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Houston's Top 10 Pizzas

The rest of the best 2013.

5. Pi Pizza

Few pizza joints in town approach the traditional Italian dish with the same amount of creativity as does Pi Pizza chef and owner Anthony Calleo. Mac and cheese on pizza? Why the hell not? With a little bit of added bacon and a sturdy crust, he makes it work. Frito pie? Done. If you ask Calleo, though, he'll tell you the pizza he's most proud of is the Outdoorsman. It's one of Pi's simplest creations, featuring only three toppings: venison sausage, cherries soaked in port wine syrup, and mozzarella. If it sounds improbable to you, you're not alone. I first ordered the Outdoorsman because Calleo suggested it, and I love a good food adventure. Now I understand that venison and port-soaked cherries are long-lost lovers finally reunited on a bed of gooey mozzarella and subtly tart tomato sauce. Reunited, and it feels so good.

4. Pizaro's

Real talk: Initially, the idea of potatoes on my pizza was off-putting. Restaurants keep inventing dishes where they stuff french fries into anything and call it innovative. There are french fry-stuffed burgers and burritos, and soon there will be french fry-stuffed milkshakes. Just kidding (hopefully). So when the owner of Pizaro's, Bill Hutchinson, suggested I try the Patata e Funghi pizza topped with truffle oil, Yukon gold potatoes, oven-roasted mushrooms, mozzarella, rosemary and garlic, I was hesitant. Now I know to listen to Bill. This Verace Pizza Napoletana-certified restaurant that uses San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy and authentic "00" Italian pizza flour is one of the few places in town making legitimate Neapolitan pizzas — and with interesting toppings, no less. Sure, Pizaro's does a margherita, but why bother when you can get a pizza that so artfully displays the genius of mixing truffle oil, potatoes and dough?

3. Provisions

In my pizza memory, Grimaldi's in Brooklyn holds a cherished place. But I recently had a pie at Provisions that easily deserves a spot on my pizza love list. It's the Tuscan kale, spicy pork sausage, ricotta and fontina pie, and I liked it so much that I have ordered it twice since then. To begin, the crust is perfect. Quick cooking in a hot wood-fired oven makes it crisp, and the dough's ingredients impart a slightly sourdough-y taste that I like. (Too often, as with hamburgers and inferior buns, restaurants neglect their pizza dough, and the best toppings cannot make up for shoddy crust.) The kale is prepared carefully — I envision a searing in the pan with garlic before it is put on the uncooked pizza — and the house-made pork has the proper amount of fattiness and spice. Creamy, mild ricotta and sharp fontina (the Italian kind — don't waste your time with Swiss fontina) combine to create a sauce that will make you shake your head in appreciation. And look forward to your next trip to Taft Street.

2. Pizzeria Solario

At this point in the roundup, I absolutely must mention crust. So often as a child, I ate my pizza with the toppings, then tossed the crust aside as if it was no longer worthy of my palate as soon as it was devoid of cheese and sauce. I have since learned that it's the crust that makes the pizza. I personally believe that the best pizzas come from an incredibly hot oven powered by burning wood. Gas fire is all well and good, and coal fire is wonderful but rare. The heat from a wood fire gives pizza crust a perfect char and slightly smoky flavor that cannot be achieved through any other means. At Solario, the pizza makers scoop up a pie on the wooden peel seconds before it's finished cooking and hold it up to the top of the domed oven, where the temperature and smoke are concentrated to provide an ideal crispy finish. For a prime example of this technique in action, order the Parma 600 pizza with white garlic crema sauce, fior di latte cheese, pecorino and prosciutto di Parma 600 (a.k.a. extra-special prosciutto). The final crisping brings out the richest flavors in the Italian meat and cheese, and then the pie is removed and quickly topped with fresh arugula and a touch of truffle oil. I like to think that the lifting of this pizza at the end of the baking adds a little bit of heaven to the toppings. It certainly tastes like it.

1. Dolce Vita

There's this small restaurant in Florence called Trattoria 4 Leoni that I go to every time I'm fortunate enough to find myself within the historic Italian city. And every time I'm at 4 Leoni, I order the same thing: fiocchetti pasta stuffed with pear and taleggio. Here in Houston, Dolce Vita makes a pizza — the pear and taleggio, drizzled with truffle oil — that takes me back to Florence. It's acidic but sweet, earthy but crisp, funky but mellow. The pies have a traditional Neapolitan-style crust and a thin but fluffy body. They're crispy on the outside but still doughy and chewy on the inside. If there is such a thing — among all of the thousands and thousands of iterations — as the perfect pizza, I'd swear this is it.
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