Well Done Pizza Done Well


We all know that you can’t really get a great pizza in the Triangle and Raleigh in particular. You can get a decent one, but nothing like the great New York establishments like Patsy’s or Grimaldi’s, with their ultra-hot coal burning ovens. When I took my family to Grimaldi’s last year, the six of us at five large pies. Were we that gluttonous? Not really. Those pizzas (pizze?) were amazing, with limited amounts of toppings and sauce and a heavenly crust — light, a bit of spring, and charred a bit on the bottom. This is a very light pizza, and we don’t have anything like it around these parts.

Now I could just deal with the reality that I’ll have to eat pretty crummy pizza wherever I go in Raleigh, or I could go the extreme route and cut off the cleaning-cycle lock on my oven to cook my own pies at super-high temperatures like this guy. A friend of mine in Durham did this, and his pizza is clearly the best I’ve had in the Triangle. I need to get invited back! Or I could just change the way I order my pizza at places where they do a decent job.

Take Piccola Italia in Raleigh’s Cameron Village, for example. Their crust has the right flavor profile for me — not sweet like the abominable crust at Lilly’s. Piccola Italia’s sauce is not sweet, either (and why do people like sweet sauces??). But they put too much sauce on it, and too much cheese, too. They also don’t bake their pizzas long enough, so the cheese doesn’t even begin to brown and the bottom of the crust is far too pale.

So take my advice and order a pizza as follows: light on the sauce, light on the cheese, well done. The folks at Piccola Italia know what that means, and if you have to educate other places, do it.

Less toppings makes for a lighter pie, one where the crust has a more prominent role. The bottom should be slightly charred, further enhancing the flavor profile. It also helps the cooking process, with soggy pizzas a thing of the past. In the end, you might not get as filled up, but you’ll enjoy your pizza even more. It might not be Brooklyn, but it ain’t bad for Raleigh.


24 Responses to Well Done Pizza Done Well

  1. Coming from DC, where the pizza is equally crappy, I learned a long time ago to ask that my pizza be cooked well-done. Here in Raleigh, I’ve found that I can get a good pizza from Assagio’s on Glenwood/Millbrook, again so long as I order it “well-done”. Through trial and error, me and Mrs. PolitiPornster have learned that the plain cheese pizza is the only way to go. For some reason, the toppings ruin the thing. Also, the garlic knots are outstanding.

  2. Effie White says:

    Washington DC does have one amazing pizza place….Pizza Paradiso at Dupont Circle. THAT place was the place where I incubated the idea of our wood fired pizza oven. Amazing pies.

  3. RayRoadie says:

    For reasons most likely having to do with those $5 / 20 topping delivery chain pizzas, many people in this area have been trained to think that good pizza = maasively obscene amounts of toppings. Something like why people think that Cheesecake Factory is good – if they give me such a huge amount, it must be excellent.

    Varmint has it right. It’s not about the toppings. It’s about the crust and the sauce. Okay, to me it’s the crust. To my dear partner and pizza maven, it’s entirely about the sauce. I can’t even remember when I had anything but a cheese slice.

    For a truly amazing pie, though, get a white pie with fresh basil and fresh garlic. Pizza Italia on Westgate will do it if you bring in your own fresh basil. It’s what all pizza aspires to become.

  4. Joe says:

    The dude bypassed his self-cleaning lock and cooks with the cleaning cycle? That is totally awesome. I want to shake his hand.

  5. Varmint says:

    As I said, my friend in Durham did the same thing, and his pie is completely killer. It’s a bit of an obsession with him.

  6. MB says:

    A few years back I saw the soft porn star of cooking, Nigella, make grilled flat breads. I adapted them for my family and now if pizza is made in my home that is how it is done. I cheat and buy the ready made pizza dough or flatb reads and then choose the sauce and toppings. Sometimes it is just olive oil some herbs and roasted peppers and other times there is actual sauce and pepperoni and tons of cheese. I’ve made them for dinner parties and let the guests choose their own poison by having different toppings in small bowls. On the grill you can get the great char but if it isn’t nice outside and you can cook them in the oven as well.

  7. I am SO HUNGRY now. If only I had some pie…

  8. VaNC says:

    GReat to see a shout out for the much overlooked Piccola Italia. We love it We like fresh garlic on ours, so we can, as Jane Fonda used to say, feel the burn……….

  9. Matt says:

    I’m curious when you first started instructing people on the way you wanted your pizza cooked of the following:

    Questions you had to answer from staff?
    Odd looks?
    How to deal with unsatisfactory results?

    Additionally, I was at Grimaldi’s for ’06 holidays season. It was alright and the line didn’t bother me but I wanted a NY Pizza place that was well known. I don’t know it may have just been an off-pie but the pizza wasn’t astounding.

    Also, what do you list as your top 5 pizza places in the area? I’ve heard about Lilly’s but haven’t gotten there. Randy’s is alright but even if it were great you’ve got pools of grease on any of the good pies from what I’ve seen.

  10. Varmint says:

    I always asked nicely and really just asked if they could be light on the sauce, light on the cheese, and cooked well done. They generally know what you’re talking about. I never do that on the first visit to a place, because I want to know how they make their pies.

    At this point, I don’t have a top 5 pizza joints, as I haven’t really tried enough different establishments. I like the pizza at Piccola Italia, Casa Carbone, and Stromboli’s. I just like crust and sauce that aren’t sweet. I really don’t know why they add sweeteners to both.

  11. meatn3 says:

    I just had the same experience at Grimaldi’s as Matt had. Went there tonight. It was good, but not to the extent all the hype had me expecting. In all the Triangle pizza discussions I have not seen mention of The Point at Five Points. It is a nice thin crust, sauce is not too sweet & topping selection is pretty good. It is the best I’ve found in the area. I haven’t tried anything else there & server turn over is high with the resulting inconsistencies of service. But the pizza gets me in there once a month!

  12. wardfunk says:

    That’s one crazy pizza! Looks delicious

  13. RayRoadie says:

    Most of the big name NY pizza places are over-awed with their own fame and, while the quality originally was there, it sure isn’t now. That applies to Grimaldi’s and DiFara’s in spades. So far Totonno’s in Coney Island is still holding on. Most likely because it’s still very far off the beaten path and difficult to get to if you don’t know the area.

    I’m sorry if this sounds like a put down (it isn’t meant to be) but Grimaldi’s is strictly for tourists these days and DiFara’s is just about there.

  14. Varmint says:

    Maybe Grimaldi’s is hit or miss, but when we went a year ago, it was spot on. The same with Patsy’s two years ago. I guess I must be lucky.

    Of course, it’s also a matter of timing, as you want to go when the oven is at its hottest, shortly after firing it up.

  15. catena says:

    Grimaldi’s is not hit or miss in any sense. Totonno’s might be more old school, but Grimaldi’s crust is spot on every time. Don’t hate on the tourists, sometimes it pays off to be popular.

  16. Adam K. says:

    Is the pizza pictured the Piccola Italia pie made to order as you asked? If so, it at least looks pretty darn good. As for Grimaldi’s, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s strictly for tourists, but it really is pretty hit or miss. They care more about pumping out pies these days for the long line than they do perfecting each and every pizza. Di Fara went through a rough patch where he was burning pies all the time, but he seems to be somewhat back on track now — but still not quite as good as he was as little as 2 or 3 years ago.

  17. Matt says:

    What about Lombardi’s? Thats also gotten a lot of press as far as NY pizza is concerned. I think there is suppose to be another different place in Greenwhich Village, but the name escapes me. I’ve heard of the one in DC at Dupont Circle. You get in a line there too apparently but it has a following and lots of topping options. I’ve not had an actual Chi-Town deep dish and Id on’t think the “ones” I’ve had at some UNOs I don’t think count.

  18. Matt says:

    Also, I spot an NYC Poster (which doesn’t mean anything) but if I saw the table tops I could tell you if that were grimaldi’s or not *L*

  19. Varmint says:

    That’s a picture of Grimaldi’s, in the table next to the window. No, Piccola Italia pizza doesn’t look that pretty.

  20. Nibbs says:

    Such a tease!! I saw that picture and I was sure that you were going to blow the lid off the greatest pizza secret in the Triangle. Woe is me….

    Someone wants to shake my hand? Maybe he should taste the goods first…

  21. MB says:

    The first pie is an example of how a pie should exist:


  22. Varmint says:

    I think I hate you for that, MB.

  23. cbb says:

    I think the Point (in 5 points) has a pie that is closer to what you want — thinner and lighter. Give them a try if you haven’t.

  24. winston says:

    John’s Pizzeria in Greenwich Village is fantastic. I believe it is one of the grandfathered coal-fired ovens.

    But you got it all wrong. it’s not all about the crust. If it were, then let’s just oil it up and sprinkle a little black pepper and call it flat bread.

    It’s also about the cheese and sauce. Varmint is right, the sauce should not be sweet – but a bit tart (the tomato peel helps). More precisiely, it is about the right proportions of cheese and sauce. The cheese should melt in such a way that the sauce combines with it. You don’t want a cheese blanket (the result of too much cheese), but you want the sauce to bubble up through the cheese. The more orange colored the pizza looks from this combination, the better. Then, good pepperoni – with plenty of grease – is key for me. That brings it all together.

    in Raleigh, Piccola Italia is fine, but I really like Roma’s – it’s a dive on New Hope Church Road at Atlantic. The crust is a little different, but the cheese and sauce and pepperoni are perfect. Brooklyn Boys in Cary is pretty good – better by the slice because then it’s crispier and more well done. I do like Randy’s, and Cinneli’s is fine.

    Lilly’s is horrid. But that’s relative. My motto is: Even bad pizza is better than most foods.

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