Pizzelii Brick Oven Pizza, the latest wood-fired pizza joint to hit Cincinnati, is so popular in Mariemont that we've eaten there a total of once out of three attempts.
The restaurant's concept is simple:
- Stand in a line that often snakes past the front door and well into the dining room.
- Listen to the owner, who walks down the line, greets willing patrons, introducing them to this weird and totally foreign concept he calls, "pizza."
- Take a number, grab your beer, wine, or empty cup to use in the Coca Cola Freestyle machine, and sit at a table next to some screaming kids while your pizza arrives.
As you'll learn from owner Gary Gottenbusch's story, he comes from a family of bakers not unknown in these here parts. That the name, "Pizzelii" ends in two "i's" is your first tip-off: Gottenbusch is one of the 4th-generation German bakers who also run Servatii's, the pastry shop/deli chain named after St. Servatii Church, next to which their first cafe had opened in Muenster, Germany.
Five 10-inch specialty pies grace Pizzelii's menu: the classic, simple Margherita, with its vibrant red tomato sauce, pools of molten mozzarella and fresh basil; the meaty Carni, with the magical, drool-inducing soppressata, pepperoni and apple-smoked bacon; the Pollo, with chicken, roasted peppers, onions and a provolone/mozzarella blend; the Vegi, with mushrooms, onions, Kalamata olives, garlic and provolone/mozzarella; and the Cincy Goetta, a unique blend of Goetta, smoked bacon, cheese and a fresh egg plopped dead center like an artery-clogging bulls-eye.
My girlfriend went for the mixed-green House Salad, along with the Vegi pizza, opting to replace its usual red sauce with the Bianca, an olive-oil, garlic and cheese-infused white sauce. I had eyed a limited-time Buffalo Chicken Wing version of their Pollo pizza, and had toyed with the idea of enjoying the Cincy Goetta, but finally opted for the Carni.
After a number and two cups were handed to us, we veered around the prominent wood-fired oven, with multiple openings allowing for quick and easy dispatch of numerous pizza pies. A pick-up station consisting of a long metal table facing the dining room was a flurry of activity, with many servers standing over long lines of pies, quickly finding them a home with their matching table numbers.
Pizzelii is one of several area restaurants now offering the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. Two such vending machines stand side-by-side, next to the napkins and pizza accouterments, gleaming with interactive touch screens that allow you to mix and match dozens of Coca-Cola beverages in precise increments. Just select your desired drink, press the large "Push" button to dispense and control the amount, release and choose another type of beverage to mix, and repeat. I mixed regular Coke with Raspberry Coke, while the girlfriend chose the trend-setting "water" option.
Because of the low-price point ($8 for a 10-inch pizza), the universally loved menu, availability of beer and wine, self-service and Freestyle Coke machines, Pizzelii is a paradise for the young and the old, the college student, and the child. The dining room is loud and bustling. Children run around the place unchecked, screaming and generally being kids, and seemingly every empty table meant sitting next to an especially spoiled cadre of brats. But once the pizza arrives several minutes later, nearly all of that is forgotten and surprisingly well-tolerated, though it was difficult for us to carry on a conversation.
The House Salad was fresh, simple and delicious, with hunks of Granny Smith apples, goat cheese, golden raisins and toasted almonds resting on a bed of fresh mixed greens.
The two pizzas arrived soon after, mine with perfectly-bubbled and burnt edges one expects from a wood-fired pizza, the large slices of fatty soppressata shriveled slightly into meaty cups atop my pie. The pig-heavy Carni was piping hot and, thanks to the soppressata, a bit on the greasy side, but its flavor was intoxicating. The red sauce was richly tomatoey, reminding me of the pies we'd enjoyed so much in Pompeii, Italy.
My girlfriend's Vegi was an inviting mix of mushrooms, whole cloves of garlic, tri-colored peppers and punchy Kalamata olives, though her pizza's crust could have benefitted from just an extra minute in the oven. The Bianca white sauce offered subtle hints of cheese and garlic, solidly complementing the pizza's premier elements.
One pizza would have been just enough for the two of us, as we had ended up boxing half our pies to enjoy for next morning's breakfast. Still, with two pies, a salad and drinks, the bill came under $25.
Pizzelii's wood-fired pizza easily bests several of their area competitors. It's now among a short list of our favorite pizzas in Cincinnati. Just try to get there while school's still in session.