Restaurant Reviews

Learning to Crawl

Pizza expert Craig "Lapp" Agranoff sits across from me at La Fontana Pizzeria in Coral Springs, inspecting a warm cheese-only slice. He lifts the thin triangle by its crunchy lip with one hand and pokes at the underside of the crust with the other. It sags in the middle like a dog's ear. Lapp shakes his head in disappointment. "See that?" he says, prodding the limp area of the slice. "It's underdone."

The boyish 37-year-old with a mop of hair resembles filmmaker Spike Jonze. He takes a bite. His wheels turn for a bit before he speaks. "The sauce is too bland, and there's too much flour on it," he determines. "But it is nice and thin, and it's better than a lot of pizza out there. I'd probably give it five slices."

The five slices Lapp refers to is the rating system for his website worstpizza.com. (The number maxes out at eight slices, because that's how many come in a typical pie.) As a native of Long Island, Lapp has had a passion for pizza all his life. Ten years ago, he moved to South Florida to escape the cold and quickly found he'd also escaped the amazing pies of New York. He was initially disgusted by the cardboard crusts and plastic cheeses he'd encountered in his new home, so he started Worst Pizza last year with the intention of inciting a doughy rebellion (the site jibed with his day job at Vois.com, a social media network for creatives). He was set on continuing to pan South Florida's 'za until a funny thing happened: Lapp — or "pizzaexpert," as he's known on the site — started finding pizza joints good enough to survive on any corner of Long Beach. Now, the site isn't so much about the worst pizza as the best: He and his crusty band of contributors have reviewed more than 300 restaurants in Florida, New York, California, and Illinois.

So I could get their opinion on local pizza, I invited Lapp and a few of his regular contributors to meet me at La Fontana, a 10-month-old wood-oven pizzeria and restaurant in Coral Springs. We planned to eat a few of the personal-sized pies made there before heading off to sample two of Lapp's favorite places, Nino's Restaurant & Pizzeria and Tucci's Fire N Coal Pizza, both in Boca Raton. It was going to be a good, old-fashioned pizza crawl — not unlike the crawls and tweetups recently organized by groups of intrepid eaters through sites like Chowhound and Twitter. Although the internet may be the best way to organize a pizza crawl nowadays, the philosophy of having a group of people trek from joint to joint, sampling slices at each, is something Lapp's been doing since his days in New York. "If you can get four or five people together and just order slices and cut them into little wedges so everyone gets a piece, you can knock out like seven places in a night," says Lapp. I'll be happy if we get through these three.

Joining Lapp and me at our outdoor table at La Fontana is Mallory Colliflower, a contributor to Worst Pizza and a pizza lover in her own right. When the waiter comes around, Colliflower orders hers Hawaiian-style with ham and pineapple ($8.50). I decide on the buongustaio, which the menu describes as having tomato sauce, mozzarella, sausage, Gorgonzola, potato, and onions ($8.95). Lapp gets what he always does: plain cheese, hold the basil ($5.75).

La Fontana is a small trattoria run by brothers Spartak and Tony Tare of Ferrara, Italy. The interior of the shop is fairly plain, except for the central wood oven and a few glass cases displaying cheeses, pasta, and gelato. Out front, cooing couples sip Italian wine beside the cascading fountain while whole families with their dogs in tow dine on homemade spinach ravioli ($10.95) and fresh-baked focaccia studded with goat cheese and pesto ($5.50). As modest as the prices are, the setting is equally romantic — if you discount the din of the Quizno's looming next door.

The quality of the pizza has a wide variance. Lapp passed me one of the cheese slices he had called underdone. The crust was no thicker than two flour tortillas yet exhibited the sort of satisfying crackle necessary in a good pie only near its edges. I also agreed with him on the bland sauce, a thin brush stroke of orange/red that was unfortunately artless.

My pizza was a conundrum too. The Gorgonzola had thoroughly melted, giving it the unctuous texture of a white pizza. But the "potatoes" that came on top were actually French fries. They tasted OK, but it seemed like a waste of that beautiful wood oven not to roast some fresh potatoes. Mallory's Hawaiian was completely off-base, with huge chunks of pineapple and undercooked, cheap-tasting ham. (The later surprised me because I had previously enjoyed La Fontana's salumi, including speck, a smoked, cured Italian ham.)

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John Linn