If you weren't one of the millions of visitors to Italy this summer, you're in luck because Pizza Motus, the new Roman-style pizza shop at 6119 Edloe in West U, may do a decent job of temporarily transporting you.
Roman pizza is a relatively novel addition to Houston. Pizza al taglio (by the slice) is characterized by a thin, airy crust typically cut into squares that more closely resembles a flatbread than an American pizza pie—Houstonians can thank owner Will Gruy, who spent part of his childhood in Italy, for bringing this glorious street food back to Houston. In Italy, it's commonly sold by weight and rewarmed for the purchaser to eat on the go. In theory, this would make for the ideal take out pizza (instead of sadly sogging and congealing in a humid to-go box).
We tested this theory one night, ordering a small (at the advice of my friend, who informed me that a large pizza fed her and her husband for three meals) eggplant parmesan pizza and the beet and arugula salad to go. Accompanied by my friend's dog, we picked up our order 20 minutes later and ate it on the patio. Even in semi-darkness, it was clear that the bubbled, and vaguely focaccia-like crust had stood up well to the wait with a chewy middle and still-crispy edges. And though we couldn't really taste the uber-thin slices of eggplant draped over each square of crust, we were placated with the layers of cheese that oozed atop and a tasty pesto that came alongside. (The salad was fine, if small for $10, though it came plentifully sprinkled with the goat cheese and adorned with two crispy-edged, doughy-centered breadsticks—or rather, baked crust sticks).
I remained impressed until I returned—lured by all of the other options I hadn't tried on the menu—to sample pizza while dining in. Fresh, the crunch and char of the crust easily surpassed the pizza subjected to the to-go box, and the barely cooked, warmed toppings tumbling off each slice (in our case, artichoke hearts, juicy grape tomatoes and olives shining with olive oil and mounds of barely crisped kale via the veggie box pizza) veritably exploded with flavor. If you like your toppings cemented to your crust with a flood of cheese, this is not the pizza for you—both La Francesca and the veggie box felt delightfully like an elaborate salad anchored by crust (though the eggplant pizza and the caprese pizza do provide significant cheese for those hankering for cohesive dairy).
A note: the white pizzas at Motus doesn't mean they come with a garlicky white sauce like other shops—it simply means there is no tomato sauce, as with La Francesca. The anchovy pizza, on the other hand, showcased the simple red sauce adorned with a scattering of halved tomatoes and generous tangles of meaty anchovies. So generous, in fact, my tongue went slightly numb after determinedly taking down a slice without removing any of the powerfully briny specimens.
This generosity of high-quality ingredients does, in my mind, justify the slightly steeper prices compared to other places. Compared to shops purveying giant slices the size of your head for under $3, a rectangular slice of plain pizza about the size of a small adult hand for $3.50 might seem high. But a range of $10-$13.50 (forgetting, for the moment, the $17 procini & truffle cream pizza) for a "personal" pizza seems feels better with four sizeable slices, and $30 for a large pizza with gourmet ingredients doesn't feel terrible since it can easily feed three adults.
For me, the appeal of Pizza Motus lies not only in the freshness of ingredients or crispness of the lovingly fermented dough, but also the aesthetics of the place. The glow of the patio lighting as you approach at night, the terra cotta flooring, and the sacks of flour stacked by the door—it feels like a quaint neighborhood place where yes, I do want to pay $50 for a SUPER LARGE rectangular pizza and sprawl around a long wooden table with a bottle of wine and a group of friends. And yes, I do want to return to try the zucchini fries and the beet hummus whose neon hue we could easily identify from across the restaurant, though I'll probably be skipping the paninis and salads in favor of more pizza.
As for the "pizza by the slice" window where those on-the-go can efficiently nab a piece of pizza—I rarely find myself in West U to run errands, but this may soon change.