A piece on pizza



 

 

I’d like to say I took one for the team here. In the middle of Thanksgiving week, I decided to ignore all health warnings and eat as much pizza as possible so that I could best write how diverse the combination of dough, sauce and cheese could be here on our little island. I was fearless in my quest. I stood in the rain for pizza. I woke up and ate pizza for breakfast. I consumed pizza from morning to night, or night to morning depending on how you categorize pizza at 2 a.m. I’ve gone primitive and stopped using cutlery. My Instagram looks like it was hacked by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m also pretty sure I’ve put on about 5 pounds in seven days, but the truth is I could still go for another slice. That’s the thing about pizza. There’s never really a wrong time for it.

It all started on a rainy day with delivery from Duetto Pizza and Gelato at 540 Greene S. Italian-born owner Alberto Ricci, who graduated from culinary school in 1988 in Cervia, Italy, has worked in various restaurants including as an executive chef in New York City, before moving to Key West to start his business.

“We are known for serving the best Italian pizza in Key West,” he says. “We also make homemade gelato and we are famous for that as well.” For what it’s worth, the people of TripAdvisor rate Duetto number 1 under best pizza places for lunch.

Ricci describes its style of pizza as “Italian thin crust” and my notes tell me that is exactly what I was devouring that one lazy night on the couch. “Crust held up well,” I wrote, followed by “clean pizza (no dripping of runaway grease), and salty cheese” (nothing wrong with that).

 

 

Then came Onlywood Pizzeria Trattoria at 613 Duval St. This was the one that I begrudgingly stood in the rain for, but once I was safely underneath the shelter of the restaurant with the heat from the corner wood-fire oven filling up the room, I effortlessly gave in to a slightly even thinner crust topped with weaves of basil between a perfect ratio of sauce and cheese and forgot all about what was going on outside.

I even drove to another island for pizza. At Roostica Wood-Fired Pizzeria on neighboring Stock Island I decided on the Hell’s Kitchen Diavola loaded with layers of thick, spicy salami in curled crisp rounds. As I balanced out the tingling heat by sipping on a nice glass of Nero D’Avola, local Candace Estep walked in for her pick-up order of the Hippie with roasted red peppers, onion, fresh spinach, garlic, smoked mozzarella and roasted artichokes.

“I drive out here from Old Town just for the pizza” she told me.

On one of my last nights I headed to Off the Hook for its gourmet-inspired creations, but unfortunately before I could even lock my bike up the hostess seeing my approach, shouted out from behind her check-in stand that there was no room.

“I’m sorry for you, but I’m not sorry for me,” She laughs.

It’s a packed house and there’s not one empty seat. Turns out trying their crab Rangoon or duck BLT pizza requires a reservation. It’s a shame because I was looking forward to trying their Santorini version with spinach, feta, red onion, olive oil, black olives, tzatziki sauce and gyro meat. I love gyro.

The only other place in town that does a gyro pizza is Kennedy Café at 924 Kennedy Drive. It also offers a mega selection of cuisines from Turkish to Greek to American, and of course, pizza. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t do it as good as they possibly can. In fact, in a random survey of locals its name came up a lot as the token underdog of pizza along with another Newtown favorite, Big John’s Pizzeria at 1103 Key Plaza.

“I used to work in Bobalu’s in 2002 and after that in New York Pizza Garden in Duval Square, where I learned how to make pizza,” Kennedy Café owner Shukhrat Rakhimov says. “We serve New-York style pizza. We make our dough fresh every day. It is never frozen.”

On the last day of my research I finished with the buffalo chicken pub-style pizza with blue cheese dipping sauce at Island Dogs Bar, 505 Front St.

In the end, there is a pizza in Key West for every occasion, whether you are looking for fine dining or just need something to fill the void in your tummy. If you need a quick snack, then head to Angelina’s at 208 Duval, Paradise Pizza at 502 Greene St. or Mr. Z’s with two locations at 501 Southard St. and 2798 N. Roosevelt Blvd, for their famous tomato pies and late-night rendezvous. Mr. Z’s always seems to have a party going on outside if you get there sometime after midnight.

At that time of the morning, I should really be having more of Mary Ellen’s gluten free version made with rice flour crust and house marinara and I have to pat myself on the back because that’s exactly what I did the night I went home with pizza at 2 a.m.

It’s impossible to do this kind of difficult research without the support of the community, and there were a lot of locals who came forth to express their opinions. “Onlywood! I love their Margherita pizza. Simple and delicious,” Daria Kohler said. “Sometimes I get Kennedy Café just to dip the crust in their eggplant dip, which is phenomenal,” Cody Griffin confessed.

I want to send a thank you out to all the restaurants for letting me take a million photos of all my meals, and to my husband for supporting me through this very difficult week. Just kidding.

It was pretty awesome. Pizza is alive and well in Key West. ¦

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