Buffalo Chicken Pizza at Russo's

Houston's second Russo's New York Coal-Fired Pizza (their name is as much a mouthful as their enormous slices), located next to a Charming Charlie's on I-10 at Echo Lane, has only been open for 15 days.  Despite this (and perhaps because of the popularity of their other, well-oiled location on the Northwest Freeway), things seem to be running busily and smoothly.

I dropped in for a quick slice today at a late lunch.  Even though it was 2:00 p.m., there were still a few tables noshing away in the main dining room and a few patrons putting away slices at the bar.  True to the nature of the surrounding neighborhoods, the interior is highly polished -- in that upscale if overdone and sterile way -- with pallets of granite and slate tile having been used to decorate the place.

Sitting at the bar in front of a huge plasma TV showing Fox News (again, not a surprise in this area), I was pleasantly surprised to see that Russo's has a well-chosen selection of microbrews on draft as well as my old Italian favorite, Peroni.  Such a shame I had to go back to work.  After it became apparent that I was having a hard time deciding on a menu item, the very likeable bartender recommended her favorite to me: the Buffalo chicken pizza.

"It's my favorite!" she exclaimed.  "I eat a slice of it every day."  Even though I was wary of ordering Buffalo chicken anything at an Italian place, she was simply so excited that I put aside my doubts and placed my order.  I should have stuck with the pepperoni.

When the pizza came out only two short minutes later, it was obvious that they'd just taken a slice of the cheese and thrown some chicken and red onions on top, then drizzled it liberally with Frank's Red Hot Sauce.  Now, you could put Frank's on nearly anything -- dried out skunk carcass, burnt tires, ball of ripple, mud pie, etc. -- and it would taste good.  This pizza seems to be the exception to that rule.

The tiny, rubbery nubbins of chicken on the pizza were tough and over-seasoned with generic Italian seasoning.  They were clearly destined for some other, more Italian pizza (although I feel just as bad for the person who orders that slice, too).  The red onions were sliced too thinly to have any taste or bite.  The entire thing was such a disappointment, especially when I was sitting in such close proximity to a beautiful slice of pepperoni, only inches away at my fellow diner's elbow.

It's a shame, really, because the underlying structure of the slice itself was fantastic.  It's wonderfully and immodestly enormous, to begin with -- your own personal pan pizza in slice form.  The dough was perfectly cooked with just a hint of that sought-after charring around the edges.  The sauce was good, tangy and savory and not too sweet.  But the toppings were just abominable.

I fully admit that disliking Russo's pizza is my own fault.  I know better than to order gimmicky dishes like this and -- like Alison Cook says -- I know better than to order chicken on pizza.  I'll be back soon, and this time I'm getting that pepperoni.


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