Pizza stalwarts

Jun 27, 2007 at 12:00 am

"If you take all the arts — opera, sports, anything — pizza is the highest art of all." So says pizzaiolo Mike Weinstein, owner and founder of two Farmington Hills pizza palaces that local pie aficionados have long praised. Now, that's the kind of guy you want baking your pizza. "Pizza is the ultimate," he adds.

What is it about tomatoes and cheese and a simple wheat crust? Space shuttle astronaut Sunita Williams, interviewed aboard the Expedition-15 recently, said that what she was looking forward to most, on her return, was a slice of pizza. Despite pizza's ubiquity and lack of novelty, new restaurateurs are constantly springing up, seeking to create the definitive slice.

Weinstein, after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, went to New Haven, Conn., to study at the feet of an acknowledged master, Lou Abate. Weinstein's father is from New Haven, and he'd taken Mike to Abate's shop many times. "I learned from Lou Abate, who learned from his father Joe, who learned from Sally Consiglio, who learned from Frank Pepe," Weinstein says, recounting how the craft was handed down. "And Frank Pepe was the one who brought it from Italy in 1920."

Both the Food Channel and author Peter Reinhart, who wrote American Pie, My Search for the Perfect Pizza, say that Frank Pepe's and Sally's Apizza in New Haven are world-class. So now that we've established the pedigree: Is the pizza any good?

Yes. If you're looking for a thin-crust, fresh-tasting, garlicky, made-with-high-art pizza, Weinstein's ranks with the best in the area.

The pies emerge from their brief sojourn in the brick oven irregularly shaped and unequally sliced. Avoiding a mass-produced look is always good, and a variety of big and small slices means that you can match your grab to your satiety level.

Simplest is the simply named "red." Whole Vallarosa-brand pear tomatoes are crushed; very little is added (Weinstein: "You can't expect me to tell what's in my tomato sauce"); olive oil is drizzled over, with a bit of Parmesan, and the result is a classic Naples pizza that dazzles with its purity and fresh taste. If it's possible for a canned tomato to taste fresh, these do.

Most Americans want more — much more — on their pizzas, of course. The "classic" adds hand-sliced mozzarella (no grating) and excellent basil. The "white" uses no tomato sauce but does top mozzarella, fresh basil and crushed garlic with wafer-thin tomato slices. Both the white and the "green," which adds fresh spinach to the white ingredients, are for garlic lovers.

Highly recommended is the fresh mozzarella pie. The texture of fresh mozzarella is completely different from the processed kind — creamier and, well, fresher. Weinstein slices his cheese over red sauce and adds fresh basil after the baking. The very best idea is to order the Naples Sampler, which is one-quarter each of the fresh mozzarella, the green, the white and the classic, with a topping. Extra olive oil, fresh garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes can all be requested at no charge.

Some of you are wondering about meat. Yes, there's pepperoni, as well as salami, sausage, ham, crab, anchovies and bacon; add-ons are $1 each on a small pie. I've never understood the attraction of pepperoni, which too often has a shoe-leather consistency and a generic spice flavor. I was looking forward to the master's version, which, Weinstein brags, is, like everything else, hand-sliced. But I detected no night-and-day difference from chain-store pizza's pepperoni. The Italian sausage, on the other hand, was moist and spicy and tasted good enough to eat on its own.

Two-thirds of the two Apizzas' business is carry-out. But be warned: this is not pizza for eating in the car on the way home. The olive oil-infused slices can be drippy (which is no criticism). On the other hand, the barn-like Halstead store is not particularly inviting for dining in. The location on 14 Mile Road, I'm told, has booths.

It's not all pizza at Tomatoes Apizza; there's antipasto and Naples salads, served with a quite creditable vinaigrette. I found the supposed Gorgonzola in the Naples sadly lacking, though, with little sharp flavor. The Caesar salad features croutons made from the same olive-oil-infused dough as the pizza crust. The Caprese salad (my own summer specialty, when the garden comes in) is just fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. It's a great idea, if Weinstein is able to procure real garden tomatoes this summer.

For dessert, Weinstein invented both a dish and a name: "Piadina" is simply Nutella, the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread, between layers of a more pastry-like version of his pizza dough.

Both parlors offer an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on weekdays that are not holidays (it's not happening on July 4, for example). The delivery area is a three- or four-mile radius for $4, and $1 per mile beyond that.

But if local blogs are to be believed, some people will travel much farther for Tomatoes Apizza.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].