Clean Plate Charlie, who has been around the block a few times, has been hearing about Ambrosia's fantastic pizza for something like 30 years now. Whenever this dazzling dish reminisces about growing up in West Palm Beach, it seems Ambrosia is always lurking around the fuzzy boundaries of recollection, a restaurant passed thousands of times but never entered, right there at 1603 S. Dixie Highway. And if there's anything that will get CPC hoovering up every last crumb, it's a great piece of tomato pie. How to explain the oversight?
CPC was reminded of this experiential lacuna recently as s/he was perusing the blog comments on our New Times Readers Best Of Poll where no less than four voters had fingered Ambrosia as number one for pizza, an opinion with which the restaurant itself appears to concur (see photo, above). One voter went so far as to say Ambrosia had the best New York-style pizza in Florida. It was time to find out if our readers knew WTF of which they speak. So Charlie hied over to Ambrosia to sample their highly venerated vittles this weekend.
Looks pretty unassuming from the street, doesn't it? What we found inside was the most willfully ugly restaurant CPC has ever set foot in. Thoroughly unpicturesque, but interestingly so. The walls of Ambrosia are crammed with thrift-store art; the decor is straight out of Goodwill industries of two decades ago, or else some long-vanished furniture rental enterprise. There are items that dangle from the ceiling: mismatched light fixtures and paintings, set precisely so customers will knock their noggins upon them. It was all atrocious and unnatural, but it gave CPC much to muse upon while the pizza was cooking. And if the carpets and drop ceilings haven't been renewed in 30 years, perhaps the pizza crust recipe hasn't been either. Which, all things considered, could be a good thing.
When a medium pizza ($12.95) came sizzling to our unsightly corner, it
turned out to be rather the prettiest thing around. It had a nice thick
puffy crust, not blackened or bubbly but attractively browned. One half
had been scattered with green peppers, black olives, sliced canned
mushrooms, and chewy mozzarella, the other half we'd ordered as just
plain cheese; it was flecked with dried oregano. That retro crust was
chewy and a bit sweet, with a soft, almost custardy center in the
thickest parts. It didn't pull like the crust of a real New Yorker, but
gave way in clean bites. Clean Plate Charlie preferred the veggie half
over the plain cheese, and remarked inwardly that Ambrosia's pie tasted
much like the American-style pizza we all grew up with: a flavor
profile verging on the old Pizza Hut pizzas. Pretty good in a pinch.
Stubbornly uninfluenced by the coal-fired, flame-licked, broccoli-rabe
and white-truffle topped pizza trends of recent years -- resembling the
interior design, in that way. CPC would certainly phone in an order to
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Ambrosia to feed the babysitter and the kids, even while s/he sped away
But that's just the opinion of this cranky bit of crockery. Think I'm wrong? Leave a comment and tell me why.
-- As told to Gail Shepherd