Saturday, April 25, 2015

Review: Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza, Fort Lauderdale FL

Given the pizza renaissance taking place across America, I am no longer surprised to find great pie outside of the traditional pizza belt cities like Philly, Trenton, New York, New Haven, and Boston. One area with a terrific concentration of destination pizza is the Atlantic Coast in South Florida.
Luigi's Coal Fired Pizza, Fort Lauderdale

South Florida is home to the wonderful chain Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza. Boca Raton is host to two other first-rate coal oven pizza joints - Nick's New Haven Style Apizza and Tucci's Fire N Coal Pizza. In Delray Beach, Scuola Vecchia is turning out the best Neapolitan pizza I've had anywhere.

Thus, a recent trip to Fort Lauderdale again opened up possibilities for some great pie. I didn't have much chance to get out of my hotel due to business obligations, so one night we ordered a takeout pizza from Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza, which is located with dozens of other great restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard. Luigi's does not deliver, but they partner with "Delivery Dudes" who add a modest service charge; the pie arrived at our hotel in under an hour.
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I wanted the Margherita - but with sausage. However, Luigi's won't make any alterations to that signature pie with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. In haste to get some cured meat on my pizza, I ordered one with four meats - sausage, bacon, meatballs, and pepperoni.

Takeout pizza is never ideal, because the pie steams in the box, and that affects the texture of the crust. And this pie arrived looking beautiful, but the first third of each slice was wet and floppy. I don't blame that on the pizzaiolo - it was a result of the overloaded meat toppings and the time spent in the box.

After the first few wet bites of each slice, the coal-fired crust really began to shine. It had excellent flavor and superb texture; the cornicione was a delight.
Coal oven at Luigi's other location in Delray Beach

However, something on top was seriously amiss. I love salt - I usually add salt to a slice of pizza. But this pie was bracingly briny. By a large margin, it was the saltiest pizza I've ever had. It was at the upper end of my salt tolerance; I think some would fail to finish a slice because of the excess salt.
Underside of crust, great coal oven char

Perhaps the four meats - especially the bacon - leached a lot of salt into the pie, and perhaps the cheese and sauce had their own sodium contributions. The extreme saltiness did not ruin the pie for me, but it was a major defect.  

The meats were quite good, otherwise.  The cheese was good too, although perhaps applied a bit too thickly. The sauce had a good tang, but salt was the dominant impression to each bite.

Overall - I think this is a great pizza that suffered two major insults. First was the time spent in the box, and second was that salt overdose.  I'd gladly try it again, but in the restaurant and with some pre-bake caution about the salt. Luigi's is crafting a top shelf crust in that coal oven, and that takes you 80% of the way to destination pizza.

I recommend Luigi's - but be sure to ask them to temper the salt when making your pie.

Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: Couch Tomato Cafe, West Chester PA

West Chester, PA is the town that inspired this blog.  Because, even though West Chester is a very livable college town with a wide variety of wonderful restaurants, when I moved here in 2009, it was Pizza Kansas.  Every pie I tried was another sad, soft, floppy Sysco-sourced bland belly-filler.
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Much has changed in the time since 2009. The wonderful Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza opened a location in nearby Exton, and it's not a long drive to world-class Neapolitan hybrid pies from La Porta in Gradyville. Spatola's in Paoli makes some excellent New York round pizza and some spot-on square Trenton and Brooklyn pies.

As the Pizza Renaissance continues, more pie options can be found in nearby Wayne, PA. Dave McGrogan offers up good (not great) pizza at Barra Rossa in Downingtown and Red Star Craft House in Exton. And Philly's famous Lorenzo & Sons is opening a branch in downtown West Chester. 

In 2003, Craig Mosmen and Michael Cassano opened the original Couch Tomato Cafe in Philly's Manayunk neighborhood. They opened this West Chester location late in 2014. We went to this attractive BYOB on a warm Monday night in April.

Located on Gay Street, a lovely boulevard of shops and restaurants that lends a lot of character to the town, The Couch Tomato Cafe has a spacious seating area on the first level and a modest rooftop deck with picnic tables after you climb a long set of stairs.

Just about everyone there - working or eating - looked to be a college student. There is no table service. You order (from a menu of pizzas and sandwiches) and pay; when your name is announced, you come pick up your food.

We opted for the $16.49 Italian Stallion 16-inch pizza with a white (vs. wheat) crust, fresh and aged mozzarella, provolone, crushed tomato, sausage, basil, and fennel. There is a nice fountain offering New Hope soda for $2.19.

The pie came quickly, along with paper plates and paper napkins. It had a lovely appearance, and by every indication, it was cooked properly. Not burnt, not wet, not floppy, no toppings sliding off. The crushed tomatoes might have been distributed a little more evenly, but that was easy to fix.

The flavor was terrific. The fennel seemed lightly pickled, but it blended nicely with the vibrant tomatoes, the cheeses, and the sausage. The sausage seemed authentic, but it was in smaller chunks than I would have preferred. Overall, you can tell that the chef behind this pie blended the flavors expertly.

The crust, however, fell short. It was bland and white-bready in a way that suggested it was mass-sourced. I'm pretty religious about eating the cornicione, but here you could toss them without much regret. This dough was indeed expertly cooked, but it was not qualified to carry the high-quality toppings.  

The upstairs deck was lovely, and the gestalt experience was positive. The ambiance earns an 8, the (limited) service also an 8, the topping combination was a 9, but the crust was a 4. Overall, the pizza at Couch Tomato earns a 6. 

Couch Tomato Cafe', West Chester on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Rise—and Fault—in Pizza Lists

We have a guest blog post by one of our favorite pizza writers. Liz Barrett, author of Pizza: A Slice of American History, offers her thoughts on the merits and the traps of pizza rankings.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed the number of “Best Pizza” lists growing over the last few years. We used to see one or two big lists released per year, drumming up huge disagreements over which pizzerias made the list and which did not. I remember when Alan Richman’s 25 Best Pizzas in America list came out in GQ back in 2009. Personally, I thought he named some great places, many of which still make the cut years later, but therein lies the fault with lists—they’re personal.

Don’t get me wrong. I love “Best” lists. I read any I can get my hands on. When I first started working at PMQ Pizza Magazine in 2007, I kept all of the “Best Pizza/Pizzeria” lists that were released. My plan was to make it to every pizzeria that made the list. It went OK for a while there, but then the lists started coming faster and I started falling behind (think Lucy in the chocolate factory). In addition to long-standing historic pizzerias, brand new places started showing up on the lists. How could I make it to all of them without working from an RV?

It suddenly became very apparent that I would never make it to every “best” pizzeria. Besides that, there are more than 70,000 pizzerias in the U.S., so there had to be some missing from the lists I was finding.

I get asked regularly about my “favorite” or “the best” pizza, and I’ve easily eaten enough pizzas to run the comparison, but I very rarely answer the question. 

You see, the odds of my favorite pizza turning out to be your favorite pizza are highly unlikely, and vice versa. We’re all products of our own culinary upbringing and individual likes and dislikes. I recently broke down and participated in a couple of “Favorite” lists, but only because after eight years of writing for the industry it’s getting harder and harder to escape the question.

The bottom line is, “Best Pizza” lists should be read and enjoyed for what they are—a list of someone else’s favorite pizzas. They’re great for promoting pizza and getting the pizza conversation started, but they are by no means the final word in what your best pizza will be. Leave the judging to your own palate, and never stop exploring and searching for your own favorite pizza.

Liz Barrett
Author of Pizza: A Slice of American History (
Editor-at-Large, PMQ Pizza Magazine (

Blogger, The Pizza Insider (