Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: Cane Rosso - Austin TX

Cane Rosso ("red dog") is a Dallas-based mini-chain of Neapolitan pizzerias, which began when owner Jay Jerrier was inspired to recreate in Texas the wonderful pizza he had eaten in Italy in 1995. The Cane Rosso website notes that the "dough is made in-house every day, using OO flour from Italy while the sauce is made from hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and our mozzarella is pulled fresh in-house daily."

There are six Dallas-Fort Worth locations, one in Houston, and one in Austin. We had occasion for a lunchtime visit to the Austin location, just off Route 290 in Sunset Valley.

This particular location is located in a small commercial strip featuring other attractive hipster hangouts - a coffee house and an ice cream joint. We were immediately struck by the amount of attention paid to the eclectic decor, inside and out. There was a large attractive outdoor patio, but on this 100 degree August day we opted for inside seating.

The lunch special, available Monday thru Friday, was a compelling value. For $13, you get a 10" personal Neapolitan pizza (Margherita, pepperoni, or sausage) with a choice of house salad, Caesar salad, or rosemary parm tater tots. We got one pepperoni, one sausage, one house salad, and one Caesar.
Sausage pizza with the house salad
The salads were right-sized, fresh, and appetizing. Service was friendly and attentive, and our pies arrived swiftly. One glance at the leopard spotting, the puffy cornicione, and the curled spicy cup pepperoni told us that this was an authentic Neapolitan; the dome ovens confirmed it.
Pepperoni pizza with the Caesar salad
Should a Neapolitan be wet in the center, as many claim a genuine Neapolitan pizza should be? I'm acclimated to the idea that with such pies, the first few bites will be moist and floppy because the delicate Neapolitan crust generally cannot support the kind of toppings payload that Americans expect.
Sausage slice close-up
Here, the first bite of each slice was indeed soft (but not soggy) and the texture improved with each bite closer to the cornicione. The crust was full of its own character and good bready flavor, soft yet chewy, yielding to a crunchy chew at the cornicione.
Twin Neapolitan dome wood-fired ovens
The fresh mozzarella, white and creamy, blended well with the bright red sauce as it helped adhere the meat toppings. White the crumbled sausage was very good, the spicy cup pepperoni was spectacular. Just about any cured meat adds an essential umami element to pizza, but spicy cup is several measures better than standard thin flat pepperoni.
Interior decor
The ingredients, the textures, and the flavors were all in harmony. This well-made and well balanced pizza is not breaking any new ground, but Cane Rosso is executing a classic Neapolitan pizza in excellent style. 
Lovely char underneath
Given the quality of this simple lunch special, I'm keen to go back and sample the spunto (appetizers/snacks) as well as the pastas. There is also a creative brunch menu with three breakfast pizzas and six other items like poutine, chicken & waffles, and a biscuit sandwich. Great stuff and great value in a hip atmosphere.

Need another reason to visit? Owner Jay Jerrier founded and funds Cane Rosso Rescue, whose mission is to find homes for dogs that have been abandoned at shelters or whose owners can no longer care for them.  Good pizza, good works.


Cane Rosso Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Review: CraigO's Pizza & Pastaria - Austin TX

As a transplanted east coast pizza snob, I had modest expectations for pizza in the suburbs of Austin. While the pizza renaissance has brought some superb pizza (mostly Neapolitan) to almost every metropolis in America, the suburbs are still largely the domain of Pizza Hut, Domino's, or mom-and-pop shops cutting corners by using cheap mass-sourced ingredients so that they can compete on price with the mega-chains.

For the record, downtown Austin has plenty of spectacular pizza, with Via 313 at the head of the pack. Way out in Spicewood (home to Willie Nelson), Sorellina Pizzeria is turning out artisanal Neapolitans that stand toe-to-toe with any being made in the hippest parts of Brooklyn. But these, I suspected, were the exceptions.
Photo from facebook.com/pg/craigositalian
After three months in the suburbs of Austin, I hadn't yet tried CraigO's. This local mini-chain (four locations) looked to be the kind of place where Texans interpret pizza the way a Philadelphian might attempt to do BBQ or Tex-Mex. It wasn't high on the list of pizza places I had targeted, but when we were near the southwest Austin location at lunchtime, we decided to try it.
Photo from facebook.com/pg/craigositalian
This location is in a conventional strip mall. We entered to find a fairly large counter and dining area. Like so many of my Texan experiences, I was surprised at the genuinely friendly demeanor of the folks behind the counter. In other parts of America, I would have braced myself for impatient grimaces from the staff as I tried to survey the menu and make selections; I would expect curt answers and little interest in helping us choose well. Here, we were made to feel at home right away.

We chose to split a lunch special that offers two slices, a salad, and a drink; we added one more slice a la carte. Slices were big, prices were modest. I was glad that we split the salad, because it was huge. 

While there are many kinds of specialty pies on the menu, the only kinds available for slices were pepperoni and plain cheese. However, it was only 30 cents to add a topping to a plain slice, so we ordered two pepperoni slices and one with meatballs.

The slices arrived (you order at the counter, then they bring the food to you) just as we finished the salad. They had the appearance of a typical New York slice - big, foldable (if you have that bad habit), and sporting a golden brown crust.

The crust, as always, is the key to good pizza. CraigO's makes everything from scratch, and it shows. The crust had an excellent flavor, a crisp bottom, and a good chew.  The first few bites were pretty soft due to the significant payload of cheese and sauce.  The cheese was a good standard mozzarella or mozzarella mix, and the sauce was a bit of a role player here, lending some acidic tang.

Overall, a very well balanced slice and a lot more "New York" than you'd expect to find in a Texas strip mall. The pepperoni was big and thin circles with a nice curl to the edge. The meatballs were a great surprise; a huge pile of sliced spicy meatballs that somehow adhered nicely to a slice as an add-on. This is not life-changing pizza, it's just damn tasty and we wolfed it down happily.
Perfect browning underneath
I've come to appreciate just about every type of pizza. There's a place and time for a 90-second Neapolitan from a 900 degree oven, a deep dish Chicago style that takes 45 minutes, or a Trenton tomato pie where the gravy goes on last. But there is always a place and time for a well-executed New York slice - crisp yet chewy, crust and cheese and sauce and toppings in harmony - simple yet elegant and timeless.

CraigO's is making that New York pizza. And serving it up at modest prices in what was truly the friendliest pizzeria atmosphere I can recall. We'll be back often.

CraigO's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Review: East Side Pies - Austin TX (Airport Location)

Austin, TX has become a destination for pizza. I've enjoyed the thin crust Trenton/New Haven style pies at Salvation Pizza, the New York-ish slices at Home Slice, the impeccable Neapolitans from the Backdraft trailer, the farm-to-pizza hybrid pies at Pizzeria Sorellina in Spicewood, Neapolitans out in Dripping Springs at Pieous, and the game-changing Detroit style pizza at Via 313.

Regardless of the region, however, I never have high expectations for airport pizza, even though there are some worthy pies like those at Wolfgang Puck Express located in the airport at Indianapolis, and Sauce Pizza & Wine at Phoenix Sky Harbor. Needing some lunch on the way out of Austin-Bergstrom Airport, we saw East Side Pies as one of the more promising options.

East Side Pies is a mini-chain in Austin, known and appreciated for its thin-crust pizza. Their website notes that their pizzas are made with produce from central Texas farms in addition to "classic tomato sauce, whole-milk mozzarella, and Texas-sourced meats."
Gas deck oven at East Side Pies
Behind the counter, you can see stacks of pre-made pies. There appears to be no pizza-making taking place at this location - the pies are simply heated/cooked in a conventional gas deck oven.

We ordered the Frankie, a 10" red sauce pizza with Italian sausage, ham, and mushrooms. It took quite a long time to be ready. While we waited, we chose a "Lemon Berry Acai" fountain soda from an excellent set of beverage choices.

The pie was cut into 6 small slices. The crust was thin - just about as thin as a pizza crust might possibly be. It delivered a satisfying crunch at the cornicione, but it was not sufficiently rigid to support its toppings, especially the large amount of cheese. The first few bites of each slice were, accordingly, pretty messy.

The dough itself had a nice bready flavor, but seemed a bit undercooked. The red sauce, mostly hidden beneath that generous layer of cheese, was surprisingly robust, with little hint of sweetness. The cheese was quite mild, a stretchy mozzarella type. There was an ample application of the three toppings - ham, sausage, and mushrooms. All were good quality, but none were exceptional. Despite the cheese overload, the flavors were well balanced.
Some leopard spotting underneath
This pie was enough for lunch for two people, and we both felt it was good pizza - especially considering the setting. A fairer test of East Side Pies would be a visit to one of their full service locations (four in the Austin area). I'd give East Side a definite thumbs-up when you're choosing a meal at this airport, but it's not up to the level of Wolfgang Puck Express or the fire-baked pies at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport.


East Side Pies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato