Clintonville Pizza Challenge: The Verdict (with a serving of unsolicited pizza philosophy)
Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2012
When the series began it was for a noble purpose. Introduce new members of the Clintonville Community to the pizza dining options of Clintonville. It was also an opportunity for me to retry some places from my past and fill in the notebook on a few places untried. The concept, was to run a March Madness style bracket system with the goal of a worthy champion to be our go to pizza for our Monday gatherings. Our merry band knew there would be challenges in our challenge: conflicting tastes, a three-year addiction to Adriaticos to acknowledge and self-help our way through. We knew there would be disappointments but with twelve candidates we “knew” there would be a few princes among the frogs. Right?
Instead of the thrill of serious competition in the spirit of March Madness we had to fight through a marathon of mediocrity for five straight weeks. Here is how the series ended with limited analysis (I did not even bother to write down opinions for the last round).
Whole World: Disqualified because they are not open on Mondays.
Gatto’s: Average nothing of note
Smith’s Deli: forgotten about until the night before. Perhaps with good cause. The pizza had a school pizza sale pizza quality to it and had OK crust but the rest tasted so packaged we looked for a price tag.
Northstar Cafe: Technically disqualified for being a flatbread. While acknowledged that this was a good product and probably the most “real” food of any candidate in the series and the freshest of any ingredients. The flatbread does not travel well and failed our long-established value and volume standard….explained later if I don’t forget.
Romeo’s: OK for a chain, the winner of the evening. It has qualities of the original Dominos of the 1970’s and a big crust ring. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts on this one and what won the day for Romeo’s was sauce. The sauce was persistently present in each bite and tasted like….pizza sauce. The others lacked any sauce of note or measure.
Going through all of the contenders, the only pizzas our gang would order again for a second trial would be Hounddogs and Belleria. Only these two would have made it to a second round. Gauging preferences among the group, Hounddogs would have been the winner. However, after leading my flock through 40 days of pizza purgatory, there was no way to take them further on the journey and thus the series ends with a fizzle. In all we tried the thirteen independent and small chain pizzas of Clintonville minus Whole World and Mama Mimi’s. It was a noble effort.
On the upside, our hosts seem to have taken a shine to Belleria (based on the many boxes I see in the household between Mondays. And, strangely enough, they don’t opt for delivery, that seems like a moral victory of some sort. The head of the household of our hosting site likes the Italian accented banter of the Mama Mia at the shop when he picks up his prize.
Also, it is noted that Adriaticos was picked up for consumption on the day of this dispatch and devoured at the host site so all is now well at our undisclosed testing zone and Nerd Night headquarters in Middle Clintonville.
What was learned. The perception in Columbus is that Clintonville is weak in dining choices. In the case of pizza that is true, not much to write home about (even in my own home) in the Ville. How sad. However there is hidden in our borders a pizza genius. A master of baking, furnace and fire tweaking who like a classic Marvel superhero, hides his powers from the world is his cider block fortress in Baja Clintonville. Yet instead of using his powers for good, he taunts the world with glimpses of the good he could do for his community and fights my ongoing efforts for him to seize his destiny to cook pizza for the pizza deprived neighbors. My garage is filled with fire bricks awaiting construction of a clandestine wood fired pizza oven. If we build it, they will dine. But alas, I digress, for this last paragraph is written for our reluctant champion and the ten people who know of whom I refer.
Back on track now. The end of the series was not without some drama. As a planning and communication tool, Facebook has some weaknesses. I did add Smith’s at the last-minute so only I knew about this dark horse late entry. Due to working at my job instead of checking some late Facebook updates, I was not aware that a pizza had not been ordered from Whole World, so when I showed to pick it up, I arrived to locked doors. My next stop was Romeos where I thought I was picking up a pizza. There was none to be had at my arrival even after using every possible name I could think the order might be under. My phone failed when I called to check with Pizza Challenge central so I decided to play it safe and be a man of action therefore I ordered a pizza to be delivered. I then went to Gattos and get the last pizza for pick up.
Reflecting on the series as a whole was difficult. The day before the last round, I was a judge for the Pizza Grand Prix series at Wild Goose Creative. Having good pizza still fresh in my mind and digestive system as well as having created the judging criteria for the amateur pizza competition, the consumption of mediocre pizza was extra painful to my soul and senses. After years of defending Columbus Pizza from transplants (and citing may good places to get it) I had to accept that we do have a lot of sub par pizza served within our city limits. Such should not be the case.
What makes a pizza great? As with all things food related – there is not much objective to say on something as subjective as personal taste. I will say some basic truths do hold evident from our pizza tasting series. A good pizza needs these characteristics:
1) Good sauce. Simple. There should be something of flavor in the base – some salt, oregano, garlic…something. It must have more than tin tinged tomato taste and it should show some resistance to a strainer.
2) A ratio of sauce to cheese, cheese to crust and base crust to crust edge that allows the flavors of all to be tasted in each bite.
It is too technically complex to write out this theorem in mathematic terms but such a ratio does exist in the minds and palettes of men and such a ratio was not seen in most of the pizzas we tried. Most were weak on sauce or seemed to lack any substance or flavor in the sauce.
3) Crust should have flavor with some chewiness (this may not be a true word, but when has that ever stopped me) and some crunch or at least mild resistance in the crust edge. It can be cracker crust or thick crust but it needs to taste like something other than dough or Wonder Bread and it should be firm not soggy.
4) Cheese. Cheese should be real. The cheese ratio should not be greater in density or volume to the crust + sauce in a ratio of 3 (parts cheese) : 2 (parts sauce + crust)
5) Volume + Price = Value. Value = one advance in ranking; lack of value equals two descents in ranking. A B+ pizza that is $10.99 beats an A+ pizza at $18.99 that can only feed 1/3 the number of people as the B+ pizza. A similar ratio applies to wine. Two good bottles of $10.99 wine beat one slightly better bottle of $21.99 wine.
If you NEED good pizza this is where you will find it: The Rossi, Adriaticos, Hounddogs, Bono, Harvest Pizzeria, Hi-Beck Tavern and at an undisclosed backyard in Baja Clintonville where a reclusive pizza craftsman tinkers with a Frankengrill toiling over micro-refinements in process to perfect his pizza to surpass the 99.9999875391% level of goodness, in his mad obsession with perfection.
There is good pizza in Clintonville but most of you will never have it and the rest of you will have to accept that you are driving out of the 43214 for a decent pizza pie.