Saturday, February 13, 2016

Review: Milito's Bar-Ristorante-Pizzeria, Downingtown PA

The hottest current pizza trend is Neapolitan style, those personal sized pies with light puffy crusts that bake in 90 seconds or so at 900+ degrees. Right on the heels of authentic Neapolitan pies are the mass-produced assembly-line versions, offered at places like MOD, Snap, Blaze, and RapiDough.
Burg's Pie at Milito's. Click to enlarge

Most rare, though, and hence still most precious, are those "one of a kind places" making bar pies, pan pizza, or  a unique version of NY, Trenton, New Haven, or other regional style of pizza. One way or another, these are the old-school pizzas that I call American Pie.

We heard about a "Pittsburgh" style pizza and set out to investigate. Milito's Bar-Ristorante-Pizzeria in Downingtown PA is housed in a beautifully restored and converted stone mill, and the ambiance is first rate. Even on a week night, both the restaurant and large bar area were packed with happy patrons.

There are several pizza options on the large menu, but we targeted the "Burg's Original," which we ordered with pepperoni and roasted red peppers. This pie features "unique dough, red sauce, and a special blend of cheese that creates a one of kind taste." This large personal-sized pizza is modestly priced at $11, and available for just $5 at happy hour.

To round out our meal, we also ordered a salad with roasted beets (a worthy menu holdover item from the previous Barra Rossa restaurant here) and Linguine Bolognese. Both of these were very good, but our focus here is the pizza.

Owner Joe Milito hails from Pittsburgh, and like most of us, he carries a memory of the favorite pizza of his formative years.
The pizza ovens

For Joe, that pizza came from P&M Pizza, a bar in Arnold PA near Pittsburgh. Much like the magical Midwestern pies at Rubino's in Columbus OH, the dough goes through a "sheeter" pressing machine to flatten it, remove air bubbles, and create a crust that does not rise much.
Large, rustic, warm interior at Milito's

Joe uses a secret blend of cheeses, and the pie is baked in a fashion that the cheese and the house-made sauce essentially blend into a single orange colored topping. 

Our pie arrived with considerable eye appeal, with the cheese covering almost all of the cornicione. The crust was uniformly thin from center to edge, crisp, and rigid. The sauce was indeed largely invisible, because (as Joe later told us) it had melded into the cheese.
Good spotty char underneath

The crust had an excellent flavor all its own. It was dense but al dente, having a good crunch and chew all at the same time. The cheese was applied generously, as were the toppings. The pepperoni added the expected savory flavors and enhanced the pie. 

The roasted red peppers were flavorful, but a mistake on our part. They were just too wet and heavy and threw off the balance. I removed them and enjoyed them separately.

The cheese blend offered a lot more substantial flavor than the typical mozzarella found on pizzas. I'm guessing that there is some cheddar or colby in there, or maybe even muenster. The melted parts formed a shiny bubble in areas, which may provide some hints. 
Shiny blistered cheese bubble

In all of my pizza eating experiences, some of the most magical have been found in the simplest constructions of thin crusted bar pies. The party-cut pie at Rubino's, for instance, and the decidedly unfancy offerings at Lee's Tavern in Staten Island. The Burg pie at Milito's falls into this category. This was a simple pizza where all the elements are in harmony for flavor and textures.
Another look at the crust underside

I loved this pie and we ate it with gusto. It's not going to appeal to all pizza eaters, but it's bound to become a local cult classic. Downingtown is on the opposite side of the state from Pittsburgh, but it's two thumbs up for the "Burg's Original" at Milito's. Joe Milito is making the pizza he loves, and we're the beneficiaries.
Joe Milito, left, with PQ

Just five years ago, Chester County was essentially devoid of pizza worth the calories. Now, there are several worthy stops, such as Rapidough, Vecchia, Snap, Anthony's Coal-Fired, and La Porta. Joining this elite group is the quirky Burg pie from Milito's. Unique pizza in a warm and lively setting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana, Collegeville PA

Let's make it official: 2016 is the year when the world (beyond Michigan and pizza insiders) discovers Detroit style pie.  At first glance, a Detroit pie looks like a Sicilian style rectangle pie with its thick crust. The Detroit pie is different, though, in a few key ways.
Collegeville slices. Click any image to enlarge

First, the cheese is applied all the way to the edges and beyond, so that it drips down the sides of the pie and caramelizes along the edge of the specialized metal baking pan. Second, a Detroit pizza typically relies less on mozzarella cheese and more on brick cheese or a mix of brick, cheddar, and/or mozzarella. Finally, the sauce is not cooked on the pizza, but ladled on top in two rows after the pie has baked.
Rigid crust on the Collegeville NY slice

I still haven't been to Detroit for the original at Buddy's Pizza, but I had stellar Detroit style pie during my visits to Norma's Pizza in Manheim, PA. Norma won the 2016 Caputo Cup for her astonishing New York style pizza, but her Detroit pie is just as good. In another spot far-removed from Detroit, Via 313 in Austin TX is serving up Detroit style pizza in addition to very authentic thin bar pies.
Detroit slice at Norma's Pizza in Manheim PA
Detroit pie at Via 313 in Austin TX
Detroit slice at Grande Pizza, Boca Raton FL

Most recently, I traveled to Boca Raton, FL for the very good Detroit pie at Grande Pizza. After lamenting that I couldn't get a Detroit pie near my Pennsylvania home, I was alerted to Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana. It's only about 35 minutes from my home, so I made a point to get there on a Saturday afternoon.

In the Philly suburbs (Collegeville, home of Ursinus College, is about 45 minutes from Philly), there is a tradition of bakery-made "tomato pies" which are like a Sicilian pizza without cheese, served at room temperature. I enjoy a Philly tomato pie, but not as much as the folks who grew up eating them. I came to Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana fearful of finding a white-bread bakery style tomato pie dressed up and pretending to be a Detroit style pizza.


What I found was that "bakery" is a misnomer. There is seating for over 100 here, and there is an extensive menu featuring freshly baked bread, rolls, cookies in addition to restaurant items like deli salads, wings, soup, burgers, cold and hot sandwiches, and an improbably large variety of pizzas: breakfast pizza, Roman style al taglio pies, NY style, Detroit style, and wood-fired Neapolitan 12" personal pies.
Breakfast pizza. From

Because I had a large crew of five to feed, I ordered two pies - one NY style with pepperoni, and one Detroit style topped with sausage. It's unfortunate that I got both pies for takeout, and it was 20-30 minutes before they came to our kitchen table, lukewarm. Not the best way to assess pizza for a first visit, but (spoiler alert) there will be many more visits.
Detroit pizza

The NY pie is advertised as 16" in diameter, but it looked bigger and filled the takeout box. First inspection revealed some lovely "spicy cup" pepperoni sitting atop a sea of lightly cooked cheese. Most notable was the cornicione, which was thin and dark and a tell-tale sign of an old-school approach.
NY Pizza

The entire crust was thin, crisp, rigid yet flexible in texture. Underneath, it was a uniform golden brown with little spotting. Its flavor matched the promise of its look, too. I imagine all the bread products are good here, and that bodes well for all the sandwiches on the menu.
NY slice

The sauce was lively, but applied sparingly and was almost invisible under the cheese. The cheese was tasty enough - conventional mozzarella - but I'd have enjoyed it more if it has acquired some top browning.
Wood-fired dome oven

The crust seemed perfectly cooked even as the cheese and pepperoni could have used a few minutes under a broiler.  The pepperoni was fabulous - all told, this was an excellent NY style pizza, authentic in every way.
Underside of the NY slice

The Detroit pie was the drawing card, though. This pie had an entirely different look, having been baked in a pan. It did have the crusty cheese on the edges, but it was about the same color as the dough. On other Detroit pies I've had, the caramelized cheese took on a much darker hue.
Detroit slice edges

The crust was thick, as expected. It had a nice airy interior, but it was more dense than the Detroit pie at Norma's, for instance, or its Sicilian cousin at NY Pizza Suprema. It had a lovely golden crunch underneath. And, of course, the cheese-crusted edges were a delight as we scrambled for the premium corner squares.
Light and airy

This pie was exceptionally well balanced, with perfect proportions of cheese and sauce on top. The excellent sauce was riding on top and applied generously. 

The sausage also sat atop the pie, and we were glad about that. Some Detroit pies and Chicago deep-dish pizzas are made with the bad habit of burying the meat under the cheese, which denies the sausage or pepperoni the chance to get browned and crisp.
Underside of a corner slice

All told, this terrific bakery and restaurant in an outer Philly suburb is - much like the highly acclaimed Via 313 in Austin - succeeding at crafting two very different kinds of authentic pizza. It's hard enough to get a decent NY slice; Collegeville Bakery nails it and then cooks up a superb Detroit style pie. Destination pizza.

Collegeville Italian Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: Grande Pizza Co., Boca Raton FL

What is Detroit style pizza? It's a rectangular pie, baked in a pan, with a thick but usually airy crust. It has a lot in common with a Sicilian style pizza and the Old Forge pies in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Click on any image for full size resolution

Detroit pizza has two features that really set it apart, however. First, the cheese is deliberately spread all the way to the edges, so that it seeps down on the side of the crust for a dark caramelized edge. Second, the red sauce is often ladled on top after the pie has baked.
Oozing cheese at Grande Pizza Co

Here at Pizza Quixote, we've never been to the legendary Buddy's in Detroit, where the style was invented. But we've had spectacular Detroit style pie from:

  • Norma's Pizza in Manheim PA (Norma recently won the Caputo Cup for best NY style pizza, too)
  • Via 313 in Austin TX (where you can also get authentic thin-crust bar pie)
  • Binge House Pizza in Downingtown PA (a hybrid of Detroit and Old Forge styles)

Detroit pie at Via 313

All of those pies are spectacular, so we were keen to try the Detroit style pizza at Grande Pizza Co in Boca Raton once we learned it was a menu option. Grande has four South Florida locations.

In Boca, Grande looks like just another unremarkable pizza joint in a strip mall. When you enter the modern space, there is a long counter that seems tailored for take-out orders, then a pretty large dining area that is anchored by a U-shaped bar. Certainly a bit more upscale than the typical mom and pop pizza shop.

The menu looked pretty much like the standard "something for everybody" list of subs, gyros, wings, other fried stuff, and pizzas. In fact, the Detroit pie is buried under the "New York Style" pizza options. 
The bar at Grande Pizza Co in Boca

If you check their online menu, there is no mention of Detroit style; instead, a "crusty cheese" pie is listed. Bottom line - you're not getting the Detroit pizza unless you go there seeking it out; we did.
Brilliant caramelized edge

We began with a house salad, which offered the standard ingredients but was crisp and fresh, and decorated with some nice spicy pepperoncini.

Our group (3 people) chose pepperoni as a topping for our $15 Detroit pie. Our pizza arrived cut into eight generous rectangular slices; four of those were corners with caramelized cheese on two edges.

At Via 313, my only disappointment was that the pepperoni was buried under the cheese, following the Detroit tradition. Here, happily, the pepperoni rode on top. The large rounds were generously applied, but they were thin slices of standard grade stuff. They enhanced the pie, but only by a little.
A premium corner slice

Most Americans love an over-cheesed pie, and this one was loaded. It was premium grade Grande mozzarella (no relation), and it was applied in a thick layer that oozed off the edges of every slice. This made for mandatory knife and fork eating.

I'm not certain if the sauce was applied post-bake or not, but it did ride atop the cheese. The sauce had a nice smooth texture and an excellent, slightly sweet flavor. We all agreed that we'd like more of this sauce and less of the cheese.
Beautifully golden brown underneath

The crust was superb. It was a little thinner than a Sicilian pie, mostly light and airy in its interior, and it sported a perfect crunchy brown bottom without being excessively oily. It seemed a bit compressed under the weight of all that cheese, but somehow this pie was exceptionally well balanced in its textures.

Each bite delivered a nice mix of crunch and chew from that fine crust, and a classic salty pizza flavor from the Grande cheese and that red sauce. Despite the flaws of too much cheese and too little sauce and standard grade pepperoni, this was a delicious and delightful pizza.

Our party of three adults shared the large salad and then polished off this pizza with little difficulty; we left feeling satiated but not stuffed. I think that is a reflection on the airiness of the crust.
The brilliant hybrid pie at Binge House

Our service was polite and efficient; I'd love to go back at dinner time and enjoy this pizza with a glass of red wine. I think that if the pizzaiolo held back on the cheese and doubled the red sauce, this pie would be as good as the legendary square slices at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn.

It's not quite at the magical level of Norma's, Binge House, or Via 313, but it's excellent pizza. South Florida can boast of a lot of fine pizza joints. Grande Pizza Co joins Scuola Vecchia, Jerk Oceano, Tucci's, Nick's New Haven, and Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza as yet one more destination pie in the region.

Grande Pizza Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato