Vegetarians, beware! We're getting down and dirty with all kinds of meat products this week, from glorious bacon to Italian beef to pepperoni. So stop reading now if you consider tofu "the other white meat."
Pizza's really the perfect food. Everyone loves it, even picky kids who'd rather eat a tub of peanut butter than touch a carrot. Who cares if the Chinese invented it and the Italians perfected it? Pizza is a staple of the American diet. As we speak (or type), hundreds of Americans across the nation probably have their greasy, chubby digits on a slice right now. Yum.
For this week's battle, we compared the meat-packed pies at two neighborhood pizzerias.
In One Corner: Jac's Pizzeria & Pub
7213 East 1st Ave. in Scottsdale
A month or two ago, Jac's Pizzeria stealthily replaced Nello's in Old Town Scottsdale. Not much has changed. The white brick building strikes a balance between quaint and trendy, but the inside isn't exactly on par with the rest of swanky Scottsdale.
Don't expect sleek metal chairs or modern artwork here. Jac's aims for comfort, not dazzle, with plain wooden chairs, vinyl booths and minimal decor. A tiled corner bar with plasma screens is the prettiest thing in the place. On our visit, ten eyes were glued to a hockey game and five mouths glued to pints of draft beer. Slurp, slurp, SCORE!
Craving some protein, my dining companion suggested the Meat Della Casa with pepperoni, Italian sausage, proscuitto and bacon. I could feel my arteries clogging as I placed the order. About ten minutes later our personal-sized pie arrived and the waiter offered fresh ground parmesan. Nice touch for a neighborhood joint.
The pie looked appealing, especially at the non-Scottsdale price of $8.50 for a 9-incher. The bacon was crispy and near-black, and there was no shortage of pig and cow flesh on this baby.
"This is pretty good," mumbled my friend in-between bites. "The sausage has a nice spice to it and the crust is crispy."
The good: Jac's crust was on the thin side, though not flat or crunchy enough to be considered a true thin crust. It had a nice balance of crispness and softness that I like, and didn't dominate the pie like a deep-dish version. The meat was high-quality and fresh, and the bacon was crisped to perfection. The sausage had a subtle heat, the kind that sneaks up on you a minute after you take a bite. Using savory prosciutto over boring ham was a great choice, as was burying the pepperoni under an appropriately portioned layer of bubbly mozzarella.
The bad: Sauce? What sauce? We don't need no stinkin' sauce. Seriously, we needed a microscope or a forensics kit to detect any tomato product on this pizza.
In the Other Corner: Spinato's Pizza
227 South Smith Rd. in Tempe
That doesn't stop folks from coming here in droves. Several couples and large parties were there on our visit, and more popped by for to-go orders. Online ratings rave about Spinato's and their delicious pies.
In keeping with the carnivorous theme, I ordered a small version of their Get Meaty pizza with housemade sausage, Italian beef, pepperoni and smoked Italian bacon. It arrived on a chrome pizza stand and looked scarily like a movie theatre pie. Uh-oh. Red flag!
The good: The crust was thick and soft, similar to Chicago's deep dish pies. Spinato's doesn't skimp on meat and cheese, even on a small pie. And lo and behold, we could see and taste the sauce -- unlike Jac's version. The sauce was perfectly spiced so as not to overwhelm the rest of the pizza. Too bad it didn't...
The bad: GREASE is the word. Too much of it. The meats were flabby, not crisp, and the layer of cheese was so thick it was rubbery. "The ground meats are very bland," remarked my disappointed dining companion. "No spice, no taste really. And too greasy. The smoked Canadian bacon is flavorful, though I preferred the crispness of Jac's bacon."
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The ugly: When we'd finished downing the pie, thick blobs of orange grease were left smeared on the wax paper below. Now, a New Yorker might argue that grease is a requirement of all good pies, but my rumbling stomach would disagree.
I love that Spinato's is a family-owned local chain. I've sampled their signature spinach pie at local culinary festivals and been pleased. But this was just disappointing.
The Winner: Jac's Pizzeria & Pub