Friday, June 15, 2018

Review: &Pizza

When the American Neapolitan pizza movement got into full swing during the last decade, the pioneers made pizza in the true Naples fashion. They built (or imported from Italy) the wood-burning dome ovens that reach temperatures of  800-1000 degrees, they used 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, Fior di Latte or Bufala mozzarella, and fresh basil. Those artisans set a new standard for great pies while introducing America to this traditional pizza of southern Italy.

Some of the first are still among the best - Forcella, Motorino, Paulie Gee, Zero Otto Nove. One of Philly's top Neapolitan piemakers, Vetri, is attempting to expand regionally. So it's not surprising that there would be several attempts to create a national chain of Neapolitan-ish pizzas.

By now, you've probably had the "fast casual" build-your-own personal pies which are frequently an imitation of a true Neapolitan, but with a wide range of non-standard ingredients.  I've tried some of those and some other regional Neapolitan-ish chain pies, and they range from good to very good. The best I've experienced thus far was at Ecco in Anaheim, CA.
Choose your ingredients
Other pizzeria chains in this "Chipotle of Pizza" market include:

Conveyor oven
One of the fastest-growing entries in this market is &Pizza (, which calls itself an "anti-establishment establishment built on the renown of its creative pies and craft beverages, localized shop design, and the strength, unity and vibe of its living-wage-paid, ampersand-tattooed Tribe." There are about 25 locations in DC, MD, and VA, with new stores opening in NYC, Boston, and Philly.  On a warm June night, I visited the Philadelphia location just off Walnut Street in Center City.

Much like other fast-casual pie joints, you approach a counter and choose a specialty pie or begin making custom-pie options. There are three dough choices (including gluten-free), five sauce choices (two red, two white, and pesto), nine each of vegetable or protein toppings, and twenty post-bake add-ons.

I opted for the specialty "American Honey" pizza with spicy tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, arugula, red pepper flakes, goat cheese, hot honey. The long oval pie was rapidly assembled and then placed on the screen of a conveyor oven for a bake that was under two minutes. 

The gentleman staffing the post-bake add-ons bar thoughtfully asked if I wanted all four of the items designed for this pie. I gladly accepted the arugula, goat cheese, and hot honey, but declined the extra heat of the chili flakes. The pie was priced to come out to $10.50 with tax; I added a can of seltzer water for another $2.50.

There is plenty of long table and counter seating in the large black-and-white themed dining area. My pie was cut into 8 small slices that were easy to handle except that the post-bake items had to be balanced carefully so that they wouldn't fall off.

The crust was thin, but perhaps not quite as wafer-thin as the pies at places like MOD and SNAP. It had a nice puffiness at the cornicione, and a deeper graininess that makes me think it was the "ancient grains" dough and not the traditional dough. Crisp on the bottom, chewy above that, and sporting a good flavor, this was a solid crust on which to build a successful pie.

The toppings matched the quality of the crust. The thick ovals of pepperoni were applied generously but in reasonable proportion. Each bite yielded a flavor blast dominated by the savory goat cheese crumbles and the hot honey. The arugula added a bit of snap and textural balance. 
Nicely browned and crisp underneath
The cheese, generously applied, was a bit of a role player as was the red sauce, but all the elements worked in harmony. I'm pretty certain this particular combo was better than anything I might have attempted in the build-your-own approach.
Nice texture in the crust
Overall, terrific pizza. It did not quite match Ecco, but the pies from that two-store "chain" are baked in a genuine Neapolitan dome oven. The pizza from &Pizza gets the nod over MOD, for instance. All of these pies live somewhere in between the generic and the genuine, but they also represent a huge leap forward in chain food. 

More than ever, there is no reason to waste calories on Papa John or Domino's pizza when these superior pies are available almost everywhere. Kudos to &Pizza for raising the bar in the fast-casual pizza category.

&pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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