Every city has a certain type of cuisine it's known for. In New York, there's a pizza place on every corner. Memphis and Kansas City have great BBQ joints. In Phoenix, it's Mexican food. While finding a late-night burrito or enchilada in this town is a piece of cake (tres leches, of course), locating their Italian equivalent -- the calzone -- can be a tough pursuit.
For this week's battle, we headed to two neighborhood pizza restaurants on the east side in search of a calzone that would satisfy our craving for old-school Italian eats.
In One Corner: Queen's Pizzeria
125 W. Main St. in Mesa
Queen's Pizzeria is a tiny little eatery tucked between a scrapbook store and punk-goth shop Evermore Nevermore in downtown Mesa. The place has a quirky, eclectic vibe, with exposed brick, a few arcade games and paintings by local artists on the walls. On our visit, the artwork included a modern streamlined portrait of Angelina Jolie and a few other unrecognizable women a friend insisted were porn stars. So much for the family-friendly vibe. Or maybe he was mistaken.
Online reviews touting this place as the best pizza in Mesa (wow, now that's a claim to fame) brought us to Queen's, as well as Yelper Glenn D.'s assertion that their meatball calzone was "one of the best things I have ever had." Then again, he also quipped "I can't believe I found something edible in downtown Mesa." Since Queen's came under new management earlier this year, the interior has been expanded and a huge wooden bar placed on one side of the joint. It looks more like it belongs in an Irish pub than in a pizza joint that doesn't even serve alcohol, but we were willing to overlook that for a good calzone. We ordered up the meatball version and waited.
Are you getting bored yet?
We were. In their defense, the place was packed on a second Friday night when we were there. About twenty-five minutes later, the lone cashier wandered over with a cardboard pizza box. Hmm, we were supposed to be dining in. I opened the box to find a massive foot-long calzone that was basically a whole pizza with extra toppings folded together with the edges crimped shut. Damn! Clearly, they just didn't have a plate big enough to serve this sucker on.
I took a first bite of all crust. It was delicious, thick and doughy with a buttery garlic taste. So far, so good. The interior of the calzone followed a few bites later, tons of gooey mozzarella stringing from the crust and melting in my mouth. The cheese was delightfully salty, pairing well with the tangy sauce served both inside the calzone and alongside it in a small dipping cup.
"The sauce tastes like fresh tomatoes, not the heavily processed canned stuff I'm used to," commented my dining partner. Sweet! The meatballs were nicely executed with a smooth well-ground veal texture and a hint of Italian spice. All in all a good, hefty calzone -- even if we didn't exactly leave the place singing, "That's Amore."
In the Other Corner: Boulders on Broadway
530 W Broadway in Tempe
A combination of four-star online reviews, a holiday party and nostalgia for the Old Chicago that used to be there brought us to the Boulders in Tempe. Not the swanky resort, but the dark, dank watering hole slash pizza joint with no windows near the dairy plant on Broadway. Inside, the place is a maze of connecting rooms on different levels. Having a large party and reservations, we ended up in the bar room, which had an urban lodge feel with tall ceilings and large wooden tables.
Boulders has an assortment of pasta dishes, pizzas and customizable calzones available with whatever spices, meats and veggies your heart desires -- as long as it's on the pizza topping lists. That could mean unusual combos like pineapple and green peppers. For the best comparison to Queen's, we opted for a meatball calzone with mozzarella, ricotta, and basil.
Our calzone arrived midway between introductory chatting and the evil white elephant gift exchange. It was expectedly smaller than its competition, but still sizable. The crust gleamed with greasy butter topped with bits of shredded parmesan. It looked better than it tasted, which was bland and doughy. Meh. Inside, the calzone was teeming with ingredients, but unfortunately few of them were meatballs.
"Wow, this sure has a lot of mozzarella cheese," mumbled my tasting partner between bites. "Where's the sauce?" She pointed out the fatal flaw of this calzone. While it was packed with several tasty cheeses, some meatballs and a nice dash of Italian spices, it was also a sauceless calzone. What a travesty. Tomato sauce was served on the side for dipping but not included in the calzone, making for a stuffed dough pocket that was oddly dry for having so much cheese. Even using the dipping sauce didn't help, as it was sugary, watery and unappealing.
Woah! Looks like Mesa might've actually beat Tempe at something.
The Winner: Queen's Pizzeria, despite the slow service and weird vibe. Boulders is a better place to chill, but next time I'll just stick with a beer and a slice there.