September 25, 2009

Azzeria (Wexford)

Being a true pizza snob is a difficult existence. Simply put, often I'd rather go without than eat an inferior slice just because it's technically pizza. There are times when hunger, convenience, and a lack of options gets the better of me. But, as a general rule, I try to avoid poorly made pizza.

What are the/my criteria for "poorly made"? Well, let's start with the crust, which, remarkably, is the most underappreciated component of a pizza. Think about a crust from a typical chain, whether it be Dominoes or a smaller, local chain. It typically has the texture of damp cardboard, lacking any crispiness or chewiness, and has almost no flavor, with the exception being that of grease.

Next the sauce. Again, the sauce at most pizza joints taste primarily of grease, excessive salt, and tomato paste. There is little actual flavor of tomato or even any herbs. There is also often an excessive overabundance of sauce. The toppings? Mass-produced, tasteless mozzarella, and, again, typically too much of it. Mushrooms? Canned or dried, sad little things that taste like and resemble jigsaw puzzle pieces. Olives. Boring black, likely from a large can. Sausage? Crumbly, dry, closer to bird droppings than a meat product. Pepperoni? Well, pepperoni is pepperoni. The only difference typically is that of quantity.

AZZERIA PIZZA & gelato on Urbanspoon

Which brings me to a relatively new addition to the northern 'burbs of Pittsburgh, Azzeria. Located in the Village at Pine on Rt. 19 in Wexford, this is a second location -- the original is in (or at least on the border of) Mt. Lebanon -- for Azzeria. And I can say without hesitation that the pizza at Azzeria is quite good.

Is it on par with Dinette? No. Then again, few pizzas are.

Generally, though, the pizza at Azzeria is at least two steps above what can be had at most predominantly pizza joints and at other restaurants that also offer pizza on the menu.

The crust could use a little more salt, and often times could use another minute in the brick oven, but generally it has the flavor and texture that you would expect from what is in effect homemade bread, and serves well as a canvas for the toppings.

Speaking of the toppings, Azzeria seems to understand the fundamental importance of moderation. The sauce or cheese or various toppings are not heaped on and seem to be of high quality (even the pepperoni).

The plain red is quite good. Tangy tomato flavor and the fresh mozzarella tastes, well, fresh. The "white," topped sparingly with 4 cheeses, including a whipped fresh ricotta, is also well done. You can taste the different cheeses with no single one dominating.

The vodka sauce pizza, an idea I like, is an interesting offering and mostly successful. The beans & greens pizza, another good idea, is overwhelmed by too much garlic. I suppose this appeals to some people, but I'd rather taste the bitterness of the escarole and creaminess of the beans. My favorites are the white and my personal concoction of sausage and escarole.

Also on offer are some salads, a bit small for my liking, but fairly fresh, and soups, which I've yet to have. The wings, which are doused in herbs and fired up in the brick oven, are smoky and meaty (could be a bit crispier) and a welcome change from the overly sauced and underflavored wings that litter the menus of restaurants across the city/country.

There is also delectably creamy and locally made gelato, made by Mulberry Creamery. Among the many flavors on offer, the "Death by Chocolate" lives up to its moniker and the pistachio tastes like pistachios. An excellent way to end a visit here.

The setup at Azzeria is a little atypical. There is no wait staff. You place your order at the counter and a few minutes later they call your name to pick up your food. Herein can be a problem, because let's say you need to get an extra drink or some gelato or, heck, another pizza, you have to wait in the ordering line, which, depending on how busy things are, can take 5-10 minutes. Yes, typically you'd have to wait for your server to get any of things, but at least you'd be sitting.

It's also BYOB, with small wine glasses and corkscrews available. Unfortunately, there is no liquor store in the plaza. The new Giant Eagle in the same plaza will soon have a liquor license soon, though. The restaurant itself is wide open, with a few booths and tall two- and four-top tables, and garage door-like walls that open up to ample outdoor seating for when the weather feels like cooperating.

Overall, I'm a big fan of Azzeria and am glad it's here. With so few good dining options in this neck of the woods, it's nice to know there is a kid-friendly place where we can have an affordable, quality meal in a comfortable environment.

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