High-toned pie

Pizzeria Biga sports special dough and small plates

As quality pizzerias of every variety continue to sprout around our area, you have to do something unique to attract za'fficianados. With Pizzeria Biga, which opened in late June on Franklin Road in Southfield, the attractions are the dough and the small plates — and the lineage. Biga is the production of Luciano Del Signore, the owner-chef of the justly celebrated, upscale Bacco, just around the corner on Northwestern Highway.

He must have had mixed emotions gutting the innards of the shuttered Il Posto, previously his main rival for the laurels as the best Italian restaurant in Southfield. The million-dollar makeover includes huge windows overlooking a cozy patio (unfortunately overlooking a not-so-cozy parking lot), impressive brick archways, steel piping, and an open kitchen boasting two 40,000-pound wood-burning ovens that quickly heat the pizzas at 800 degrees. However, the architect apparently forgot the soundproofing, so until management completes the imminent addition of sound panels, Biga will also hold the laurels as the noisiest pizzeria in town.

Biga is a pizzeria plus — pizza is the only main course, but Del Signore's menu includes home-fashioned charcuterie and cheeses from Bacco, six attractive salads and a handful of small-plates palate-teasers. Among the salads ($5.50 to $9.50), navel orange is a keeper, with orange sections floating in oil accompanied by olives, onion and parsley. The more familiar chop salad with tidbits of hearts of palm, artichokes, egg, tomato, cucumber, onion, gorgonzola and ceci beans bursts with freshness. The crusty house-made Italian bread that comes with is exemplary.

A quartered cold roasted sweet potato in oil and vinegar is one of the more unusual small plates ($4-$7), as are the surprisingly firm, braised artichoke petals in white wine with lemon and parsley. These two firsts take their place alongside savory, dense meatballs in marinara sauce and harder-shelled risotto balls with Bolognese sauce, mozzarella and peas. The salads, small plates and two soups can be ordered in family-sized portions that should satisfy a group of eight or more.

All of this is the prelude to the pizza and its fermented starter dough (biga) composed of a carefully calibrated blend ("an ancient method") of flour, purified water and sea salt, all kept at 68 degrees. The resulting dough serves as the foundation for 12-inch ($9-$14) and 18-inch ($14.50-$22) round, thin pizzas that can be selected from a dozen house creations, as well as a nearly infinite number of self-designed pies, with toppings as exotic as duck prosciutto, lardo (pig fat), rapini and vinegar peppers. Those who are red-sauce-averse will be happy with the white-pie options.

The edges of the pizza crusts are nicely charred and chewy, while the toppings, such as roasted onion, artichoke and fried zucchini, are lively and crisp. Most interesting is the red farm-egg pie, with ricotta, fried zucchini and a soft boiled-egg in the center, spreading out onto most of the pieces. The white pie with fingerling potatoes, rosemary, artichoke and dolcelatte (sweet Italian blue cheese) is another unusual combo. Moreover, the well-seasoned toppings for the simple Margherita and the roasted zucchini with roasted onion and tomatoes easily pass muster.

So what's not to like? On occasion, the crust toward the forward end of the pizza might be somewhat soggy. With the wonderful stuff on top bleeding through the very thin dough, this may disappoint some diners.

Another thing not to like are the overly attentive servers and buspersons. On several occasions, our dinner partners had to cover their plates with their arms lest they be whisked away by the friendly, if too eager, staff.

However, it is difficult not to admire Biga's adult beverages. The extensive wine list, much of which is under $30, is exclusively Italian. Moreover, much of the wine is available not only by the glass but also in a quartino carafe that holds 2.5 pours. In addition, the international beer list — 12 on tap, 38 in bottles — is so sophisticated that Del Signore employs a suds sommelier to help you navigate among the quaffs.

The desserts, highlighted by house-made gelati (try the cappuccino) and the more-than-perfunctory cannoli, are another of Biga's strengths. As for wiping up the cream that oozes out of those delectable cannoli, the use of dishcloths and not linen napkins is a cute touch that reflects the informality of the bustling pizzeria that seats 130 inside and 60 outside.

Those who want to avoid the current din can either sit on the patio or order take-out (including wine and beer) without leaving their cars. Just pull up, receive your order, and pay the attendant while the air-conditioning hums and the suddenly woeful Tigers play on the radio.

Del Signore is contemplating opening Biga clones in other neighborhoods. The overall dining experience, especially the fact that you can enjoy interesting sides along with the pizza, suggests that this might not be a bad idea.

Mel Small has been dining for MT off and on for three decades. Send comments to [email protected].

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