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Posts Tagged ‘Clintonville Pizza Challenge’

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.

Posted in Clintonville, Columbus, culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Clintonville Pizza Challenge: Dantes vs. Clintonville Pizza Primo, Another Failed Plate

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 15, 2012

(Above, the winners of the fourth round of the Clintonville Pizza Challenge: a bag of Kettle Chips and homemade cookies).

When this series began, I was going to have a graphic designer pal put together a bracket to plot the rise and fall of the pizza candidates in the challenge. Unfortunately, we have only seen a rise of fail. Dantes and Pizza Primo both missed the mark. By a long shot. Neither are advancing to the next round.

Here is what transpired. Don’t try this at home.

Quotes from the evening:

“Mediocrity reigns”

“This is the last round…..right?!?

We tried a plain cheese pizza from both location as well as a sausage, mushroom and pepperoni from both shops. Their was a glimmer of excitement for Dantes since their sausage is billed as housemade. We had hope – we lost it. One of the Primo pizzas ordered was a thick crust variety – that did not help.

Are these bad pizzas. No. Are they good? The ones we had given new meaning to the word meh.

In the case of Pizza Primo – across the board the consensus was that it tasted like frozen or off the shelf pizza. The sauce lacked any aspect of flavor. It was red and wet but that was it. Overall: bland, unmemorable, disposable and generic were the adjectives used. We had a lot of this one left when the evening concluded.

For Dantes, I had a glimmer of hope. I believe Dantes was my first encounter with pizza, I would have been five or six. As I stood waiting to pick up our order, I had a lot of time to watch the place in operation. It is a family joint – family run and patronized. The dough slingers know the customers by first name, what school they went to and probably which T-ball team their cousin was on last year. While I was there an employee and a customer spent fifteen minutes catching up on family matters while pizzas were prepped. Another customer shared that he has just had to put his dog down. The order counter is right by the pizza assembly area so you watch each pie made. I read a letter on the wall praising the Dantes sausage and I was hoping their sausage would deliver a hit for the nerd night Clintonville Pizza Challenge crowd. Dantes has character for sure and a good connection to community. I was hoping some of that love would rise and thrive in the pizza dough too.

Dantes fared better but was still underwhelming. The sausage, while homemade, tasted like it might have been made at home….long ago. The grease smears permeating the thin plain white box is a signature characteristic but the good aspects of the grease went the wrong direction. In the case of both cheese Pizza Primo and especially Dantes pizzas – the plain pies are at a disadvantage because they don’t allow any other ingredients to hide the imperfections of the products. For both pizza purveyors a better sauce could have helped either cross the line of average but the whole was less than equals to the sums of the parts – passable but not worthy of the next round.

We now find ourselves with four rounds complete and several disappointments. Before the gang stages a coup and kicks me off the pizza island, we are going to double down and put all the remaining pizzas on the table. On Monday, April 16th we are going to complete round one of the series with one each of Northstar Cafe, Whole World, Gatto’s and Romeos and hope that at least one is a cut above the rest and at least more than edible.

Stay tuned for the outcome. I doubt there will a final four out of this series. But we are hoping for a final two to pair off against Adriaticos as the official pizza of nerd night.

Posted in Clintonville, culinary misadventure, pizza | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Clintonville Pizza Challenge: Hounddogs vs. Villa Nova, The Path of Redemption

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 9, 2012

Redemption. Hallelujah!

If your read the last installment of the Monday Nerd Night Clintonville Pizza Challenge you may recall that things were looking dire for the series. Both contenders lost and the nerds were demoralized.

I was confident that Hound Dogs would deliver and I was pretty sure Villa Nova would provide a passable pie. I knew the series was sustainable when our pessimistic pizza contrarian had this to say about Hound Dogs, “This one is going to go far.” “This is damn good.”

The contest pitted a Hound Dogs Smoking Joe’s style (spicy sauce, garlic laden crust) with pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms as well as a traditional Hound Dogs pizza with an extra layer of cheese vs. two Villa Nova pizzas with the same toppings.

It was also a contest of cultures and mindsets. It was North vs. South. Hound Dogs lies in the badlands near Baja Clintonville in Olde North Columbus. Villa Nova is a community standby located in the nether regions between Worthington and Clintonville. Hound Dogs fuels the food needs of Hipsters. Villa Nova feeds the working class families and geriatric set of those north of Graceland. Young vs. old. New vs. traditional.

I knew Hound Dogs would win. But I also knew Villa Nova would at least offer some resistance. Villa Nova makes money by giving people their expectations – basic food, good service and price points that are right on target for the budget minded. Villa Nova keeps their parking lot packed seven days a week and has done so well that they bought the Just Pies building next door, knocked it down to build a second lot and filled it on the first day.

At Hound Dogs, the motto is pizza for the people. Most visitors have a shared experience at Hound Dogs. Good pizza, often apathetic or distracted service. The tattoo laden, band on the side culture of the staff at Hounddogs is a stark contrast to the family of servers at Villa Nova. More than four miles separate these two approaches to pizza.

As a group, we also debated the value of the pizzas. Villa Nova was $28.50 for two 15 inch pies. Hounddogs was $25.00 for two 14 inch pies. If we measured value by mass then Hound Dogs won the value category.

(Above: The blind eyes of pizza justice in action)

Another debate centered on canned mushrooms. Love them or repelled by them, these rubbery, chewy canned fungi strike a nostalgic cord with those of us raised on Ohio pizza. We “know” it’s wrong but we don’t want to do right.

The final debate was on crust density and ratios. This was inspired by the two cheese pizzas. Each was double cheese, causing a mass of cheese pressing down on crust. Some liked a crust to cheese ratio of 1:1; while others advocated for the Hound Dogs 5:1 ratio.

Reviewing comments of the testers, there was one clear winner – Smoking Joes. If it was regular Hounddogs vs. Villa Nova, it could have been close but the spicy and garlic infused flavors of Smoking Joes is quickly addictive.

Hound Dogs advances to the next round and is currently looking like it may be the winner. Villa Nova received respect and honorable mention for a good cracker crust and spicy sausage.

Tonight is round four of the challenge. Dante’s vs. Clintonville Pizza. Stay tuned.

Posted in Clintonville, pizza | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »