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Grimaldi’s vs Russo’s Coal Fired Pizza

Back in February I wrote about Grimaldi’s pizzeria which was set to become first in Houston to use a coal fired oven. Almost a year later you can finally get a decent NY style pie (at Russo’s NY Coal Fired Pizzeria) in Houston, but Grimaldi’s has yet to open. I got tired of waiting and went to the location in Dallas to see how the two compare.

I was glad I went. Grimaldi’s in Dallas may look like all the other chain restaurants that vaguely resemble sports bars, but it also turns out one hell of a pizza. Even after I drove my pie to my makeshift hurricane shelter at Radisson hotel that smelled like dead people the pizza was spectacular.

The crust was slightly burned on the bottom and was dotted with burnt bubbles on the top. The tomato sauce was thin and applied conservatively enough to bind the higher than usual quality mozzarella, but not drown the pizza. The best part was the chew resistence you only get with a great crust.

The only place in Houston with a coal fired oven is Russo’s, which looks exactly like all the other NY Pizzeria locations but has a different menu. Aside from the oven Russo’s had two things going in it’s favor (neither had to do with the pizza) when I paid a visit a few months ago:

  1. The receipts at Russo’s say "Paid in Full", which I chose to interpret as a nod to Eric B. and Rakim.
  2. The spaghetti with meatballs and sausage were thoughtfully arranged to resemble an erect penis, which I thought was a nice touch. Presentation is important.

The pizza was good, complete with a nicely charred crust and a good chew, but not without it’s problems. My pie was drenched in olive oil to the point where it was seeping out of the bottom, which took away from the effect coal fired heat can have on pizza dough.

Construction and quality of the ingredients left a bit to be desired as well. My friend who ordered some meat lovers bonanza with almost a dozen toppings (against my advice) was less than impressed when his pizza flopped over like a dirty sock. Why go through the trouble of installing a coal fired oven just to put pizzas on the menu that overcrowd the crust?

I ordered a margherita, which has few enough ingredients to allow the crust to maintain consistency and texture. Even if my pizza wasn’t soaked in olive oil, the average quality tomatoes and mozzarella would have taken away from what could be a really great pizza.

I realize I am probably being a bit too critical. All things considered, Russo’s has one of the best pizzas you can get in Houston, but it’s not good enough to make me drive out to the far edge of the city (I’d do it for Grimaldi’s). I’d be thrilled to have one next to my house though, especially if Russo’s put a little more effort into sourcing it’s ingredients.

One last thing – feel free to leave me nasty comments, but at least tell mention how frequently you go to Russo’s. I’d like to know if it has really inspired people to regularly drive 25 miles for a slice, as both of our local food critics claim it can do.

November 2, 2008   17 Comments