Long-time readers will have heard me rhapsodize about the Velvet Tango Room’s cocktails on any number of occasions – and I’m not alone! When America’s Top Ten bars are tallied up, the VTR frequently makes the list.
(In Cleveland? you may scoff. As it turns out, Cleveland is where New York chefs go when they want a cheaper rent and an equally appreciative audience, so over the last eight years or so there’s been a culinary renaissance in the land of Cleve. We’ve got quality restaurants and drinking up the wazoo, in part due to groundbreakers like the VTR.)
The VTR, lest you need a refresher course, does everything by hand – squeezing, shaking, and pouring only top-tier ingredients. They spent $10,000 in a quest to find the perfect ice cubes. They once tried to find a restaurant to do paired tastings with, until they realized their drinks were so complex that the whole point was each taste was a separate experience. They have a Bourbon Daisy with a fifteen-second outbreath, a constantly mutating mixture of sweetness and bourbon and ginger that tingles on your tongue.
So when Paulius, the owner of the VTR, told me he was opening up a pizza shop, you bet your ass I listened.
And on Friday, we got an invite to a preview of Citizen Pie. So you bet your ass we went.
While the Velvet Tango Room is a destination place, where you sit down and savor, Citizen Pie is more of an informal area – across the street from the Beachland Ballroom, it’s where you snag a ‘za before or after the band plays. Yet Paulius and his pizza chef V have paid attention to details: using only four ingredients in the bread dough because they want the purest experience, spending weeks slowly heating up the great wood-heated pizza oven so it’s seasoned properly, getting the freshest ingredients.
We sat down. I ordered a classic, the Marinara – only four ingredients, because I needed to be able to compare this to other pizzas. What I got was this, the third pizza Citizen Pie ever sold:
These are small pizzas, with light dough, meant to be eaten in one serving. (The chef critiqued the pizza as slightly burned on one side, and had a word with the staff.)
And as I bit into it, I got a strong blast of perfectly seasoned tomato layered thinly across crispy/chewy dough – so much flavor contained in a millimeter of topping that I actually froze for a moment at all the deliciousness in my mouth. I’m usually into thicker, Chicago-style pizzas, but this one was so light and airy and yet satisfying to the tooth that I immediately wanted slice #2.
Then I got a garlic clove on the next bite, and the whole thing turned electric. If I ordered this one the next time, I’d get extra garlic, because that zing of the garlic and the intensity of the tomato made my whole mouth resonate. There was only a hint of cheese taste – the tomato was definitely the star of the dish.
Gini got the caponata, a mishmash of all sorts of ingredients ranging from eggplant to gaeta olives to pinenuts and currents and basil. And I was distressed at first, because the ingredients were so poorly distributed, until it was explained to me that the chef made them that way on purpose, so every bite would be a new experience. Which is great, unless your wife will only let you have one slice!
What I got had pine nuts and olives, and the olives were the best I’ve ever had on pizza. I generally don’t like olives, as the canned ones are too salty, but these olives sank into the taste of the cheese, providing a rich satiny mouthfeel. The cheeses seemed to meld with the dough, becoming an integral part, as opposed to too many restaurants that glop on a layer of cheese that slides off the minute you pick up the pizza.
(The only ding I’d have here is the cherry tomatoes, which were supposed to be cooked to the consistency of stewed, dripped a lot of water over the dough and made it prematurely soggy. But hey, that was literally the second pizza they served to a customer, if I recall correctly.)
And soon, our pizza looked like this:
To finish off, I tried their ricotta cheesecake, which was rich and had a soft grainy texture that made the ricotta obvious, with hints of floral and citrus throughout it. It was maybe a touch too cold from the fridge, but on the whole, delicious.
Citizen Pie is a small place, just big enough for a handful of customers to sit down, grab a pizza, and get out. It’s pleasant enough, but the food is the star, and one suspects Beachland Ballroom folks will be planning trips to Citizen Pie before the show to tank up on some pretty friggin’ awesome authentic Italian pizza.
They’re opening today. If you’re in Cleveland, check ’em out.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.