Hail, Pizza! (4-6)

We pay tribute to the delicious marvel that is cheese, sauce and dough with a menu of 12 gourmet pies you absolutely must try.
4. South of the Border

$11.95 – $15.95

Think of a Mexican pizza, and you think of messiness: cheese, sour cream, maybe refried beans. No matter what form the pie takes in your mind, it always comes with a stack of napkins. You expect Creekside’s version to be no different with white sauce, chorizo, red onion, diced tomato, breaded jalapeños, cheddar jack cheese, fresh cilantro and sour cream. But what arrives is a more reserved affair. The chorizo is crumbled, the jalapeños sliced, and the spicy kick they deliver is followed by a welcome sweetness. “It’s the tomatoes. We use a good Roma tomato,” executive chef John Juratovac explains. “The onions also caramelize a little bit, and the peppers, once they crisp up, take on a very mild sweet flavor.” Juratovac has worked at Creekside for 18 years, starting at 21 and learning to make pizzas from original owner Eddie Cerino. He’s still at it today, always looking to add a tasty twist, be it a Tuscan pizza topped with a balsamic reduction or a lobster pie finished with pesto. “I like to add a different dimension,” he says. “It’s not just your cookie-cutter type [pizza]. It jumps out at you.”

8803 Brecksville Road, Brecksville, 440-546-0555, creeksiderestaurant.com

5. BLT

Fire Food & Drink

Jeremy Esterly, chef de cuisine at Fire Food & Drink, has a dream: to turn all his favorite sandwiches into pizzas. So far, only the BLT has made it to the menu. But if Esterly’s glorious deconstruction of this lunch-counter standard is any measure, we wish the guy god speed. Like its namesake, Fire’s BLT pizza is a cunning combo of crispy, salty and sweet, starring broad ribbons of house-made bacon crafted from heritage-breed Berkshire pork belly. Rubbed with a mix of salt and brown sugar then brushed with a blend of Tennessee whiskey and pure maple syrup from Geauga County’s Snake Hill Farms, the labor-intensive product cures for 10 days before spending five hours smoking over a hickory fire. “We probably go through 50 pounds every week,” says Esterly. “At any one time, we have 100 pounds in the process of being cured.” A meat of this quality requires equally artful accompaniments, including a mellow substrate of Amish farmers’ cheese made with milk from grass-fed cows, along with thyme-scented tomato confit, feathery frisée, and as the final proof of its upward mobility, homemade garlic aioli, a luxury riff on Hellmann’s that could make you want to lick the plate.

13220 Shaker Square, Cleveland, 216-921-3473, firefoodanddrink.com

6. Portobello Mushroom

Luxe Kitchen & Lounge
$14 – $16

It took Marlin Kaplan, chef and owner of Luxe Kitchen & Lounge, more than a year of sampling the competition and experimenting to finesse his dough recipe. “I was really trying to capture a very particular flavor profile,” he explains, a taste that would be a little sweet, a little smoky — one that “makes you say, ‘Oh, I really want a slice of that!’ ” In the end, though, the recipe came down to just this: flour, yeast, olive oil and the all-important “secret” ingredient, suggested to Kaplan years earlier by an old Italian baker. “It’s malt sugar,” he reveals, referring to the barley-based sweetener. “It adds a subtle sweetness, but mostly it brings all the other flavors together so the dough tastes toasty and distinctive, not bready or starchy.” Indeed, hot, crisp-edged and straight out of the 550-degree oven, the hand-stretched dough bakes up light, tender, yet deliciously substantial. To complement this special crust, you can’t do better than the rustic portobello topping, a dark, woodsy mélange of meaty mushrooms, smoked Gouda, Swiss chard, balsamic syrup and garlic-infused oil that thrills veg-heads and carnivores alike.

6605 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-920-0600, luxecleveland.com

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