N.O. pizza scene is hot, any way you slice it

Pick a pie

Pizza is an easy call when it’s time for a quick, casual meal. But what sort of pizza? That’s not such a straightforward question in New Orleans these days as different styles from around the country, Old World classics and homegrown hybrids take root here. More examples are on the way, with a clutch of new pizzerias slated to open soon.

“There’s just so much room stylistically with pizza to work with the same basic concept but do your own thing,” said Michael Friedman, co-owner of Pizza Delicious.

This Bywater restaurant began in 2010 as a pop-up and soon went full time on the merits of a faithfully rendered, thin-crust New York-style pizza. The crust has that golden mean between crisp and pliant. That means slices that can be readily folded into pinched cones without falling apart, a crucial characteristic of the New York type. Another convincing example of the New York style is on display a few blocks away at Sugar Park, and there’s more in Metairie at Brooklyn Pizza and in Mid-City at Pizzicare, where an array of thin-crusted pies are ready to serve by the slice.

While these New York style pies are huge, measuring between 18 and 20 inches across, the specialty pizzas from the more upscale restaurants Domenica and Ancora Pizzeria and Salumeria are just about right for individual servings. Both emulate the classic Neapolitan style pizza, as perfected in Naples, Italy. True to form, both use dome-shaped, wood-fired ovens hand-made for the task, which cook the pizzas lightning fast, normally in about 90 seconds, and produce what Domenica chef Alon Shaya describes as “layers of textures.” All the heat from the burning wood, channeled and directed by the shape of the oven, quickly evaporates moisture in the dough, which lends an essential quality to the crisp but also slightly chewy, puffy-edged crust.

“It’s like baking bread,” explained Ancora co-owner Jeff Talbot. “Each one is going to be a little different from the next and from day to day.”

More examples of this style are coming soon. Domenica plans to open a smaller pizzeria spin-off sometime next year Uptown, possibly at 4935 Magazine St. (though that deal was not finalized at this writing). Meanwhile, Bogdan Mocanu plans to open Dolce Vita Wood Fired Pizzeria at 1205 St. Charles Ave. this fall, after making a name for himself with his popular Dolce Vita food truck around Baton Rouge.

A special oven is also key to the pizza at Amici Ristorante & Bar, only at this handsome Magazine Street newcomer the pies enter the glowing maw of a coal-fired hearth. This approach is common in the pizza hubs of the Northeast, and it produces crust that crunches, crackles and is laced with mild campfire smokiness. The crust also has considerable char, which is traditional but a little out of the ordinary for some local diners.

“We have to tell people it’s served well done, otherwise they think it’s burnt, but this is the way it’s supposed to be,” said Joe Rizzuto, who opened Amici with his family in July.

Another homegrown ambassador for coal-oven pizza, Rocketfire Pizza Co., debuted last year in Covington and is slated to open a second restaurant at 612 Veterans Blvd. in Metairie by the end of the month.

There’s much more on the table around New Orleans pizzerias. Theo’s Neighborhood Pizza, which started in 2005 and has grown to three locations, serves a St. Louis-style pie built on a cracker-crisp, crostini-like crust, while the Midway on Freret Street and That’s Amore Pizzeria in Metairie serve their own renditions of thick-crusted pies inspired by Chicago’s deep dish tradition.

Not all the new pizza styles are imports. Perhaps the most singular of the pack comes from NAKED Pizza, a company with international franchises and New Orleans roots. It started here in 2006 with a mission to make a healthier take-out pizza using dough made from 10 different grains and fortified with beneficial bacteria (similar to what you get from certain yogurts). The result is a dense, slightly nutty crust loaded with the conventional array of toppings and further options for non-dairy soy cheese.

It’s another example of pizza makers putting more thought into a go-to comfort food, and it all gives New Orleans more to chew on when it’s time to pick a pie.

Places to try in New Orleans

2Amici Ristorante & Bar

3218 Magazine St., (504) 300-1253; amicinola.com

Ancora Pizzeria and Salumeria

4508 Freret St., (504) 324-1636; ancorapizza.com

Brooklyn Pizza

4301 Veterans Blvd., (504) 833-1288; eatbrooklyn.net

Domenica

123 Baronne St., (504) 648-6020; domenicarestaurant.com

The Midway

4725 Freret St., (504) 322-2815; midwaypizzanola.com

NAKED Pizza

Various locations; nakedpizza.biz

Pizza Delicious

617 Piety St., (504) 676-8482; pizzadelicious.com

Pizzicare

3001 Tulane Ave., (504) 301-4823; pizzicare.com

RocketFire Pizza Co.

1950 N. Hwy. 190, Covington, (985) 327-7600; rocketfirepizza.com

Sugar Park

3054 St. Claude Ave., (504) 942-2047; sugarparknola.com

That’s Amore Pizzeria

4441 W. Metairie Ave., Metairie, (504) 454-5885; thatsamorepizzaonline.com

Theo’s Neighborhood Pizza

Various locations; theospizza.com