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South Florida is blessed with a lot of great pizza, and on a recent trip to Fort Lauderdale, we experienced some very good coal-fired pie at Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza. Walking the beach, I spotted the Primanti Brothers location on North Atlantic Boulevard, which runs parallel to the water. I had modest expectations for a chain location this far from the original spot in Pittsburgh's Strip District, but I was curious about those famous sandwiches.
This spot looks like an old greasy-spoon luncheonette, and it had its own casual charm. We arrived early afternoon on a Sunday and the place was busy at the counter, but we easily found a table. The overworked waitress was friendly and helpful. We decided to split one famous sandwich and one slice of pizza.
We saw a whole pie when we entered, and it looked ordinary - large and unremarkable, like the countless mom and pop pizzerias using low-end mass-sourced ingredients. When I learned that the sausage topping is applied pre-cooked, we opted instead for a pepperoni slice.
It appears that they make only plain pies, then toss on the toppings when your slice is re-heated in the oven. Another otherwise-excellent pizzeria does that too - New Park Pizza, in Queens. It's a terrible habit - the meat should spend the entire time with the pie. But it's less of a sin with pepperoni than with sausage.
Our slice came out quickly, and it was huge, dwarfing the standard paper plate. The pepperoni had yielded generous puddles of orange grease that stained the plate (no objection to that).
Taking some quick photos of the underside before we ate it, I could see that something special was going on. The crust was thin, with a generous puffy cornicione. It sported a lovely char underneath, and it was rigid and crunchy while retaining an al dente inner chew. It was a classically rendered New York slice.
We saw one staffer opening the huge cans of tomato product, Saporito brand. The sauce and cheese were both role players here - no outstanding characteristics other than blending perfectly and providing proper balance to this slice. We immediately regretted not ordering more slices, but we did need room for the sandwich.
We had chosen the "Pitts-burger" which is the #2 seller (though the menu fails to inform what is the #1 selling sandwich). It was a normal size hamburger patty with provolone, cole slaw, tomato slice, and a pile of french fries encased in two thick slices of soft Italian bread.
The patty was good, not amazing. I removed about two thirds of the fries to eat on the side (heresy to Yinzers). I was skeptical, but the combo was very tasty. The cole slaw was a little sweet and finished with vinegar, not the mayonnaise style. That sweetness played nicely with the saltiness of the other ingredients. The fries had good flavor but I would have liked them to be a bit crispier.
I can recommend the sandwich, and it cost less than $7. The slice of pizza came to about $3.30, which is not bad given its size. And it was delectable. It qualifies as destination pizza, and that's pretty good for a place with more than 20 locations that doesn't even specialize in pizza. Great crust, ideal balance -- it was a New York slice better than 95% of slices actually served in New York. It compares favorably to the wonderful NY style pie at Wiseguy NY Pizza in Washington DC.