Thursday, December 17, 2009
Nino's, Culver Rd.
Nino's Pizzeria has been turning out its signature Sicilian pizzas from a small storefront on Culver Road since 1973, making it one of the older pizzerias around (though not the oldest). I lived for about a year a few blocks from Nino’s, a number of years ago, and though I’m positive I gave them some business during that period, I stopped going there after I moved out of the neighborhood, and over the ensuing years I pretty much forgot what their pizza was like, except that it was thick.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Nino's pizza; it was just that, well, Nino’s doesn’t open till 4:00, doesn’t serve slices, and has limited seating, so it’s pretty much a place to go pick up a pizza to take home for dinner. But because of its location, which isn’t very convenient to any of the expressways, it’s tough for me to get a pizza from there and get it home while it’s still warm.
But it was high time that I went back, so I ordered a pizza from Nino’s on a recent Friday night after work (my nighttime photo of the exterior didn’t come out so great, so thanks to RocWiki for the photo at top left). Three rush-hour accidents on 490 and an ensuing traffic jam killed any hopes I’d had of a fast commute, but I stuck the pizza box in one of those insulated pizza delivery bags that I keep in my car, and cranked up the heat, so the pizza was still reasonably warm by the time I got home.
Though Nino’s offers several cheeses to pick from, I didn’t specify any, but just ordered a large with half pepperoni, half fresh garlic. It was thick, but not dense, and the countless tiny air holes in the crust were evidence of a good, slow rise. The crust was browned, not charred, underneath, which is typical of a pan-baked pizza, but it was not greasy at all. The edge was very good, crunchy, crusty and bready.
What was perhaps most immediately striking about this pizza, though, was the sauce. It had a thick consistency and a distinctive, sweet/herbal flavor. The sauce was applied rather liberally, though not excessively, and in good proportion to the thick crust and the cheese.
That cheese seemed to me to be a blend - I'm guessing “melting” cheese, probably mozzarella, and another, sharper cheese - provolone, perhaps? for flavor. (I need to work on my ability to identify cheeses by their flavor. Note to self: pick up a variety of cheeses from Wegmans some night for a little at-home cheese tasting.)
The cheese had been applied last, which made it a bit difficult visually to the pepperoni slices from the garlic slices. Like the sauce, the cheese had a distinctive flavor, with a noticeable, but not overpowering lactic tanginess that added complexity to the overall flavor of the pizza. It was applied a little thickly, but again in balance with the other components, complementing but not overwhelming the crust, sauce, and other toppings.
Speaking of the toppings, I had expected small bits of diced garlic on the garlic half, like the kind that you can buy in jars at the supermarket, but these were paper-thin slices of fresh garlic, with a more pronounced garlicky flavor than the stuff in the jars, though it had been cooked enough that it wasn't harsh, like raw garlic. The pepperoni had a mild, meaty flavor, and a chewy texture. Though I generally like my pepperoni crisp, I must admit that the pepperoni here was more fully integrated into the pizza, both physically and from a sensory standpoint, than if if had been laid on top of the cheese and allowed to crisp in the oven.
As I mentioned, you can pick from several different cheeses for your pizza - mozzarella, ricotta, feta, provolone, grated Asiago, or grated Locatelli, which is a well-regarded brand of imported Romano cheese. The other available toppings are pretty standard, though Nino's does offer three types of mushrooms (one of the few foods I really can’t stand, I'm afraid), and homemade Italian sausage. The rest of the menu included several hot sandwiches, salads, pasta, wings (nice and meaty), and a few sides, as well as a pizza frittata and a “focaccia gourmet white pizza” with mozzarella and Locatelli.
Seating is, as I said, limited, though on my visit the two wooden tables were unoccupied. If you do choose to eat there, or are waiting for your order, you’ll find a variety of pizza trade-related publications on hand to help pass the time. I was sorry I hadn’t arrived sooner, in fact, so that I would have had more time to read what looked like an interesting article in one of the magazines about the proper use of a wood-fired oven for making pizza.
According to Nino’s website, they offer “delivery when available,” though I’m not sure what that means. If delivery isn’t available when you call, don’t let that stop you from heading over to Nino’s sometime. Yes, I’m a thin-crust guy at heart, but I appreciate Nino's focused commitment to what they do best, which is thicker, Sicilian-style pizza. And regardless of style, I also love distinctive, well-made, local pizza, all of which aptly describes Nino’s. I’ll give it a A-.
Nino’s Pizzera and Focacceria, 1330 Culver Rd. 482-2264
Sun. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m. - midnight