TODAY.com did a survey of the best pizzas in the USA and many were found in Chicago, Brooklyn, San Francisco and New York City, but none were found in the South. The staff at the Gazette decided that a fair and objective survey, but hardly scientific, of pizzas in Ocean Springs was in order. We have a lot of good restaurants in Ocean Springs, surely one producing a world class pie? The hunt for the best pizza was on.
Unfortunatley, the results were not near as good as we would have liked to see, to be blunt. Most of the pies we tried were almost without flavor, they were strong on texture, but that translated only into lots of processed cheese, gooey, stringy, but tasteless. Other toppings were just not of the best quality and most had almost no seasoning. The crusts were ordinary, some thick, some thin, but none exceptional.
The search for the best pizza worked as follows, we picked only four restaurants to try. (Remember this was not supposed to be an all-inclusive survey, just a random sampling.) We used exactly the same MO for each pie; we entered the restaurant, got a menu but first asked the wait staff what was the most popular pizza and then ordered what they recommended to go. We examined each pizza, measured its thickness, looked over the toppings carefully, photographed it and then tasted. This sampling is about pizza and not ambiance or service or any other factor that might affect your experience at a restaurant.
Now, on to the results…
First mystery stop was Tom’s Extreme Pizzeria. We ordered a twelve inch Mississippi Meat Lovers at the recommendation of the server and fifteen minutes later we paid for it and left. Arriving home we opened the pizza box and were pleased by what we saw, at first. The red of a good tomato sauce and the creamy white of melted cheese is a natural wonder and the rounds of salami just make it even better. This was a thin crust pizza, about 3/8th of an inch at its deepest. The pizza was evenly covered with pepperoni and mushrooms, but something was amiss. We ordered a pizza with pepperoni, ham, hamburger, Canadian bacon, Italian sausage and sliced meatballs and had gotten instead a pepperoni and mushroom pizza. We decided that there were not going to be any second chances in this survey so we had to use the pie we were given.
For what it is worth the pepperoni and mushroom pizza was pretty good, with a few exceptions. It was not over sauced as many pizzas are; we don’t want it floating in sauce. The crust was thin and the outside crust was crunchy, just as it is supposed to be but the pepperoni was sliced paper thin. We understand that portion control is important but this pepperoni was sliced so thin we couldn’t pull a piece off without tearing it.
We will chastise Tom’s for the same thing we will chastise almost all the pizza places in Ocean Springs for; cheese should be about flavor, no just texture and goo. Go to a specialty cheese shop and taste mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, feta, ricotta or parmesan. That’s what a quality cheese should taste like.
Next on the pizza parade was Mellow Mushroom. The waitress suggested the house special, a pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives, ham, bacon, extra cheese pizza. This pizza is really loaded, with the thickest part of the crust well over an inch thick. They did not spare ingredients at all. The crust was cooked perfectly, but we found some of the vegetables to be a little under cooked.
Perhaps some like crunchy vegetables on a pizza, but we like them well cooked, caramelized is even better. Over all this pizza was very good, but it was a bit on the plain side. A little seasoning would have gone a long way to make this a really great pie and the ingredients had no zip; the ham was just ham, the sausage was plain and the bacon was not assertive at all.
This pizza was more about texture than flavor; again, the cheese sadly did not make the grade.
Our pizza search lead us down Government Street to Leo’s. Leo’s offers a wood-fired oven that really gives it an advantage over most of the other local pizza places. They boast of better ingredients, and for the most part they do seem to use better quality cheese and meats, but certainly not the best. The crust on our pizza was thin, in a desirable way, it wasn’t floating in sauce, and the sauce did have a good tomato flavor. Our pizza, the Frank Sinatra, came with mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, bacon and red onions. The mozzarella was markedly better than any other we had tried, the sausage was Italian but not spicy and the pepperoni was good, not too thinly cut and the red onion was as good as red onion can get, but the bacon, we might have found a few small bits but it was not a big part of this pizza in any way. This pizza would have ranked higher in our ranking but it was slightly burned, not enough to be really unpleasant, but enough to make itself known. It also lacked the aggressive seasoning we would prefer. This was a good pie but with a little more attention it could have been great.
Last but not least was Al Fresco. We ordered the Margherita pizza at Al Fresco, again at the server’s suggestion. It was made with the simple but delicious and classic combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella, the colors of the Italian flag. The crust was very thin and light, but would have benefited from a pinch of salt. The fresh tomatoes, cut into cubes, were a delightful addition and we wouldn’t have complained if another handful were added. The basil is an important part of this pie, but there was just not enough of it. The mozzarella was like almost all the mozzarella we tried, uninteresting except for texture. This was a good pie, but a bit skimpy.
In Conclusion we found that most restaurants offering pizza are using ingredients that are not the very best quality and we assume they are doing that to keep the price down. That is easy to understand and might be good for the bottom line, but it is not good for making the best pie. Save that recipe for a kid’s pizza. Certainly very good quality cheese, pepperoni or salami would make the pizzas more expensive, but it seems to us that the option of premium quality at least ought to be offered on the menu. We would pay more for a smaller pie that was made with the best.
No pie we tried had even a hint of oregano, fresh ground black pepper or red pepper flakes or other seasoning. That sort of blandness is fine for kids, but not fine for a gourmet pizza. Where are the assertive flavors? Even if they were offered as table side add-ons it would be much better.
The pizzas we tried were almost all about texture, whether it was the gooey cheese or the crunchy crust and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what happened to the flavor? There was no ka-pow, no zest, no surprise to our palate. No adult flavors at all.
Who is going to stand up and offer a best quality, gourmet pizza? We welcome your comments and your recommendations on who has the best pie in OS. Go to the Gazette Facebook page and lets hear from you.