Here, Eat This

Upper Crust: Pi Pizza

Pi Pizza has yet to be rebranded by new owner Michael Sambrooks
Pi Pizza has yet to be rebranded by new owner Michael Sambrooks Photo by Carlos Brandon
Earlier this year it was widely reported that Michael Sambrooks, The Pit Room owner who acquired three of four Cherry Pie Hospitality properties for an absolute steal in 2018, would soon be renaming and rebranding beloved pizza kitchen, Pi Pizza. Reports stated the Heights Boulevard restaurant would relaunch as a Chicago deep dish style joint called DoBro's Pizza. Months later, the transformation has yet to take place.

In all likelihood, Sambrooks will eventually revamp the pie joint launched by embattled Houston restaurateur Lee Ellis. But for now, the casual pizza kitchen with a nostalgic eighties vibe has yet to change. In the spirit of nostalgia, we decided to review it one last time, while it still exists.

click to enlarge The wall of '80s nostalgia - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
The wall of '80s nostalgia
Photo by Carlos Brandon
Inside, Pi Pizza looks like it jumped straight off the set of Stranger Things. The aesthetic is '80s neon fever dream. A wall of skateboards depicts images of '80s and early '90s pop culture icons like a contemporary fresco of righteousness.

Pi closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays, and 11 p.m. on Saturdays. An unfortunate schedule considering this is the pizza of our late night dreams. Thin crusted, classiclly prepared American pies come in 8, 12, and 16 inch sizes.

Variety ranges from staple preparations like pepperoni and cheese, to house specialties like Lee's Pizza featuring housemade Italian sausage and jalapenos, and Mushroom Parmageddon with (you guessed it) copious amounts of mushrooms and garlic parmesan sauce.

click to enlarge Large cheese from Pi Pizza - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Large cheese from Pi Pizza
Photo by Carlos Brandon
Crusts are thin and crunchy, with a doughier outer ring on the small 8" personal pies and a crispy rigidity on the large 16". An 8" pepperoni brings a simple and immediate kind of pleasure. Like the first cool breeze of fall or the smell of stale beer soaked into the floorboards of an old pub. Not overly greasy, the pie could have used more cheese — none of our three pizzas gave a satisfying cheese stretch, even at peak heat.

The Mushroom Parmageddon was conceptually daring though ultimately less appealing. Mushrooms overpowered the savory garlic parmesan sauce, while lemon zest did little to balance the flavor. A worthy effort and likely favorite for true mushroom lovers.

click to enlarge Pepperoni 8" from Pi Pizza - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Pepperoni 8" from Pi Pizza
Photo by Carlos Brandon
Service was of particularly impeccable quality. After failing to leave pepperoni off one half of our small pizza (as requested), the kitchen sent out a large 16" cheese on the house, to our bemused and appreciative excitement. The small gesture endeared the beleaguered pizza joint to us, making me mourn its impending rebranding all the more.

Beyond pies, appetizers and entrees bring a level of culinary creativity once synonymous with Cherry Pie Hospitality and all of Lee Ellis' menus. We reveled in our choice of fried mac & cheese balls — crunchy, gooey, cheesy balls of pure happiness served with a side of spicy ranch.

click to enlarge Mac & Cheese Balls at Pi Pizza - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Mac & Cheese Balls at Pi Pizza
Photo by Carlos Brandon
Last week we reviewed the James Beard nominated pies of Ryan Pera's Coltivare — perhaps Houston's most refined pizza kitchen. While Coltivare sets the bar for refined pizza, the dish itself is inherently a casual one. Born of necessity and lack of ingredients, pizza is, by its very nature, working class food.

In this sense, Pi Pizza manages to maintain the casual affordability of the cuisine without sacrificing quality. A simple, classic and high quality slice of Italian-Americana, Pi will be sorely missed should DoBros Pizza ever come into fruition — though we look forward to that review should the day ever come.
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Houston Press contributor Carlos Brandon is a freelance writer, blogger, and self proclaimed Houston hip hop historian. He contributes to various publications and can usually be found haggling with food truck cooks or talking politics on the METRO Rail.
Contact: Carlos Brandon