Amid a year of chaos and dread, pizza remains eternal. And it’s thriving deliciously in the valley
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Is there anything more optimistic than a pizza box? Of course, it’s not the gleeful cardboard sentiments that make it our favorite comfort food. Pizza is easy to agree on, easy to pick up, easy to eat, and easy to clean up after. Las Vegas has seen a number of new pizza places and new pizza menus over the last six months, with cheesy goodness from both old friends and new faves.
Las Vegas’ leading purveyor of pizzas, Good Pie (1212 S. Main St., goodpie.com) has shown some real up-and-at-’em, opening a new restaurant on Main Street with a bar and sit-down space. White subway tile and a tin ceiling evoke proprietor Vincent Rotolo’s native New York City, while a massive, dark-wood bar is more reminiscent of the land where pizza was born (and the neon sign outside is pure Vegas). Even if indoor dining isn’t in the cards, you can still get a pie to go, or grab a slice and a glass on the patio and watch the parade of humanity pass by. (Heaven knows that’s more pleasant in the Arts District than in Good Pie’s previous Pawn Plaza location).
Pizza comes in several varieties — the round, thin-crust Brooklyn; the rectangular, thick-crust Sicilian; the somewhere-in-between Detroit; and the mega-sized Grandma. Good Pie’s white pizza remains among the finest in the land, and not just because the little piped-on Ricotta rosettes are the culinary equivalent of rhinestone buttons or racing stripes. But not every pie delivers the expected: The Good Hot starts with pepperoni and sausage, but then adds chili flakes, jalapeños, and hot honey that pop little spikes of heat into the creamy melted mozzarella — not enough to burn, but enough to make sure you’re awake.
Another new location for an old favorite is Pizza Forte (4700 S. Maryland Parkway #110, pizza-forte.com), the pizzeria by the Ferraro family of Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar. Pizza Forte has opened an outpost across from UNLV, ideal for grabbing a quick slice or pie, which comes in two variations that honor the two great pizza origin cities: Rome and New York. The Roman is square, with a thick, golden, crunchy crust that can carry piles of toppings both in terms of taste and tensile strength, although your basic cup pepperoni topping makes for a really nice slice. The New York is a thin-crust disc that takes well to dollops of pesto and extra mozzarella.
Guerilla Pizza (1675 S. Industrial Road) is the latest eatery to take up residence in the kitchen space at the Hard Hat Lounge, and I sincerely hope they stick around because it’s some dang good pizza. The four-slice pies are Detroit-style — substantial squares slathered in cheese and judiciously applied red sauce that taste great plain or with any of their array of toppings, which include vegan options. Go classic with pepper-flecked meatball and red onion, or weird with pineapple and jalapeño. (These are chill guys, and they will not judge you.) You can pick up or eat on site, or do a little of both: Have a beer and a shot, and appreciate that still-fabulous pulp art mural over the bar while your pie’s in the oven.
If you like your while-I’m-waiting-beverage-choices to be a bit more upscale, Jason James Pizza Bistro (8680 W. Warm Springs Road, jasonjamespizzabistro.com) has an extensive wine list and a number of specialty cocktails. Their thin-crust pies feature intriguing flavor combinations. The prosciutto-and-fig pie is finished with arugula and black pepper honey, like a hip/retro rumaki appetizer reimagined as an elegant pizza. Their chicken pesto pie combines the herbal, floral flavor of basil pesto and the salty bite of kalamata olives, while the Italian is a preserved-meat variation on basic pepperoni pizza, topping marinated tomatoes with soppressata and garlic salami.
Another spot pushing toppings to a new level is Heavenly Pies (11370 S. Highlands Parkway #110, heavenlypies.com), created by James Beard Award-winning Chef Luciano Pellegrini (of Valentino and Marché Bacchus) and his cousin, Chef David Ryan Brister. There’s an extensive menu of Italian delights, and the gourmet flair carries over to the pizzas, which have a thin crust with the crunch. You can add your own selection of extras (an astonishing array from burrata to broccoli to braised ribs and cabbage) or try one of their artfully composed signature pies. An example of their sophisticated flavor compositions would be the Heavenly: truffle tomato sauce and porcini mushrooms give it a rich, earthy flavor balanced by creamy-sweet brie, spicy speck, and finished with a hint of bitterness from escarole. The Emiliana has ham, cotechino, and lovely discs of prosciutto given a savory-sweet finish with balsamic syrup.
Graffiti Bao Chef Marc Marrone’s newest project is Gemma Gemma (7355 S. Buffalo Drive, gemmagemmapizza.com). Rather than a large pie that’s sliced up, their pizza comes in six-inch squares, so you get a nice cheese-meets-crust edge all the way around. (A large pie is just four small pies pushed together.) The cheese pizza isn’t just cheese or extra cheese, it’s epic yowza cheese, slathered thick and creamy from edge to edge. The Vodka Pep is a classic pepperoni pie that gets a welcome tweak from vodka sauce, while the Ol’ Sausage has bits of spicy meat with slivers of red onion and yellow pepper. Gemma Gemma is located inside Graffiti Bao so, yes, you can get two kinds of takeout at once if your household has reached an Italian/Asian dining impasse.
Another single-stop/multiple-menu takeout spot is the Vegas Test Kitchen, which houses several pop-up restaurants under one roof. The assortment changes over time; right now, you can get bagels or Bulgarian pastries, sushi or shepherd’s pie and, of course, pizza. At Vegas Test Kitchen’s Yukon Pizza (1020 Fremont St. #120, yukonpizza.com), the crust comes from an heirloom family sourdough starter that’s been around longer than the internet and the automobile. Pies are cooked in a wood-fired oven, making for a thin, charred crust that is more chewy than crispy. The Neapolitan Pepperoni is topped with thin-sliced pepperoni, not the spicier, thicker cup kind, so you may want to zazz it with some pepper flakes or honey. The Grandpa White pie achieves a nice contrast between the sweetness of the ricotta cheese and the smokiness of the crust; the fresh basil apparently comes from leaves the size of palm fronds, so be sure to check your teeth after you’re done.
Our fave slabs and slices
Cheese Pizza at Guerilla Pizza
What? No fabulous preserved meats or crazy condiments? The plain cheese is the workhorse of pizzas, mostly viewed as a blank canvas or quick bite. But the one at Guerilla Pies is special. There is an almost-spicy something to the cheese, which is caramelized almost up to the edge of the chewy-yet-crunchy crust. It’s a plain slice the same way a Chanel suit is a plain outfit.
Pizza Bianco at Gemma Gemma
Gemma Gemma puts a few graceful twists on the old-school white pizza. There’s the caramelized golden crust and the dollops of ricotta atop the mozzarella, sure, but there’s also a scattering of toasted pistachios and a drizzling of honey. It’s a combination of sweet-savory-sugar-salt that appeals to every taste bud.
Johnny Be Good at Good Pie
Named in honor of Metro Pizza’s head pizzaiolo, John Arena, the Johnny Be Good is a blend of classic Italian tastes that comes right to the edge of over-the-top. There’s a bottom of mozzarella and a topping of fresh parmesan, dollops of sausage and a blend of roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions and fresh garlic and basil. It gives you everything you want on a pizza, but each flavor stands out in every bite.
Big Tex at Heavenly Pies
A pizza that basically ignores all the rules of pizza, which is part of its charm. The sauce is more sweet onion barbecue than tomato red, the cheese more Gorgonzola than mozzarella and, instead of basil or parsley, there’s cilantro and pickled okra. It’s a hybrid of the prosaic and the exotic, barbecue and charcuterie, Thai and Mexican and Texan, and it’s damn delicious.