Okay, can I blame it on a pizza-induced stupor? So, this is like a whole week late, but having blogged Part I, life will not be complete without a detailed report of Part II as well.
For the second round of the Best of Miami Pizza Showdown, the chowhounds roamed to the North Miami Beach area. The pack had expanded, not to mention the gluttony was documented by a reporter from NBC.
Our first stop was Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, a local South Florida chain.
As we couldn’t all fit in the big table, five of us sat at the bar, and orderd specialty pies:
Broccoli Rabe (subsituted with Aragula) and Sausage
A few minutes later the waitress came back to let us know that they are out of broccoli rabe. We asked to subsitute with aragula, and was told that woud be charged as an additional topping. Now, if we requested to subsitute one topping for another, I may understand having to pay for being a nuisance, but – Hello? You run out of some ingredient, and you are telling me that I can either forget it and pay the same price, or I have to choke up extra to get something else?
While many at the big table complained about the pies being soggy, ours were fine. I supposed once the kitchen were done with the big order, they could relax and spend a little bit more attention to our two small pizzas?
We were worried that the sauceless pizza would be too dry, but it turned out quite succulent without being soggy. The tomatoes were flavorful enough and the slightly burnt crust delectable, though the mozzarella was just average . The aragula and sausage pie was sprinkled with parmesan, and the crunchy, burnt cheese really added a lot to the taste. I didn’t like the restaurant being noisy as a bar and any conversation difficult; but overall, the pizza satisfies. Best of Miami? Not quite.
Next stop, about a mile down the street, was Pizza Fusion. I have heard a lot about this local pizza shop since it first opened, mainly for its environmentally friendly approach, “Saving the Earth, One Pizza at A Time.” They build their stores to LEED standard, recycle a lot, deliver pizzas in a hybrid car, use organic ingredients, offer gluten-free and vegan options, use biodegrable disposable utensils, plus a lot more. Noble mission indeed. However, their first store was rather far from my house, and to drive that far for a pizza is, er, not quite eco-friendly, shall we say? So I was glad to learn that not only has Pizza Fusion expanded to Miami, it is now in 10 states already.
Once we walked in, I liked the clean and comfortable place with its soft yet bright lighting and simplistic, modern decor.
They have quite an extensive selection of pizzas and it took some discussion to settle on six:
Organic Pepperoni: Organic pepperoni, tomato sauce, mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.
Bruschetta: Freshly chopped tomatoes, red onions, basil, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic with mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.
Four Cheese & Sundried Tomato: Sundried tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic, tomato sauce, goat cheese, mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.
Organic Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella: Roasted Italian eggplant, roasted red onion, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and parsley.
Farmers Market: roasted artichoke hearts, red onion, roasted zucchini and roasted Portobello with tomato sauce, mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.
Founders’ Pie: Free range chicken, kalamata olives, roasted red onion, tomato sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, provolone and gorgonzola
How do I like the pies? Well, as we are judging the best as in the tastiest, and not as best for the earth, I have to be frank: I truly wish I like them as much as their mission, but unfortunately, I don’t. While Anthony’s brought their pizza to your table piping hot, here some are barely warm, even those that started their round at our end of the table. The eggplant I had was especially soggy. Another big problem is that all the pies taste pretty similar, and better on the menu. Usually organic ingredients translate to a more robust flavor, but somehow not on these pies.
I wouldn’t call the pizzas bad, but if I visit Pizza Fusion, it’s same reason I sometimes buy soy ice cream. Not because it tastes better but because it makes me feel better.
Wiping the tomato sauce off our lips, we headed north again to our last stop, Racks Italian Bistro and Market.
I had high hopes for Racks, when I noticed the prosciutto slicing machine featured in one of the pictures on its website. My reasoning being that, if they are willing to invest some money in a slicing machine, they are willing to spend on some good prosciutto and oher ingredients. (Near the entrance, their cold case displayed a Prosciutto di San Daniele. There were also some Mozzarita burrata, for appertizers.)
My high hopes continued as the waiter brought our bread – crusty on the outside, big airy hole inside. I reasoned, if they can make some good bread, they probably know how to make some good pizza.
Time for some good beer. Our waiter recommended an Italian brand Amarcord, a brand only available, in Miami, at Racks. We ordered the “Pale Ale”, though it’s dubious that was what I got, judging from the beer’s color and the whooping 10% alcohol. It does have a very sweet, caramel like taste which I like.
Racks only have eight pizza options, four white, four red, with relatively interesting toppings. There was also a special truffle pizza for $34, which we decided against. We tried:
Secchi: Sopressata, Provolone, Fiore di Latte & Goat Cheese
Spinach – prosciutto, smoked mozzarella & reggiano
Portobello – truffle oil, gorgonzola dolce & speck
Sweet sausage – meatballs, onion, ricotta & grana padana
Racks is the easy winner of the night. My favorite was the Portobello, with the aroma of the truffle oil drifting in from four seats away. By using gorgonzola dolce, the blue did not overpower: it’s barely a hint there, a sweet creaminess. However, unless I have a big group, this pizza may be too rich if eaten more than one slice or two. Several people raved about the Secchi. Unfortunately my sample was only got a corner piece with a dab of tomato sauce (the problem with too many attendees, even though by our third stop, the number had drindled from 28 to 17).
Now comes the question: Racks or Volante? Hmm… that’s a tough one. I would say Volante has better cheese. And I would give another point for the other ingredients, for trying to go local and go organic (with better results than Pizza Fusion). On the other hand, Racks have more choices, and slightly more interesting combinations, though neither as innovative as Joey’s. Push comes to shove, I will likely give my vote to Volante, for it does seem to have more “heart”. It does’t pretend to be a swanky place, no girl in black corset posing to shove pizzas into the oven and slice the ham. Just honest, budget-friendly, good food. It support local food producers and in turn deserves our support.
The next question is: Can Volante keep the vote? I can’t say. Looks like Part III on South Beach has some serious contenders. All I can say is, look forward to it!!