If a psychologist ever decided to make a Rorschach test out of food, then pizza would have to be the equivalent of the inkblot. More than any other food or cuisine, pizza stirs emotions, stokes passions, and provokes endless debates about which version or preparation is best. Around here, barbecue and Tex-Mex also inspire such passions, but just about everyone in the world has an opinion about pizza. You can get a great pie in Buenos Aires or London, but try to get a decent cheese enchilada in the likes Paris or Warsaw and you'll be sorely disappointed (if you can find it at all).
In Houston, my own experience bears this out. More than once I've sat down in a local pizza joint with a group of friends and ordered the specialty of the house. Before I can register my own approval or even excitement about the pie, someone will inevitably blurt out, "This pizza sucks. [Insert name of other pizza joint here] is so much better!"
Which got me to thinking. If I could assemble my own pie from what I judge to be the best individual components -- crust, sauce, cheese, toppings -- of the different pizza joints in Houston, what would that pie look like and, more importantly, taste like? This would be my own take -- my own pizza Rorschach test.
Crust: Before all the wood- and coal-fired madness took over Houston in the last few years, when you asked someone to name the best pizza in Houston, they would often say Kenneally's. This Irish pub on Shepherd Drive still puts out a decent pie that's cooked in a standard pizza oven. And the biggest draw here is the super-crispy, almost cracker-like crust. Don't get me wrong, I still love the charred crusts at Grimaldi's, Russo's and Dolce Vita. But there's something about the unrelenting crispiness of the Keneally's crust that keeps me going back even to this day. It's my choice for Houston's best pizza crust.
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Sauce: I like the sauce at Dolce Vita, but I think it may be slightly Americanized -- it's supremely fresh but under-seasoned. I think the sauce at Russo's Pizzeria has more of a kick, so I'll go with that.
Cheese: Dolce Vita wins easily -- as far as I know they use the authentic Mozzarella di Bufala. I'm sure other places do too, but I'll stick with Dolce Vita for the source of this important ingredient. If you're making your own pizza, you can get it at Nundini.
Extras: For a topping, I choose the Italian sausage at Pink's Pizza. I often find myself picking the savory, peppery and fennel-y sausage chunks off the pizza and eating them on my way home from Pink's takeout counter at the West Gray and Montrose store.
So that's my take on how to build the perfect pizza in Houston. What's yours?