it comes closer than a chain has any right to. The square crust was crisp, with a layer of soft breading between topping and crust. It may be the best chain pizza crust I've ever had.

Jet's bread was served on the same crust, essentially cheesesticks, but slathered in butter, garlic, and romano (the "Turbo" option on the flavorizer menu). "Turbo Option on the Flavorizer Menu" is, incidentally, my favorite Electric Six song. My finger could leave see-through fingerprints on paper from all the grease, but the flavor works - you can certainly tell it's greasy, but the grease is never overpowering, and the flavor comes through as buttery, cheesy, delight, particularly in the ranch dressing. I'm sure every bite of the combination took a year off my life.

The two products we enjoyed simply didn't care about being gourmet food. They struck a reasonably balanced palette, forgot that heart valves need to be kept clear, and did everything they wanted to do until they hit 11. Previously I spoke about subtlety in pizza, and though the garlic undertone to the Meatball Supremo is an appreciated stab in that direction, Jet's can't really be given any points in that department. It's food to be eaten in the dark, alone, promising yourself you'll start working out Monday. It's damn good at that.

The round crust is to be soundly ignored in favor of the four and eight corner sizes.

Dissenting Opinion from Pizza Justice Karin

After the physical and psychological digestion of this meal, I disagree that the grease was not overpowering. I found myself quite powerless in its clutches. In other words, I didn't quit eating, but I wanted to.

Jet's wasn't bad, but the best tasting items were also ones that it is hard to justify even as an indulgent treat. Instead, I could order some Papa Johns or haul myself out of the house to an actual restaurant, both of which will allow me to pretend I'm doing something other than eating cheesy butter conveniently processed to be eaten with my fingers.

On other hand, I am too curious about some of the menu items (like subs) to say that I won't be back.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The People vs. Pinthouse Pizza

Majority Opinion from Chief Pizza Justice Karin:

The first time I went to Pinthouse Pizza on Burnet, I was not a fan (Adventure #55: Pinthouse Pizza). It was overcrowded and noisy (you may notice I have a problem with restaurants who get so noisy that I have to yell in order to have a conversation with my tablemates). On top of that, the pizza just wasn't that great.

Yes, I took this picture before I knew I was going to be adventuring again. Old habits die hard!

Now I'm a whole-hearted convert. They have a new(er) location at Ben White and Lamar and I can't pin it down exactly, but the pizza has improved. Maybe a new dough recipe? a new topping philosophy? Either way, I know that whatever pizza I get there is going to be amazing. Let's take the case of a BBQ chicken pizza. Normally, this would not be a pizza I would ever eat. BBQ sauce does not belong on a pizza. Chicken doesn't belong on a pizza. BUT, I've come to trust Pinthouse so much, that when it was their monthly special last month, I ordered it. I didn't like it, but if there was ever to be a BBQ chicken pizza that I liked, it would have been that one. It had a great balance of sweet and acidic and the chicken was neither over-cooked nor drowned out.

The Houdini

On this adventure, we went with this month's "Off the Map Pie" (and hopefully something they'll bring back), the Houdini. It is a pizza that goes in the category of "best things I've ever put in my mouth". Up there with a salami white cheddar with an egg on it from House Pizzeria or the Detroiter from Via 313. It has to be tasted to be believed.

Sliced zuchini are the base of the texture for this pizza, then the big dollops of ricotta provide bites of sweet creaminess. Along with the cheese and crust you might expect to fall into an umami coma, but the olive oil on this pizza is actually a lemon emulsion and it wakes the whole pie up. Topping it off is fresh basil, exactly the right herbal note.

I'll admit that this adventure wasn't my first Houdini, I've had three this month and I'll have at least one more before the month's out.

The Cannonball

For our 2nd pie we decided on The Cannonball, aka the meat parade. Every other meat parade should take note. Ham and pepperoni for variant pork flavor, sausage for chewiness, bacon for crunch, with cheese to hold the whole thing together.

I've actually never had The Cannonball before (I don't usually go for the meat parade on my own), but it was everything I could have wanted. Every bite was a meaty party in my mouth and the crust holds up surprisingly well to the onslaught.

Speaking of crust, Pinthouse has an amazing delivery-style crust. It's light enough to be an effective topping delivery system, but flavorful and chewy around the edges. Perfect for dipping in whatever sauce you have laying around from your appetizer or enjoying with just the soaked-in grease of the pizza.

El Queso doesn't look like much, but looks are deceiving.

Pizza wasn't the only new thing we tried. We took advantage of our indulgent mood and tried El Queso (and salsa). The menu lists it as "ale queso" and I'm not sure what that means, but it was certainly less salty and more ?meaty? than other queso I've had.

Our final indulgence was a beer. I tried Lil Sebastian at the recommendation of the bartender. I am always happy when I can walk up to a bar, explain what kind of beer I'm looking for, and the bartender has a recommendation. In this case, I wanted something yeasty, wheaty, and leaning more toward sweet than bitter. Lil Sebastian is Pinthouse's in-house Belgian-style and it hit every one of those notes.

Overall, I can't recommend Pinthouse enough.

Pizza Justice Kevin, concurring:

I write separately to point out the difficulty of a subtle pizza. Like so many of the foods we go out of our way for, a subtle pizza has not only flavor, but rarity to recommend it. I very much enjoyed the Cannonball, which didn't wear any meat without good cause. The Houdini, however, is creative in a way that is seen rarely, and which works even more rarely. The flavors are subtle while being interesting, and the landmines of ricotta provided a sweetness that blended neatly.

I would also emphasize the queso - it's certainly more savory than other queso I've had, and the flavor has more depth. I found the different flavor works a little more naturally as a counterpoint to the saltiness of a tortilla chip. I'd also note that the salsa, though less surprising, was excellent. Fresh, with a bite.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The People vs. Toss Pizzeria and Pub

Majority Opinion from Chief Pizza Justice Kevin:

I have never had garlic knots like that. I don't know if this simply means I'm uneducated in the art of knots, but they were excellent. Doughy in the center, but crisp on the edges, perfectly oily, just the right amount of Parmesan. The texture was gorgeous. Other knots I've had have been delicious, but never represented the same variety of texture. We got the knots with garlic butter, which was largely unnecessary. Marinara may have been useful.

The pizza was -- I've been struggling with whether to call it bad. No sauce whatsoever is a bold choice, for any pizzeria. Possibly even an admirable choice. My least favorite part of many pizza's is the sauce, and I was initially optimistic about the prospect of the thin layer of cheese on crisp crust (the crust being the one unquestionably delightful part of the pizza for me).

I chose the pulled pork and jalapeno. A warrior's pizza. The pulled pork and Jalapeno was unquestionably the better pizza, though the pulled pork was a little too dry, and the jalapenos unnecessary. Initially I was optimistic, as the pork and jalapeno married quite well in the first few, cheese-­only bites. As I got to the actual pork, however, it was simply uninteresting. It left me running through hog varieties in my head, trying to locate the magical difference that makes pulled pork so wonderful on a sandwich but terrible on a pizza.

The jalapeno was, much like the pulled pork, merely inoffensive. The bite it added was pleasant, but it didn't do more than marry jalapeno and cheese. Not a bad flavor, but not why we eat pizza. Even a simple jalapeno pizza from Papa John's would have at least had the sauce to make things more interesting. The pizza wasn't a chore, but nor did it have much of a point. The pizza could have done well to disregard pulled pork for the most ordinary pizza topping in the world, pepperoni, which would have done quite well alongside the jalapeno and the crisp crust. Pulled pork exists because it has a wonderful texture that can complement BBQ sauce and the moistness of melted fat. To sprinkle bits and pieces of it here and there, and then submerge them under Jalapeno, loses the texture and misses the point. That's why pepperoni stands it's ground on pizza.

Of course, then I have to ask myself why sauce doesn't belong on this pizza.

Karin's margherita was less inoffensive. A delicate pizza at the best of times, a sauceless margherita isn't impossible, but the tomatoes had better be perfect. So much of the texture of the margherita is built upon the marriage of sauce and cheese, and to use sliced tomatoes invites a failure of ingredients. In this case, the tomatoes were gooey. So too the garlic ­an unwelcome addition to the classic recipe, which, as I've mentioned, is delicate at the best of times. The garlic was mush, lacking (in the same vein as the pulled pork) any of the bite that makes garlic worthwhile. Being whole garlic, none of the flavor of it could get out to mingle with the rest of the pizza, so it was merely one nugget of sudden sweetness in the midst of other lackluster flavors. The sweetness of the cooked garlic wouldn't have been bad on it's own, but it did nothing to contribute to the flavor of the margherita. When I rule the world, it'll be a war crime to call any four topping pizza a margherita. Until then, I'll content myself with begging that garlic on pizza be chopped and cooked only when the pizza goes through the oven, so that it can work as god meant it to.

On beer:

Tipping is so complicated and awful as it is. Don't provide more options. And don't provide options that will result in drunkenly made pizza. Just split the waitstaff tips with the kitchen staff. You don't have to be so fucking Austin it hurts.

As someone who has been screwed over by customers seeing the delivery charge and thinking it was a tip, please, keep tipping simple.


Concurring Opinion from Pizza Justice Karin:

I would be tempted to go back only for the garlic knots, which were fantastic, but what makes me hesitant is that Toss was really noisy. It's a small room and sound bounced around so that even with a half-full restaurant, the atmosphere was cacophonous. I'll contrast with Pinthouse Pizza, which also has noise-control problems, but whose hours are such that I can avoid a crowd and whose pizza is so good that there is I would brave a lot for it. Are garlic knots worth it? Probably not, especially given that I wouldn't really want a pizza to go with them.

I promised myself that I'd only write one paragraph, but I can't leave it unsaid that I question the choice to simultaneously caution diners with "Don't go crazy...our pizzas work best with minimal toppings" while the "Carnivore" in the specialty pie section includes chicken (alongside 5 other meats). I know every pizzeria needs a meat parade option, but every topping that is included on a specialty better be there because the pizza needs it to achieve maximum deliciousness. That had better be some damn tasty chicken to stand up to all the pork on the pizza (see above notes on the pizzas we did get to understand why I'm skeptical).