Monday, April 24, 2023

Review: Pedroso's Pizza - Austin TX

Four years into my Texas journey, I'm finding that good-to-great pizza places are popping up in and around Austin faster than I can try them all. What a wonderful conundrum.

The grandma pizza

Out in the western suburbs, a short drive can take me to legit Chicago pies (thin crust and deep dish) at Lefty's, St. Louis style flatbread pizzas at 'Zza, incredible Detroit and New York pizzas at Brack's Backyard, or a Texas spin on New York pizza at Toss.

Nick and Larry joined me at Pedroso's

Beyond the wealth of great pizza options out here in Spicewood/Bee Cave, there's so many more within the city of Austin, and the one that called to me was Pedroso's Pizza or Burnet Road. 

The Margherita NY slice

The review that drew me to Pedroso's was the well-informed encouraging feature on The Infatuation. (In addition, the "One Bite" Barstool vlogger also went to Pedroso's, but his YouTube review confirms that he's a buffoon that no serious pizza eater should trust.)

I was intrigued about the prospect of getting a grandma pie here in Austin. (Note: I first experienced a grandma slice in Brooklyn at Lenny's in 2011 - the very same pizzeria where Tony Manero bought two slices during the 70's disco era and then gobbled them stacked together while walking down the street to the rhythm of a Bee Gees song in Saturday Night Fever). 

Sonoran hot dog at T-Loc's

Three of us arrived at lunchtime on a warm but drizzly Thursday in late March, having already enjoyed the incredible Sonoron Hot Dog at T-Loc's, a spectacular food trailer just a few minutes away on Burnet Road. That astounding sandwich on its dense toasted bun should fill any belly, yet we came here to down a few slices.

The pepperoni slice

Although I went to Pedroso's more for the grandma pie than the NY style, on that day, individual slices were available only for the NY pizza. I sampled the Margherita slice fresh from the oven and took home a pepperoni slice that I reheated later.

Terrific hole structure at the cornicione

This NY style pizza had an exceptionally thin crust that ballooned at the cornicione with impressive hole structure and a crisp crunch all the way through. Much like the superb NY pizza at Brack's Backyard, the pie sports the telltale crisscross markings underneath, indicating that it was baked (or par-baked) on a screen. Spoiler: while I once regarded the screen technique with suspicion, I no longer do. Brack's and Pedroso's are making stellar NY style slices.

The Margherita slice sported excellent fresh mozzarella that wasn't wet or soupy, a brilliant and vibrant red sauce, a crackling crisp crust, and a lovely topping of shredded fresh basil. It was an ideal balance of ingredients, textures, and flavors. A perfect slice, as good or better than 99% of actual NYC pizza joints. It's not a complicated pizza, but it exemplifies the pinnacle of the craft.

Undercarriage screen marks

Given a gentle re-heat at home, the pepperoni slice attained the same lovely crispness underneath. Like the Margherita, it was a big slice, and it was covered with good quality cup 'n' char pepperoni. Slices are $4 - $5 and that's a good value. 

Because I had to try the grandma pie, I ordered a pizza to go ($18.75 with a meat topping), which cooked while we enjoyed our NY slices. It's difficult to master one style of pizza, but I discovered that (like Brack's) Pedroso's has nailed it; the grandma pizza is legit, authentic, and delicious.

A grandma pizza is baked in a rectangular pan like a Sicilian pizza, but its crust is thinner (but still thicker than a conventional round pizza). This crust had a nicely chewy center and a crispy oiled bottom. Like a Detroit pizza, a generous amount of red sauce is applied to the pizza in stripes after it has baked.

Crispy oiled bottom of the grandma pie

I ordered sausage as a topping, and I was delighted to learn that they apply it the only proper way - it goes on the pie raw, cooks on the pie, and gets a lovely browning while sharing its flavor with the pizza. Much like the NY slices, everything on this pizza was ideally balanced.

One small pizza trailer, two terrific kinds of pizza. I haven't yet experienced grandma pizza anywhere else in Texas, and this one was terrific. Even better, though, are the NY slices. With Brack's, they are without peer in Texas and were at least as good as the best slices in NYC.

Re-heating at home on perforated pan

Beyond the great pizza here, the gentlemen working there were especially friendly. Pedroso's is adjacent to The Night Owl bar, where you can grab a drink while you wait for pizza *or* take your pizza inside. Two giant thumbs up for Pedroso's Pizza.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Review: Bufalina Due - Austin TX

After four years living in an Austin suburb, I remain amazed at how many great pizza joints we have - from the stunning Detroit pizzas at Via 313 and Brack's Backyard, a slew of authentically rendered Neapolitans at places like Pieous and Sorellina, Roman style at Baldinucci, New York slices at Home Slice, or Trenton-inspired tomato pies at Salvation Pizza.  And new places keep popping up, like the wonderful Pedroso's Pizza trailer serving fully legit New York slices and equally authentic Grandma pies. 

In February 2023, the web magazine Trips to Discover cited Austin's Bufalina Due as one of the "20 Best Pizza Joints in the United States." The list contained some fabulous pizzas that I've had (Picco in Boston, Razza in Jersey City, and Beddia in Philly) and gave me reason to trust the source. I didn't need more persuasion to try Bufalina; I visited in March of 2023.

Bufalina sits on the far-right end of a typical small strip of commercial stores along Burnet Road, and one of its neighbors is the wonderful Barley Swine restaurant. We dined at Barley Swine in the summer of 2021 when first emerging from pandemic isolation, and I noticed the wonderful smell coming from Bufalina Due. It's been on my radar for a while.

Upon my arrival, I was confronted by a server at the door, who eyed me with suspicion and asked "How may I help you" as though I were a health inspector or IRS agent. I'm still puzzled by why he would not be more welcoming of a customer, but I suspect that I didn't pass the local hipster vibe test.

He acquiesced and finally offered me a table, and then assumed that I needed his tutelage to navigate the QR code to see a menu on my phone. Despite his series of insults (offered with a grudging smile), I stayed for pizza and a $7 draft beer.

All of the pizzas here are Neapolitan, and I ordered a simple 12" pepperoni pie ($17). The crust was particularly tasty, and most of it had a beautiful chew working toward the cornicione. However, the construction was a bit sloppy, with too much sauce in the center that made for a wet first bite of each slice with the cheese eager to slide off.

Beyond the soggy center of this pie, it was nice but not a standout in any way. The pepperoni had a nice spicy kick, but it was relatively thin and ordinary. The tomato sauce was a high point, tangy and present and a perfect complement to the crust and cheese.

Nice char underneath

Had I been in a lovely setting with pleasant service, this would have been a satisfying if not especially noteworthy pizza experience. I've been to a lot of pizza places where it's clear that I'm an outsider, but I've never felt less welcome. This is a good but not nearly perfect pizza, and it wouldn't make my "Top 20" in Austin, let alone Top 20 in America. For a much better pizza and friendly service, drive 5 minutes north on Burnet Road and go to Pedroso's.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Review: Buddy's Pizza - Detroit / Dearborn

I've had Detroit pizza in Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. I loved them all, but I have never experienced Detroit pizza in or near Detroit. That void remains, but trusted pizza epicures in the family visited the Motor City in April 2023, and here is their guest review.

The characteristics of the classic Detroit style pizza—square crust that’s airy on the inside and both crispy and chewy on the outside, with caramelized cheese spread all the way to the edges, tomato sauce on top of the cheese—have been traced back to a 1946 innovation at a Detroit bar called Buddy’s Rendezvous. The original location is evidently still going strong, and there now are more than 15 satellite locations around Michigan. 

"Detroit Public TV" pizza

We found ourselves conveniently near the Dearborn restaurant and stopped in to try out this now-renowned regional variety of pizza. Fortunately, expansion from a neighborhood bar to many branch locations has not compromised the quality of Buddy’s offerings. Obviously appreciated by the locals, the dining room was perhaps 80 % full at 4:20 on a Saturday afternoon with some tables occupied by a single diner, others pushed together to accommodate a group of around twenty. 

Although the quality of the pizza is the foremost consideration in any evaluation, other items can greatly enhance the dining experience. Nearly a dozen (apparently local craft-brewed) draft beers were available. Since we are not beer drinkers, we were delighted to find Blake’s Triple Jam Cider also on tap. A Michigan brand, Blake’s is one of the very best ciders around, and it is an outstanding accompaniment to pizza. The very good and very generous house salad easily served both of us, and the garlic Parmesan dressing was first rate. 

The Margherita

Buddy’s offers many variations on the classic pie, but our knowledgeable server, Crystal Luna, helped us navigate the menu and fully explained the options. We chose a pair of “four-square” pizzas; as the name suggests, each is divided into four slices. An “eight-square” pizza is a popular and more economical option, but our choice made it possible to select two different types and provided more of the highly desired corner slices. 

Our “Detroit Public TV” pizza was a brilliant example of why Detroit style pizzas have earned the respect of pizza aficionados. We had enjoyed Detroit style two or three previous times in Ohio and Texas, but found the thick bread crust to be too filling. Buddy’s offers a thinner multigrain crust option, which satisfied completely, both in taste and texture.  It retained the combination of airiness and crispness that characterizes the more traditional crust.  But since it is lighter, it does not fill you up as quickly (and allows you to eat more slices, a definite advantage!). 

Pepperoni is put right on the crust, a layer of Motor City Blend cheese (Fontinella, Asiago, and Wisconsin brick) is added, dollops of tomato sauce are applied, and a second type of pepperoni tops it off. The pepperoni is sliced very thin and the slices on the top get a pleasant crispiness in the oven. The end result was a truly memorable pizza.  

Our second pizza, while good, suffered a bit by comparison with the other. We chose Buddy’s version of the Margherita pie, and this classic does not lend itself quite as well to the Detroit approach. The cheeses were not quite flavorful enough and did not caramelize well. A bit of Parmesan added at the table provided a welcome flavor boost. We enjoyed it, but it did not rise to the “destination pizza” level of its counterpart. Buddy’s has many other delicious sounding options on the menu and allows you to customize ingredients as well, so on a second visit, we would delve further into the menu. And a second visit is very much to be hoped for…and a third…and a fourth…