The aroma alone is worth a trip to the Little Italy landmark — particularly on a cold Cleveland night when the very act of stepping inside the tiny storefront stirs up eddies of toasty fragrance, redolent of olive oil, garlic, cheeses and baking breads. Deliciously rustic, those scents serve as an enticing backdrop to the shop’s assortment of carryout pizzas: thin-crusted, lushly endowed and baked on stone inside a gas-fired oven. According to owner Mike Iammarino, son of the namesake Valentino, pepperoni is the perennial best-seller among the college crowd. Refined palates, however, gravitate toward the White Pizza, a tomato-free pie that begins with a slather of garlic-and-Romano-infused olive oil, proceeds to a thick strata of nutty mozzarella and concludes with nuggets of marinated artichoke hearts. (We recommend adding kalamata olives for saltiness.) While you wait, pass the time watching staffers roll fresh dough into perfect rounds, toss them into the air for translucent thinness and whisk them in and out of the oven on traditional wooden peels. “It’s a nice little show,” Iammarino concedes. “That’s how the Italians do it.”
2197 Murray Hill Road, Cleveland, 216-795-0463
11. Polish Sausage & Kraut Delight
$13.95 – $21.95
With the reassurance a mother gives a child afraid to jump off a diving board, Danny Boys asks us to leap into an unknown world where pineapple and sauerkraut combine on one crust. But trust them, the menu urges; our taste buds will land safely. The house specialty pizza — a spicy union of kielbasa, sauerkraut, jalapeños and pineapple — is strange in a good way. The unconventional toppings play off a meal we Clevelanders already love: Polish sausage and sauerkraut. “We try to think of a home-style meal from days gone by and recreate it, maybe put a twist on it, and put it on a pizza,” explains Rob Grendow, who co-owns Danny Boys with his wife, Renee. Here, jalapeño peppers pair with kielbasa for a zing that leaves any thrill-seeking mouth burning. The decision to finish the pizza with pineapple came from Grendow’s love of all things both spicy and sweet. It’s the exact effect he achieves, and even though the ultra-sweet canned pineapple doesn’t quite counterbalance the heat, it does complete the spicy, smoky, sour, sweet flavor that deserves a try. Trust us.
20251 Lake Road, Rocky River, 440-333-9595, dannyboyspizza.com
12. Quattro Stagoni
If you can walk past the showpiece of the Highland Heights pizzeria and not crave a slice of thin-crusted pie, you are stronger than we are. It’s worth ordering one of John Quagliata’s authentic Neapolitan pizzas if strictly for the show of watching the pizza-maker shove dough into the blazing 900-degree oven. It took two men from Naples three 14-hour days to construct the centerpiece of Crostatas — an 8-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide stone wood-burning oven that turns out thin-crust pizza in a fiery 90 seconds. Quagliata uses milled oak to fire up the oven, meaning every slice has a smoky oak taste a conventional oven could never recreate. On the margherita pie, big chunks of fresh mozzarella, spicy salsiccia that Quagliata’s been making by hand since 1955, sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers and artichokes marbleize the top for coverage, but not too much. This is Quagliata’s philosophy for even distribution in every bite, giving diners a chance to taste and appreciate all of the hearty flavors on each pie. “If you put too much on it, you kill the pie. Less is more,” he says.
558 Bishop Road, Highland Heights, 440-449-7800, crostatas.com
food & drink
12:00 AM EST
December 16, 2009