Pizza, a $30 billion industry, is considered the most popular ethnic food in the United States. Over 3 billion pies are sold annually and 17 percent of U.S. restaurants are pizzerias. It is estimated that people eat around 350 slices per second, equivalent to 100 acres of pizza per day. Mamma mia, that’s a lot of pizza.
In most U.S. cities and towns, there is never a shortage of pizza places. Take Clematis Street, where there are currently six pizza joints within a four-block range and a new one on the way. Grimaldi’s, a New York-style pizza chain, recently announced it is opening at One Clematis Street, a premiere Intracoastal-front spot that has been empty for almost three years. In response to this announcement, a lot of people are asking, “Do we really need another pizza place on Clematis Street?”
To answer that question, I hit Clematis to sample all the pizza places to determine if there is room for some new competition. My mission was to gauge the most important ingredients of a good pizza: quality, texture and application of the tomato sauce, cheese and crust. I visited all six locations and sampled only plain cheese slices. To keep it simple, I used the following pie chart:
Not so much
Clematis Pizza: This is a small, eat-in pizza place on the quieter, western end of the street. The pizza was heavy on the cheese, and the restaurant could have used a little more sauce. The crust was slightly less than medium in thickness, with a slight crunch. It gets .
Luna Pizza: The pizza had an unusual aftertaste and was very salty (poor-quality cheese) with a mediocre crust – similar in quality to a store-bought frozen pizza. Luna gets .
Luigi’s: The pizza had a chewy crust of medium thickness with no char and was extremely cheesy, with practically no tomato sauce. Luigi’s is fairly new to Clematis Street and is more of an Italian restaurant than a pizza place. It has a full liquor bar, and its menu features lots of Italian favorites, such as parmigiana, rollatini, marsala and pasta choices that have not disappointed. Luigi’s gets (but only for its pizza).
Nico’s Pizza: The crust was thin and slightly crunchy. It has just a tad too much cheese and not enough sauce. If you are in a hurry and need a quick slice, this is the place to go. Nico’s gets .
Pizza Girls: Out of the six pizza places, Pizza Girl’s has been on Clematis Street the longest. The slice was heavy on the cheese, with a medium thickness and a slightly chewy or undercooked crust. I had to lightly pat my slice with a paper napkin to soak up some of the grease oozing from the processed cheese. Pizza Girls gets . (For the record, I have never seen any girls working at Pizza Girls.)
Hot Pie: This is by far the best pizza place on so many levels. Located one block south of Clematis on Olive Avenue, the pizza is so delicious that once you try it, you will come back again and again. The ingredients are extremely fresh and include homemade mozzarella and tomato sauce. Slices are available during lunch, and they are done perfectly. The crust is thin, slightly charred and delicious, topped off with a perfect balance of fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
The premium pie favorite is the Johnny New Yorker – thin, charred crust, perfectly sauced with just the right amount of fresh mozzarella cheese, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil. Hot Pie also offers a nice selection of other choices on its menu, like its delicious oven-baked chicken wings smothered with roasted onions and its wonderful filet mignon steak bites as an appetizer, sandwich or with a salad. The place is charming and features a full-liquor bar, big comfy booths and outdoor seating. John, the owner and chief pizza maker, has been a fixture downtown for many years. He was the original owner of Fire Rock Pizza and got his start in New York City, where he worked at some of the city’s best pizzerias. Hot Pie gets .
Does Clematis Street need another pizza joint? Based on this recent tasting, I believe another good pizza place would be a welcome addition. I found the majority of the pizza sampled lacked fresh or quality ingredients and were so cheese-laden that it overpowered the pizza. Almost all the pizzas lacked the appropriate amount of tomato sauce.
While Hot Pie remains Clematis Street’s premiere pizza place, Grimaldi’s may just make a big splash, especially with the New York City water it claims to import for its pizza dough.
What’s your favorite pizza place?