Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Napolese, Indianapolis, IN

On recent trips to Bloomington IN and Columbus OH, I gathered evidence that you don't need to be in a noted pizza town (New York, Trenton, San Francisco, New Haven, e.g.) in order to get great pizza. In the Midwest, I had expected little but Pizza Hut and even worse, but I found destination pie at Rubino's outside of Columbus (review HERE), and surprisingly good thin-crust chain pizza at Monical's in Bloomington (review HERE). Rubino's, in fact, landed at #22 in my recent list of my Top 84 Pizzas (story HERE).
Katie and Nathaniel, from Illinois State University

Within the past year, I visited Indianapolis and decided that there was not any pizza worth the calories here. In March of 2014, I had occasion to return and so I revisited my prior research. Once again, I rejected the local favorite Bazbeaux, mostly because pictures of the pies on Urbanspoon looked liked badly undercooked DiGiorno. These pics helped reinforce my sense that the good folks of Indianapolis may not know what good pizza is.

I did find a surprisingly good Neapolitan personal pie at Osteria Pronto, the Italian restaurant location in the JW Marriott.  Definitely worth the calories if you are staying near the Convention Center, but that's not the focus of this review.

A few places showed a bit of promise, and Napolese (3 Indy locations) branded itself as Neapolitan and "artisanal" pizza. Neapolitan has not been my favorite style, but: I've rarely had a bad one; I've never had a mass-sourced one; and, the last one I had was spectacular (Scuola Vecchia, review HERE). Walking distance from my hotel? That sealed it.
Brian, Illinois State

The Napolese downtown location on Meridian Street was in a pleasant district of too many chain restaurants. The building is attractive inside and out. Our large group of nine got a nice long table window, and wonderful service. The group had ordered a variety of salads before I arrived. I sampled a $10 salad that included spinach, smoked chicken, shaved fennel, apple, pancetta, and pumpkin seeds in a cider vinegar dressing, and it was fresh, tasty, and balanced.
Wonderful setting and service at Napolese

The menu offered a variety of fascinating appetizers, including cheeses, cured meats, and cassoulet - but we did not sample these. There are 17 artisanal pizza selections, priced from $10 - $14 each for a large personal size, as well as a "build your own" option. Many creative choices, with toppings such as quail eggs, Brussels sprouts, hog jowl bacon, winter squash, and braised pork belly. I selected the "BLT" pie, with caramelized leeks, taleggio cheese, and the hog jowl bacon. I did not taste the other pies, but all of them looked good.

My BLT pie with hog jowl bacon

Upon arrival at the table, the pies were uniformly beautiful, and the meat toppings were generous. Before I could get a taste of mine, my colleague John (who almost always orders the Margherita) lifted a slice and the cheese promptly slid off. Not a good omen.
Toppings too wet, too heavy

Many Neapolitan pie makers and pie eaters expect the center to be wet and soupy. I don't accept that - wet bread is ruined bread. It results from the pizzaiolo's inability to balance the toppings to the delicate crust, and/or failure to provide adequate top heat to cook the cheese and sauce to some measure of adherence to the crust base.
Delectable cured meats on top

And, for each pie on the table, that was the experience. Wonderful artisanal toppings riding on a good if not spectacular Neapolitan crust, but generally a failure in technique that might have allowed the crust to meld with the delectable toppings.
Mike's pie

All of us ate about half of each slice with knife and fork, due to the wet, soupy, sloppy center.  The outer edges were delightful, once we had eaten past the soggy part. The hog jowl bacon was wonderful (hey, it was bacon, right?).
John's Margherita

Three years ago, when this blog began, this would have qualified as spectacular destination pie.  But since then, I've eaten a lot of Neapolitan pie. It is always good, sometimes great, and the very last one before this (Scuola Vecchia) was perfect. So in comparison, this was a "B" grade pie.

Renee, Illinois State

The crust was very good. But even had it not been ruined by the sloppy center, it lacked the fully satisfying flavor of the best Neapolitans.  The cheese and tomato sauce were good, but not standouts. And, as often found, there was too much cheese. The meat toppings were exemplary, and they well represented America's heartland expertise with meats.
Good bottom heat, inadequate top heat

At the end of the day, this pizza merits a "good swing" rating. Good-to-great ingredients, wonderful service, delightful setting, but failed execution in the oven. It still may be the best pizza in Indianapolis, but it falls short of being destination pie.



Napolese on Urbanspoon

6 comments:

  1. You're right - Indianapolis isn't a pizza town. Although next time you're downtown Pizzology should be open on Mass Ave. Definitely worth a stop.

    Also, don't bother with Bazbeaux - pretty decent toppings (but no match for Napolese) but the crust and sauce are huge disappointments.

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    1. Indy is not a pizza town - but not without merits. Great downtown, and friendly people everywhere. I will be back to Indy and will look out for Pizzology. Thanks!

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  2. You speak the truth as usual. Check this out

    http://m.eater.com/archives/2014/03/20/the-21-hottest-pizza-places-across-the-us-right-now.php

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    1. Appreciate the feedback, and -- great link, thanks for that!

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  3. If you're going to put down a restaurant, at least spell the name correctly. Urbanspoon pics is the reason you didn't try Bazbeaux's, maybe next time I'll take car advice from someone who seen pictures in the magazines. Napolese best pizza in Indianapolis? lol ( I do agree we aren't a pizza destination place tho)

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  4. Matt - For sure, pictures are not the best way to judge a pie - but you can glean a lot from pics and online reviews. The best pies get write-ups on sites like Slice/Seriouseats. Thanks for the tip about spelling - fixed it. I'm coming back to Indy soon - and if enough people tell me I misjudged Bazbeaux, I may try it. PQ

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