Thursday, August 18, 2005

....that's amore!

It all started last year, when DucCat and I saw the tantalizing promo on Food Network for the World Pizza Championships. We spent a weekend watching dough being flipped, folded and twirled majestically in expert hands; each master had their own personal philosophy on ingredients, preparation, etc. We woke up Monday, officially pizza crazy. We had it at least once a week thereafter, sometimes twice, for quite awhile. It was madness, I tell, you, yeasty, tomato-laden madness.

Our recent trip to Crozet Pizza seems to have unintentionally struck a similar chord. On the way home from our wine country trip, we stopped by a branch of Richmond’s own Bottom’s Up Pizza for lunch. It’s a local chain that I’ve heard is quite good, and specializes in a variety of gourmet-type pizzas.

We walked in to a bustling lunch scene- at 2 in the afternoon, no less- and were promptly seated by the hostess. The front of the restaurant had a bar area that was jumping with sports fans, while the adjoining dining room carried on the same color scheme and pseudo-modern design.

We were seated in a separate dining area that was extremely spacious, and had more of a family-type feel. Obviously, this had been a busy day, as the carpet was covered with crumbs, just like the table where our hostess deposited us. No matter, we were tired and hungry travelers in search of good pie.

Looking for some guidance, we immediately saw the beast that Bottom’s Up is famous for; an ultra-thick, ridiculously large, bubbled crust. I can imagine it would be most satisfying as a late-night, post-club nosh.

With a good drive still before us, DucCat and I opted for the personal thin-crusted style. He went with a half meat-lover’s/ half Mexican pizza; I chose the ‘Goat in the Garden’, with added broccoli. Our young server whisked away the menus, and disappeared into the kitchen.

It wasn’t long before he returned with our piping-hot pies. DucCat’s pizza was extremely impressive, and smelled mouth-watering. On all accounts, he gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Being Ms. Picky-Pants, I raised an eyebrow at the singed broccoli, and the abundance of cheeses. The menu had said this was a goat-cheese pizza, but there was a fair amount of mozzarella on it as well. It tasted pretty good, once I removed some of the quickly solidifying cheese-mass. The crust had a faintly greasy aftertaste, which was odd for a pizza with no meat on it. I tried a bite of the meat-lover’s, which was much more cohesive- the greasy taste was still there, but appropriate in that context.

With the casual atmosphere, quick service, and decent pizzas, I’ll return to Bottom’s Up- just not for the Goat in the Mozzarella Garden.


You’d think that would sate us, but no. A ball of Florimonte’s dough in the freezer began screaming my name, and a few days later, sat thawing in the refrigerator.

That’s right- I don’t make my own dough. I used to, before I discovered Mark Florimonte’s wonderful restaurant up in Williamsburg. His New York-style pizza is the best in the area, and his dough is pure, seductive bliss. It’s the easiest dough I’ve ever thrown. In fact, I don’t even really have to throw it, the dough actually shrugs itself into a perfect, nonchalant circle. Groovy, baby.

Since I’ve already talked about that pizza night, we’ll continue on to the weekend. Sunday morning, DucCat and I awoke with thoughts of pizza floating through our heads- but there was no more precious Florimonte’s dough in the freezer. I don’t like using dough made the same day, so it was time for a little outsourcing.

I went to a place called 5-Star Pizza for the balls of dough. Some time ago, I’d purchased some without incident. I strode in, clueless as to what awaited me.

The guy at the cash register looked at me blankly when I asked for some balls of dough. I attempted asking in as many ways as possible. “You know, I’d like just the crust, but before it is topped and baked...”, etc., etc. I was met with a blank stare each time (pizza sauce?, he finally asked), before going back to get the owner.

I ensued in a good 15 minute argument over whether or not he was going to allow me to purchase said dough. He was absolutely scandalized that someone had allowed me to purchase dough here previously. He quizzed me about dates and times, who was working, how much it was.. and what on earth would I do with it? What exactly did I want with unbaked dough? Wasn’t the regular pizza good enough? He finally relented and sold it to me, but with the stern admonition that I was NOT to cross his threshold again and ask for such utter nonsense.

It was no Florimonte’s dough, but it got the job done:

Two night later, DucCat wanted to visit the new sister restaurant of our favourite Italian restaurant. Fresco Trattoria is different from the original in that they also serve pizza. About a month earlier, I’d gone in and ordered a margherita-style pizza, not something that was listed on the menu. The server carefully wrote down my description of the toppings. That very ticket was being shown to me with the arrival of my pizza. It was written exactly as a margherita should be, but the pie in front of me was a different creature entirely.

Something had been lost in translation by the kitchen staff. The pizza was thickly studded with tomatoes, broccoli, onions, mushrooms and kalamatta olives. In short, it was absolutely the perfect pizza for me.

We ordered a salad and some wine, and then got down to business. Our friend Renardo treated us to the Ruffino Reserva Ducale Gold 2001, quite a treat. With the colour of garnets, and nose full of deep raspberry, this is a big, fun, tongue-wrapping wine. Excellent with food, or alone, we enjoyed it both ways.

No matter that we’d just had pizza the night before: I had to see if I could get the same pizza again. As it turned out, this pizza WAS actually a menu item, listed as the ‘Pizza Boscaiola‘. I ordered it in confidence, and was not at all disappointed.

DucCat ordered his new favourite dish at this restaurant, the Pasta ala Buttera. It’s a bowl full of penne, with spicy Italian sausage, peas, and a very light cream sauce. He doled out a single taste for me to try, and I practically swooned. It was extremely flavourful, each ingredient perfectly balanced.

But back to the pizza- it truly doesn’t get much better than this:

When the alarm went off this morning, DucCat hit snooze, and we curled up for 10 more precious minutes of sleep. When it went off again, he hopped out of bed, and I shook the remnants of dreams from head. Then I realized that we had been sitting at Crozet Pizza, waiting patiently for the best pizza in Virginia.



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