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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Green Italian

Amici's brings environmentally sound pizza to Berkley

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

click to enlarge Portobello mushroom pizza with roasted garlic, bacon, and fontina cheese, from Amici's in Dearborn. - MT PHOTO: ROB WIDDIS
  • MT Photo: Rob Widdis
  • Portobello mushroom pizza with roasted garlic, bacon, and fontina cheese, from Amici's in Dearborn.

Pizza crust made with bran, biodegradable dishes and soy candles, no smoking, no TV, even a couple of organic vodkas — Amici's manages both to be virtuous and to pull it off without a hint of self-righteousness. It is a bar, after all, and it's hard to say whether patrons are more interested in the vegan pizzas or the 64 cocktails, 35 beers and 5 premium tequilas on offer. They can combine the two impulses by ordering Red Bridge beer, gluten-free.

Owned by Jennifer Stark and Maureen McNamara for four years, Amici's was the first southeast Michigan restaurant certified by the Green Restaurant Association, which means all green cleaning supplies, bowls made of sugar cane, everything you eat from is biodegradable and 100 percent post-consumer content. I've never liked the throwaway mentality, nor the indoor-picnic feel that paper plates give to a restaurant, but the trade-off is that Amici's saves a ton of energy on hot water and avoids nasty chemicals.

Pizza can be ordered with a crust of white flour, wheat bran or no gluten ($3.50 extra). The wheat bran crust actually tastes like whole-wheat, unlike many. I enjoyed a basil pesto pizza with broccoli and fresh tomatoes. There was no skimping on the sharp pesto, and the broccoli, which I'd been dubious about, was nicely roasted to bring out its essence, slightly crisp.

The same didn't happen to the eggplant in my eggplant pizza — without heaps of oil, roasted eggplant can just become tasteless. A smoked salmon pizza, though, with sour cream and scallions and advertised as high-protein and 30 percent lower in calories, fit the bill.

Other possibilities are spinach with Gorgonzola; black beans with smoked corn, cilantro and Monterey Jack; and artichokes with fresh tomatoes, spinach, walnuts, Fontina and ricotta. All of which goes to show how far pizza has migrated from its origins in Naples, where only tomatoes, garlic, mozzarella, oregano, basil and olive oil are allowed on true pizza (they have an association to verify followers of the true faith). No complaints here, I love fancy pizzas — I'm just saying.

Likewise with the martini. Purists wince at the notion of a "vodka martini," insisting that only gin plus dry vermouth deserves the original name. But Amici's lists all 64 of its cocktails — which include the girliest chocolate concoctions you can imagine — under the heading "Our Favorite Martinis." Let me cavil twice here, and say that nobody can have 64 favorite anythings, and that there's nothing wrong with the word "cocktail."

You can get a real martini — though be sure to tell the server "dry," as she brought ours with sweet vermouth. You can get a dirty martini, with olive brine. You can get a traditional Manhattan, a traditional cosmo or a traditional grasshopper. After that, no limits, as the adventurous (or is it the timid, fearing the taste of actual liquor?) mix ginger-infused gin with Grand Marnier, cranberry juice with peach Schnapps, Bacardi with marmalade. Looking at the recipes and the drinks' names (Almond Joy, Milk Dud, Spicy Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie), it's obvious lots of folks are looking for dessert. The night I was there, everyone was drinking a pomegranate caipirinha in a sugar-crusted glass. It's a variation on Brazil's national cocktail, made with sugarcane-based cachaça, lime juice and pomegranate liqueur, light and tasty and not so sweet that it throws off your meal.

Amici's offers some non-pizza food: salads, sandwiches and lasagna, and traditional build-your-own tomato-sauce-and-mozzarella pizzas. The line between the "gourmet" list and the "traditional" list blurs, as the add-ons include lox, jerk chicken and asparagus. An Italian sausage add-on, for example, was as plump and juicy as could be.

We enjoyed a sandwich, just $5.51, loaded with ham, turkey and salami and served with fancy greens between pieces of flat bread made from the same dough as the pizza crust. Cashew-crusted chicken on greens is served with an orange Dijon vinaigrette that seemed like an acquired taste — one I'd like to acquire.

Amici's doubles as an art gallery, running openings for local artists about once a month (free pizza, with the pictures "food- and kid-friendly"). The place was so full on the nights I was there that it would have been difficult to examine the walls, but it's a community-friendly gesture that fits well with the green ethos. Even greener is the outdoor patio, which doubles the dining space in Michigan's short summer.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to

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