Learning to Crawl

Three local pizza joints serve a mean slice of pie.

Nino's, however, remains traditional. The "red sauce" Italian joint has sat in a hidden strip mall off of Palmetto Park and Powerline roads for 24 years. Walking in, you get the feeling that not much has changed since the day it opened: A wall of comforting smells — fresh Parmesan, bubbling marinara, doughy garlic knots — greets you just inside the tinted glass door. The lights are dim, the servers young and olive-skinned and dressed in black. Acoustic tile clings to the ceiling, and a dozen or so red vinyl booths line the walls. And then there's the menu: Scungili Marinara. Snapper Livornese. Trippa alla Romana. Somebody's grandmother cooked these dishes, and their grandmother before that.

The fortunate grandson is owner Marco Tornabene, who emerges from the kitchen to greet us as we sit down. Lapp is a regular at Nino's, and Tornabene has prepared a special pizza for him: an upside-down Sicilian pie with tomato sauce above the cheese. It's a specialty that Tornabene doesn't usually offer because the dough takes 45 minutes to proof. In addition to the Sicilian, I order a thin-crust Neapolitan pizza ($10).

By now, another Worst Pizza contributor, Big G (short for Gary), has met us inside. Gary is an inveterate pizza fanatic — he had recently planned to build a brick oven in his backyard until his contractor convinced him it was impractical. He and Lapp met in New York City in the '90s, when Gary drove a delivery truck for seven years. The route afforded Big G a lot of time for his true love. "Every spare second I had, I stopped for pizza," he says longingly.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

La Fontana Pizzeria

2890 N. University Drive
Coral Springs, FL 33065

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Coral Springs

Nino's Restaurant & Pizzeria

7120 Beracasa Way
Boca Raton, FL 33433

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Boca Raton

Details

La Fontana Pizzeria, 2890 N. University Dr., Coral Springs. Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call 954-575-5502, or click here.

Nino's Restaurant & Pizzeria, 7120 Beracasa Way, Boca Raton. Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Call 561-392-9075.

Tucci's Fire N Coal Pizza, 50 NE First Ave., Boca Raton. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily. Call 561-620-2930, or click here.

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Because both Big G and Lapp are Big Apple boys at heart, I ask them what makes a great slice of New York pizza. "There are different reasons for different pizzas," Gary says. "It could be the dough or the toppings. It's the whole package."

Lapp is more definitive in his answer. "It's the crust," he says. "It has to be thin and very crisp." Gary immediately nods in approval. Lapp adds that he likes a sweet, smooth sauce and quality cheese.

Our pizzas show up just in time to illustrate his point. I grab a slice of the Neapolitan, and right away I see what Lapp was saying about the crust. Nino's is thin but dense, and it's cooked to such a satisfying crisp as to emit a plaintive snap when folded. There's a slick of sweet tomato sauce that would probably be too much if not for the flow of buttery cheese on top. It's a fine slice but not one to toss out superlatives over — I prefer a simple sauce of fresh crushed tomatoes to the ubiquitous pasty variety Lapp likes. The upside-down Sicilian, however, is worth any wait. The crust is a dreamy, semithick bed that yields to the teeth until you reach the brusque bottom. And the cheese, carefully hidden under a layer of sweet sauce, is gooey and hot without burning your mouth. A drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil elevates it to pure bliss.

Emboldened by the great slice and looking to score some points for my hometown, I ask the experts if they think Florida pizza can compare to the New York stuff they grew up on. Gary's face wrinkles with contemplation. After a pause, he says, "It's as simple as the difference between getting a slice or a whole pie. The slice has to be reheated, so it's never quite as good as the fresh pie. That, to me, is like trying to mimic New York pizza."

I'm feeling a little less sure of things until Lapp disagrees. "I've had pizza here that could definitely stand with pizza in New York. There's good and bad pizza everywhere."

At this point, we're nearly too stuffed to continue, and the roof of my mouth has the contour of a minefield. Two of our flock, Big G and Colliflower, have had enough, but Lapp and I aren't done yet. We soldier on to Tucci's.

Tucci's is a relative baby compared to Nino's. The 3-month-old coal-oven pizzeria settled into the spot vacated by Red Rock on First Avenue near Mizner Park. It's a standalone building punctuated by a large brick oven and a few rows of brightly colored industrial tables. The single-page menu nearly looks ripped from the one proffered by Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza: chicken wings, Italian salad, a handful of appetizers, and a few specialty pizzas (eggplant, broccoli rabe and sausage, margherita). Hoping for some levity, we order a small cheese pizza ($16.95) and clutch our bellies.

When the pizza arrives, I start to wish I'd saved more room. It looks downright painterly: deep-red sauce interspersed with swatches of bright-white fresh mozzarella. Caramelized bubbles dot its surface, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese clings to the top. I take a bite. The crust crackles under my teeth with a snappish crunch, and the sauce — the smooth, sweet style Lapp likes — is garlicky and rich. Even better is the capricious nature of the cheese, which randomly finds its way into every other bite without ever getting rubbery. Thanks to the high heat of the oven (Tuccis uses both coal and wood), there's a fair amount of char but not enough to make it taste burnt. And with the marriage of New York-style sauce, crisp crust, and coal-oven char, it makes a decisive intersection between old and new. Unfortunately, Lapp and I can eat only one piece each.

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