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Pizza in DFW: a cheesy love affair

Posted 12:30am on Thursday, Apr. 03, 2014

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore. For most of us, our affection for pizza started blooming at an early age: a staple of our childhood, perhaps, or maybe an affordable convenience as we transitioned into adulthood.

But in the past few years, our pizza passion has blossomed into a full-on love affair that we just can’t quit, with our hearts melted by the springy dough, crimson tomato sauce and dabs of soft white cheese. We mob new pizzerias, content to wait for more than an hour, eager to make a night of splitting a few pies with our partners and friends.

Part of our ardor comes from the fact that pizza has matured, graduating from the chain pies that were once the norm across Dallas-Fort Worth to a more sophisticated treat. We’re breaking up with the cardboard-crust pizzas piled high with canned olives and greasy rounds of pepperoni, and moving on — to better-quality pies made with gourmet ingredients.

Goodbye to the days when we viewed pizza as a quickie after a night of drinking, or a cheap high-carb feed for our darling spawn after a weekend soccer game.

We’ve grown up. We take our pizza seriously now. We treat it with the dignity that a fine pizza deserves. We devote our Saturday nights to it, making it the linchpin of our dinner and date nights.

We eat it slowly, reverentially, with a knife and fork. We fixate on the provenance of its stringently applied toppings, be it a spicy soppressata ham from Calabria or a creamy burrata cheese from Campania. We scrutinize the crust, sighing over its charred edges. We nibble delicately, savoring the interplay of its resilient chewiness in the center and the crackly, airy bits around the edge.

Luckily for us, there’s plenty to love.

Pizza follows our recent tendency to give foods an artisan makeover. We’ve already turned tacos gourmet at Torchy’s. We’ve enjoyed spruced-up burgers at Hopdoddy, Rodeo Goat and Liberty Burger. Even mac and cheese now comes with truffle oil and a $12 price tag at places like Queenie’s.

In the realm of pizza, our new dreamboat is Neapolitan-style. It’s the chewy, brown-edged pie with the soft crust and minimal toppings that Julia Roberts devours in Eat Pray Love. Hailing from romantic Naples, Italy, it has become the standard by which great pizza is measured, says Gianluca Rottura, a veteran New York pizzaiolo whose family is from Italy.

“Everyone likes pizza. You know what they say — it’s the world’s most popular food,” he says. “But we travel more, and the Internet made us more aware of what it’s supposed to be. It went from people saying, ‘What is this?’ to understanding that it’s the original pizza from Italy.”

Jeffrey Siegel, a Dallas foodie who dines out on pizza at least once a week, says he has eaten all the great pizzas in the world, and finds none better than Neapolitan, which he enjoys at Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum. That pie shop recently opened a third branch in Fort Worth, creating a foodie frenzy and helping to pack parking lots behind the Magnolia Avenue destination.

“Neapolitan pizza done correctly has all the factors necessary for superb pizza,” he says. “The oven, the dough, the temperature, the tomatoes. When you want to judge a pizza community, you have to judge their Neapolitan pies.”

Though besotted by Neapolitan pizza, Siegel says that New York pizza is wonderful in its own right. “Sometimes you just get in the mood for a New York pizza with a crust that’s thin but chewy,” he says.

And just as we don’t all fall in love with the same kind of person, the same goes for pizza. While some of us are loyal to our one and only, others admit the truth: We have room in our heart for more than one.

With that, we take a luscious look back at our affairs of the heart — past and present.

Our first loves: Mama’s and Campisi’s

There are those pizza fans who became entranced with the first pizza they ever met, and wouldn’t dream of straying. In Fort Worth, that has to be Mama’s, standing tall since 1968. Its pizzas come with gooey cheese, chunky toppings and a thick, rolled-over crust brushed with butter. It can taste downright sinful — which is probably why so many longtime Fort Worth residents are so devoted to it.

In Dallas, it’s Campisi’s, where they’ve been slinging oblong-shaped pizzas with crisp, thin crusts since the ’40s. Both of these home-grown chains boast their own styles, and they’re both unlike any other pizza in the world. Don’t we all know someone who’s still married to their high-school sweetheart?

Slice that stole our heart: Mama’s old-school meat combo with pepperoni, hamburger and sausage.

Find ’em: Mama’s Pizza has eight locations in Tarrant County, including three in Fort Worth and its most recent in North Richland Hills; www.mamaspizzas.net. Campisi’s has nine locations in North Texas, its most recent on Fort Worth’s Camp Bowie Boulevard; www.campisis.us.

Our soft-spoken suitor: Cavalli

Though it might not be as flashy as some of the others that came after, Cavalli Pizzeria Napoletana in Irving was the first Neapolitan pizzeria in DFW, arriving in 2008. Cavalli was the first to go to the trouble of obtaining certification from the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, which confirms that the restaurant follows the methods pioneered in Naples. Cavalli opened a second branch in McKinney in 2010.

Slice that stole our heart: Texas Heat with soppressata, jalapeño, garlic and oregano.

Find it: 3601 Regent Blvd., Irving, 972-915-0001; 6851 Virginia Parkway, McKinney, 972-540-1449; www.cavallipizza.com.

The carnal hookup: A New York slice

The New York pizza is your basic pie, dusted all over with mozzarella and maybe some pepperoni. It has long been the most dominant pizza type across North Texas. The best purveyors in town include Zoli’s NY Pizza Tavern in Oak Cliff and Grimaldi’s (with numerous branches).

New York pizza entrances its fans with ruby-red tomato sauce and oozing mozzarella cheese, set atop a crust that yields in the mouth willingly while providing a satisfying crunch.

Aside from its gustatory pleasures, New York-style pizza summons a nostalgia for the simple pleasures of a slice, grabbed off a street corner for the princely sum of $1.50 and eaten on the move. New York pizza is where you turn when you’re not in the mood for something complicated, when you need to feel unfettered by attachments, just you and your pizza and nobody else.

Slice that stole our heart: At Zoli’s, a thick and crunchy Sicilian; at Grimaldi’s, white pizza with garlic.

Find ’em: Zoli’s, 202 W. Davis St., Dallas, 214-942-9654; www.zolispizza.com. Grimaldi’s, numerous branches, including Grapevine, Dallas and Allen; www.grimaldispizzeria.com.

The seductress: Fireside Pies

If New York-style is the lone wolf, then Fireside is the seductress, its pizzas topped with thick slices of tomato and ringed with puffy, voluptuously airy crusts. Who else in town has a pizza named “hot n’ crumbled,” with spicy sausage and whipped ricotta?

Neapolitan pizza got a precursor in Dallas-Fort Worth with the opening of Fireside Pies on Henderson Avenue in 2004. While not a true Neapolitan-style pizza, Fireside’s thin, foldable crust and high-end, carefully considered toppings led the way in recasting pizza in locals’ minds as a cuisine to be taken seriously.

There are now five branches of Fireside Pies, including the hugely successful location in Fort Worth’s West Seventh Street district, which serves as the chain’s R&D lab. Four years later, and our seductress is still luring us in: On weekend nights, ravenous patrons can still come up against a wait of 45 minutes or more.

Slice that stole our heart: Meatball pie with red onions, red peppers and smoked mozzarella.

Find it: Five area locations, in Fort Worth, Grapevine, Plano and two in Dallas; www.firesidepies.com.

The bad boy: Uno

For an exercise in excess, we know where we can always turn: Uno Chicago Grill (once better known as Uno Pizzeria), home to the area’s primary Chicago-style pizza. With its robust tomato-y filling sitting high inside its buttery deep-dish crust, Chicago-style pizza is the bad boy that makes you eat more pizza than you really want. You might hate yourself the next morning, but when it calls, you can’t say no.

Slice that stole our heart: Numero Uno deep-dish with sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers and mushrooms.

Find it: The local branch of this chain is in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square, 300 Houston St., Fort Worth, 817-885-8667; www.unos.com.

The One. No, really … The One: Cane Rosso

No one in Dallas-Fort Worth has done more to spread the gospel of Neapolitan-style pizza than Jay Jerrier, the former tech guy-turned-pizza man. He taught himself, practicing in his back yard before opening his first Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum in 2011. He has since been joined at the ovens by accomplished pizzaiolo and Italian native Dino Santonicola, and at his new Fort Worth shop, pizzaiolo Shon Ben-Kely. (His second Cane Rosso opened in the White Rock Lake area in 2013.) A skillful practitioner of social media, Jerrier wins our hearts and stomachs by posting beautiful photos of his pizza, good enough to make us drool.

Slice that stole our heart: Delia, with bacon marmalade, grape tomatoes and arugula.

Find it: Deep Ellum (2612 Commerce St., 214-741-1188), White Rock (7328 Gaston Ave., 214-660-3644) and Fort Worth (815 W. Magnolia Ave., 817-922-9222); ilcanerosso.com.

Keeping our options open: Neapolitan newcomers

Other Neapolitan pizzas are rolling in. The San Antonio-based Dough Pizzeria opened a branch in North Dallas in 2011. Pizzeria Testa opened in Frisco in late 2012. Apeizza opened in 2013 in Southlake. There’s a Neapolitan-pizza food truck called BellaTrino that just got off the ground, featuring a pair of chefs who learned the ropes at Cane Rosso. And Pizza Snob on the TCU campus does a simplified twist on Neapolitan-style pizza with its minimal-toppings policy and slightly soft crust.

Find them: Dough, 11909 Preston Road, Dallas; Pizzeria Testa, 8660 Church St., Frisco, www.pizzeriatesta.com; Apeizza, 2777 E. Southlake Blvd., Southlake, southlake.apeizza.com; BellaTrino, bellatrino.com; Pizza Snob, 3051 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, pizzasnob.com.

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