Bay Slices – A Slice of Port City Pie

Originally posted by Current Magazine May 2007.

pizza sliceAs a kid, pizza was always my favorite food. Already a little larval stage foodie I did my best to try all of the variations of pizza I could find. By the time I left for college I thought I knew all there was to know about it. But in 1999 something happened that changed my life entirely. I went to Chicago.

Everyone has heard about Chicago style pizza but until you actually try one it is hard to comprehend just how good it is. I suppose that it would be akin to having West Indies Salad at any of the seafood houses around town and then ordering the same meal in say, Omaha. It’s the same thing, but the then again it’s not the same thing.

Although I was in a provolone induced euphoria while in the Windy City it wasn’t until I returned home and tried to eat pizza from one of the big chains that I fully appreciated just how good Chicago has it. I literally could not eat pizza for months. NEWS FLASH: the national chains are “not the same thing.” Their pizza is fair at best. So how was I ever to be satisfied with ginger ale after having tried champagne?

Be it barbecue, jambalaya, or in this case pizza, nationalizing a product tends to strip it of a little soul. Fortunately, locally owned pizza parlors have not lost touch with the values that make for a really great slice: freshly made dough, a high quality sauce, and premium toppings. What’s more they employee imagination and integrity.

Doughboy Pizza (West Mobile) offers a delectable Italian menu but the pizza is what all of the hullabaloo is about. They have all of the typical choices but they also have a lot more like the Jo Cain (Conecuh sausage, pepperoni, salami, and meatballs), the Mobile Bay (choice of clams, shrimp, oysters, or mussels), and Deep Dish Chicago style. The array of toppings includes oddities like calamari and spinach.

Unassuming Navco Pizza looks like it would be at home in Brooklyn rather than Alabama. This inconspicuous neighborhood haunt plays host to some of the best pizza this side of the Hudson River. They do not bother with exotic toppings at Navco just the blue collar ingredients that you would expect from an authentic pizza parlor.

Downtown Fairhope is no stranger to eclectic shops and eateries so why not a pizza parlor that fits that description. Ravenite captures that casual neighborhood feel while at the same time remaining hip and stylish. The most remarkable pizza on their remarkable menu is the Southwestern chicken. A creamy white cheese sauce (like the dip at Tex-Mex restaurants) lays the foundation for this pie that conjures images of Arizona’s Painted Desert.

Where does one begin in discussing the pantheon of pies available at La Pizzeria? Perhaps the Mardi Gras with Andouille and baby corn or the 4 Seasons with artichoke hearts and winter ham? The variety is almost overwhelming. The choice of sauces includes traditional red, pesto, or black bean and they even offer whole-wheat crust for those watching their waste.

Janino’s (Midtown and Downtown) just may be the best pizza experience in the area. Another family owned and operated Italian restaurant, Janino’s takes particular pride in their genuine New York Style pizza. Janino’s employs witty names like The Bronx (pepperoni, sausage, beef, bacon, and real ham) and The Manhattan (pepperoni, sausage, beef, black olives, peppers, onions, and mushrooms). They hand make their sauce and dough everyday. They insist on using Grände premium mozzarella which costs considerably more than the average formaggi. This dedication to excellence is evident in every slice. It is like you can taste the hustle and bustle of New York in each bite. The downtown location even has a buffet. The only thing better than great pizza is unlimited great pizza.

Other noteworthy pies are available at Pintoli’s in Satsuma and Picklefish (Old Shell Road). Pintoli’s also features classic New York style pies while Picklefish offers both traditional and the white pizza that cemented their reputation. Sure Mobile Bay is not Lake Michigan but our shores still provide some quality pizza but be warned – once you go premium it will be hard to call the chains again.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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