Anyone hearing that Royal Oak is now home to a new restaurant called Pizza Paesano might ask, “Why another pizza joint?”
“I ask myself that too,” says co-owner Steve Guerra. His answer is that Pizza Paesano is not just any old pizza palace, and he’s right.
“We never picture ourselves in competition with Little Caesar’s,” he says.
Fair enough. The combinations served by 25-year-old Guerra and his partners include gyro, pesto, black beans and baked potatoes.
They use ingredients you might expect from an Italian-Hungarian (Guerra) and his two former neighbors, brothers Phil and Dave Sullivan, who are Irish-Chaldean. The three thought they’d attract the young Royal Oakers, which is one reason they’re open till 2:30 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. They’ve gotten more family business, though; Mom and Dad like the idea that they can choose a pesto slice while Junior clings to pepperoni.
Most days, I feel like if I never saw pizza again this side of the grave, that would be just fine. But then I get hungry … and burn my mouth wolfing it down.
If pizza is also your food of last- and quick-resort, Pizza Paesano could change your mind. Pizza could become a destination food for adults as it is for kids.
Take the pesto pizza, for example. The basil pesto is subtle, artichokes are included, bright red pimientos are used: The whole thing looks like the red-green-white of the Italian flag. The crust is thin and crisp and excellent.
The gyro is marvelous, decorated with thin lamb strips and scallions. Tzatziki replaces tomato sauce.
The baked potato, which includes bacon, mozzarella and cheddar, is bland but very satisfying. The black bean tastes the way black beans are supposed to and that’s rare; the beans are paired with tomatoes and feta.
Paesano’s vegetarian lasagna pizza is not just lasagna ingredients sprinkled on a crust. It’s essentially a very good, thick, hearty spinach lasagna with a bit of crust underneath.
Other possibilities are barbecue chicken or eggplant Parmesan pizza or, coming soon, coney island.
Guerra’s mom is lobbying for a Hungarian pizza, with potatoes, Hungarian sausage, sour cream and hard-boiled egg. Guerra is working on an apple pie pizza for dessert.
Order a standard pie like pepperoni or cheese, if you must, and it will taste better than the versions served by the not-competition.
Besides pizza, the guys serve calzones, a spinach pie and a spicy meat pie (Italian sausage, pepperoni and bacon). I had a chicken calzone with green pepper, tomato, onions and sour cream, thoughtfully sprinkled with herbs, and delicious.
The double-crust spinach pie is chock-full of goodies. More goodies are on the sound system, which is “eclectic, like our pizza.” One night Jimi Hendrix was followed by Johnny Cash singing “Mountain Dew.” Every Thursday features some type of live music.
The amenities at Pizza Paesano are pretty basic — plastic forks and knives that don’t cut and disposable everything. Salads could use some work. They’re packed into those plastic boxes that can’t help but spill when you try to eat out of them, and one night a piece of my lettuce had turned to slime. A small piece.
But there’s a huge, alluring photo on the red brick wall, of some real paesani, barefoot young men from the old country back in the day. They lounge in a doorway. They wear hats. One has a vest, another a bike. They never ate pizza like this.