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Can't Hold a Candle to It

Candelari's Italian sausage pizza is a Washington Avenue wonder

A few nights ago, I sat down and feasted on a sausage pie at Candelari's Pizzeriaat Washington Avenue and Westcott. It made my eyes widen and my heart race. The dough was swollen here and there along its perimeter, with yeasty bubbles that had been baked crisp in a very hot oven. The crust was slightly charred and very thin and crunchy on the bottom. But the outer edges were thick and bready with airy bubbles, all of which made for a wonderful variety of textures.

We ordered our pizza with one topping -- Italian sausage -- and I suggest you do the same. Too many toppings is the ruination of good pizza crust. Which is why you have to avoid such abominations as the "gunslinger," with sausage, bacon and ground beef, and the "T-Rex," with six kinds of meat.

Too much grease from meats and melting cheeses will make the crust soggy. And if you pick one topping here, it has to be Italian sausage. After all, "The King of Sausages" is Candelari's trademark. The company started out as an Italian sausage-maker and got into the pizza business later on. It still makes the best Italian sausage in the city.

Order your pizza with one topping: Italian sausage.
Troy Fields
Order your pizza with one topping: Italian sausage.

Location Info

Map

Candelari's Pizzeria

6002 Washington Ave.
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Heights

Candelari's Pizzeria

6825 S. Fry Road
Katy, TX 77494

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Outside Houston

Candelari's Pizzeria

7425 Highway 6
Missouri City, TX 77459

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Outside Houston

Candelari's Pizzeria

25680 Highway 290
Cypress, TX 77429

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Cypress

Candelari's Pizzeria

2617 W. Holcombe Blvd.
Houston, TX 77025

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Braeswood

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

12-inch sausage pizza: $9.25
16-inch sausage pizza: $11.25
Lunch buffet: $7.95
House salad: $5.95
Penne with sausage: $7.95
Lasagna: $7.95

6002 Washington Avenue, 832-200-1474.

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Seasoned with garlic, red peppers, fennel seeds and a touch of orange liqueur, the sausage is slightly sweet, very spicy and wildly aromatic. The fennel gives it an aroma I associate with great Italian sausage, though the heady perfume reminds my dining companion of licorice.

The sausage isn't sliced from links, but rather crumbled across the top of the pizza in its loose form. My tablemate thought the abundant sausage made the topping a tad greasy. In my view, pork fat is always a welcome flavoring.

Candelari's makes a variety of sausages, so out of fairness, I also tried a pie topped with half chicken-and-sun-dried-tomato sausage and half turkey-jalapeño sausage. It was a bust. These are low-fat sausages that were originally intended to appeal to dieters. If you're looking for a low-fat pizza, these might come in handy. But who eats low-fat pizza?

If you aren't in the mood for a pizza at all, you can also get Candelari's inimitable Italian sausage sautéed with onions and peppers in the "sausage appetizer"; topped with peppers, onions and cheese in the "sausage grinder" (an East Coast name for a sub sandwich); layered with spinach, cheeses and red sauce in the baked lasagna; tossed with linguine in a marinara sauce; or crumbled over penne in a tomato-cream sauce.

Before my sausage pizza, I had a house salad, which included Italian pickled peppers, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives, along with lots of iceberg. The choice of dressings was ranch, blue cheese and a thick, emulsified vinaigrette, which I judged to be the most appropriate to the salad ingredients. If only they would get rid of the cheap balsamic and use a nice Italian white wine vinegar, they might have a decent dressing. My dining companion got the Greek salad, which was more or less the same thing with some feta added.

In a touching tribute to Domino's Pizza, Candelari's appetizer menu also includes buffalo wings. Domino's started this chicken wing/pizza connection in 1994 when it rolled out a national advertising campaign encouraging NFL viewers to get some wings delivered with their pizza. Up until that time, only pizzerias in Buffalo, New York, served chicken wings. After the promotion, one fifth of all delivery orders included wings, according to Domino's. Since then, wings have become mandatory on pizzeria menus nationwide.

Candelari's delivers pizza and wings (as well as beer, wine and ice cream) to the neighborhoods along the Washington Avenue corridor. But if you have a large order, you may be able to talk them into straying a little farther afield.

Unlike the original Candelari's Pizzeria on Bissonnet in Bellaire, which is mainly a take-out operation with a couple of tables, the new Washington Avenue location is a full-on restaurant, and an attractive one at that. The decor is dominated by the warm wood and terra-cotta tones of the floors and the wide brick archways that separate the kitchen from the dining room and the dining room from the bar.

The beer and wine selections are adequate, though not extensive. There is also an espresso machine behind the bar. But the most impressive piece of equipment on the premises is the big black old-fashioned Blodgett stone-deck pizza oven. It takes a real pizza-maker to use a deck oven. The pizza has to be rotated, and the oven's hot and cold spots have to be sussed out. That's why most Houston pizzerias go with the conveyor-belt oven, which cooks crappy pizzas extremely fast and requires no kitchen skills to operate.

My second visit to Candelari's new location was at lunchtime. The buffet deal sounded pretty exciting: You get a salad and all the pizza you care to eat. I sat in a booth close to the bar where the pizzas are set out. As I finished my salad and a slice of zucchini, onion and garlic pizza, I noticed five men hovering nearby. They were waiting for another pizza to come out of the kitchen, my dining companion told me. But why were they ignoring the four pizzas that were already sitting there under the warming lights?

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