Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review: Via 313 Pizzeria, Austin TX

Not long ago, it was nearly impossible to find pizza worth eating in most cities outside the Northeast. But the ongoing pizza renaissance has brought destination pie to lots of places. Austin - the hippest town in Texas - is one of the best examples.
Transplanted New Yorker Ron with Austin's Detroit pizza

We had some genuine NYC style slices at Home Slice, superb Neapolitan pie at Pieous, and a great hybrid pizza at St. Philip. Our last stop in Austin was Via 313 Pizzeria, known for its thick rectangular Detroit style pizzas.

Via 313 started out as a food truck operation (and still operates two trailers), but we visited their fairly new brick and mortar sit-down restaurant, situated in an Oak Hill strip mall on the southwest edges of the region. We arrived on a Tuesday night to a very busy but not quite packed restaurant, and we were seated quickly.
The Bar Pie

Via 313 is a cool modern space in a standard suburban setting. Scrutinizing the menu, I was delighted to discover that Via 313 offers bar pies in addition to the Detroit style pizza. Via 313 describes the bar pie this way:
Simple by look, complex by flavor. These thin-crust pies are crispy yet chewy with a cheesy edge, just like its cousin, the Detroit Style. They can be found from Wisconsin to Massachusetts in any number of beer joints, taverns, and tap rooms.

We ordered a 10" x 14" (eight slice) Detroit pie with pepperoni, and a bar pie with sausage. Craft beer is big in Texas, and some good local brews are on tap.

Let's talk first about the bar pie. It was wafer-thin, and the crust was crispy-chewy as advertised. Such a thin crust could easily be swamped in sauce or cheese, but the proportions here were perfect. Each slice was rigid enough to support the toppings without drooping.

The crust had its own character, while the sauce and cheese lent that classic tangy flavor. No single element jumped out - this was just a wonderfully balanced thin pie. The sausage was the genuine Italian variety, applied in nice uneven chunks. The server told us it was partially cooked before going on the pie.

Underside of the bar pie

If you have a passion for bar pie, this one will satisfy. It succeeded on every criteria for a great bar pizza. Not many places specialize in bar pie, so this was a grand treat and the best one I've eaten since trying the terrific pies at Lee's Tavern in Staten Island. The bar pie alone is reason enough to visit Via 313.

I'm happy to report that the bar pie was only the beginning of the good news about the pizza at Via 313. I've had Detroit-style pizza on my radar for a while, and it's not easy to find it outside Detroit. 
Detroit dough:

A Detroit pizza is a thick puffy crust, baked in a deep pan (but not a deep-dish Chicago style pie), with edge-to-edge cheese that deliberately spills over the sides for browning and caramelization. After the pie comes out the oven, tomato sauce is ladled on post-bake to form big red stripes.

For our party of three, I debated the modest 4-slicer vs. the larger 8-slice pie. We chose the 8-slice version, and I'm glad we did. On arrival at our table, the visual was stunning. Those caramelized edges of crisped cheese framed a pie that revealed its rich red sauce and nicely browned cheese. But wait, where is the pepperoni we ordered?

Had I read the menu carefully, I would have noticed that the pepperoni is applied under the cheese. On this otherwise-perfect pizza, that was an assembly flaw that should be corrected. Pepperoni covered in cheese is denied the chance to crisp, caramelize, and release its precious orange oil. We ate half the pie thinking that the kitchen had simply omitted the pepperoni.
Underside of the Detroit pie

This is a minor issue, though, because everything else was brilliant. The crust was properly thick, but somehow puffy and light without being insubstantial or white-bready. Golden crisp on the bottom, tender and chew in the middle. The sauce and cheese were wonderful role players, and there was a magical mix of textures from the crispy bottom, soft middle, and chewy layer of browned cheese on top. Add in the crispy brown edges of cheese for one more dimension of flavor and texture.
Vintage bakery ovens at Via 313. From

One might ask "Isn't that just cheesy bread with dipping sauce?"  Or, "Isn't that just a Sicilian pizza with cheese all the way to the edges?"

Fair questions. Fact is, I've never had a Sicilian that was worth the calories. They are frequently formed from inferior dough and undercooked cheese. And cheesy bread is never legit - it's the lowest white-bread breadstick that would barely pass at Olive Garden. 

Buddy's in Detroit is the legendary Detroit pizza, and I need to get there to try it. Until then, this is a wonderful representation. I can even mention it in the same paragraph as the astounding Detroit pizza at Norma's in Manheim, PA.

This is the first time I've found a pizzeria that makes two distinctly different styles of pizza and nails them both. This was a transcendental pizza experience and I cannot recommend Via 313 too strongly. If you have a chance, get there.

Via 313 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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