By Victoria Pesce Elliott
I have tasted the future and it is scorched and puffy, layered with red sauce and topped with melted mozzarella. If ever there was a national pizza moment, this is it. I've sampled more good South Florida pizza in the past three months than I have had here in my lifetime. I may have missed your favorite spot, but I can guarantee these nine are worth a visit.
Since 1951, Laurenzo's Market in North Miami Beach has been keeping fans up to their ears in all things Italian. And for decades, it has kept the fires burning in a classic wood-burning oven that looks like a little white trullo house from Puglia. The current pies are tasty, though some get slightly soggy in the center from a too-cool oven. Not to worry - a new oven is in the works.
Laurenzo's Italian Market: 16385 W. Dixie Hwy, North Miami Beach; 305-945-6381. Pizzas: $8 for a 10-incher to $17 for an 18-inch New York-style pie.
Anthony Bruno (Anthony's Runway 84) opened a namesake pizzeria to satisfy his cravings for New York-style pizza, and now presides over a mini empire of more than a dozen Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizzas that recently expanded into Miami-Dade. Brutally hot coal-burning ovens (more than 800 degrees) create crusts with edges as dark as, well, as coal. Best toppings include broccoli rabe and sausage. The pie is a bit thicker than a most, and if the original margherita pizza was meant to look like an Italian flag. When done just right, it can be a revelation in crunchy, crusty, blistered goodness.
Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza: Three locations in Miami-Dade, six in Broward; Pizzas: $11.50 for a plain small pie to $19 for a specialty-topped 16-incher.
Charming Fratelli La Bufala at the corner of Fifth and Washington has been a Miami Beach magnet for Italians since it opened in 2005. Family tradition and a super-charged wood-burning oven are the secrets to the quintessential pie made with real buffalo mozzarella imported from a brother's farm in Naples. Fratelli turns out fine, bubbly pies, expertly scorched and thin with a nice puff of crust on the edges. The fresh cheese tends to pool and make the middle soggy, a common problem with authentic pies. Hence, the knife and fork.
Fratelli La Bufala: 437 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-532-0700, Pizzas $7-$16.
Less than a year old, Joey Goldman's elegant namesake Joey’s in edgy Wynwood has made friends of police officers, construction workers, politicians, artists and society mavens alike. Italina chef Ivo Mazzon’s crust is firm yet chewy, crisped and beautifully charred with petite puffs of air inside. The margherita is a bit heavy on the cheese but loaded with fresh basil grown on the spot. His signature dolce e piccante won my heart: a simple crust dotted with slivers of sweet figs, melty Gorgonzola cheese, hot pepper flakes and drizzles of flowery honey.
Joey's: 2506 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-438-0488. Pizzas $7-$16.
Jonathan Eismann, the James Beard-nominated chef who moved his popular Pacific Time to the Design District, has turned heads with his industrial-looking Pizza Volante in the old Secret Sandwich Company space. There's a mozzarella bar with a variety of imported orbs, a fantastic budget array of wines by the tumbler and a superb selection of pies. The oven, a Milano-made Ambrogi, burns oak at some 700 degrees, making for a nicely charred crust with a perfect bite and crunch. Favorites include the Margherita di Bufala DOP and the Volante 100, topped with ingredients such as tender baby arugula sourced within 100 miles.
Pizza Volante: 3918 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-573-5325. Pizzas $9-$14.
Quattro Gastronomia Italiana's sexy Sosta (“pause”) on Lincoln Road gets the proportions of the holy trinity of cheese, sauce and crust just right, with a nicely singed crust, a thin-as-can-be layer of red sauce and an even smattering of smoothly melted cheese covering the whole surface. Carmine Leocata, past winner of and chief judge of the Campionato Mondiale della Pizza (pizza world championship), insisted on bringing in the Morello Forni, a rotating brick oven from Piedmont that accounts for Sosta's even and perfect results.
Sosta: 1025 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-722-5454. Pizzas $9-$14.
Brand-new Bertoni across Biscayne Boulevard from Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus is a surprising standout. The quirky Argentine-owned pizzeria attached to a carwash looks more like a South Beach club than a restaurant with its stunning mosaic murals, sleek furnishings and mood music. But a real pizzaiolo in a puffy cap feeds pies into the jaws of a handsome oven. Though available by the slice, the pizzas are best whole and topped with arugula. The wafer-thin crust bears the badges of a wood-burning oven: gentle scorch marks on the edges and slight bubbles in the chewy crust. The chef has a restrained hand with the sauce but is overly generous with the mozzarella (the handmade kind, at least). Superior fresh herbs, additional grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano and a friendly staff are also pluses.
Bertoni Brick Oven Pizza and Lounge at Master Carwash: 15180 Biscayne Blvd, North Miami; 305-354-8686. Also 3462 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove; 305-461-1322.) Pizzas $10-$12.50.
Another in the pizza club category is downtown's Ecco Pizzateca, which takes its decorating cues from the Lincoln Road Segafreddo's with mismatched sofas and love seats done in crushed velvet. With more than two dozen pizzas, this spot has more variety and attitude than others I visited. The pizza ... larger than most at nearly 12 inches ... has the right look: a tawny-edged crust, clearly hand-formed and gently browned without too much cheese. The pinkish sauce, however, was so thin it nearly ran off the point of each slice. Still, with its perfectly judicious smattering of basil chiffonade, it is a delicious, Italian-style pie.
ECCO PizzaTeca and Lounge: 168 SE First St, Miami; 305-960-1900. Pizzas $9-$13.
Pizza Fusion has grabbed hold of the eco-organic movement with earth-friendly ingredients, a healthful multigrain crust loaded with oats, rye, millet, barley, flax seed and sesame seed plus a line of gluten-free pizzas (and dessert). The unusual rectangular pizzas cooked in a soapstone rotating gas oven are tasty, crisp and delicious ... more like a cracker than a bread lovers' pizza. This pleasant spot where nearly 80 percent of ingredients are organic and much is local is just the ticket for vegans, the eco-conscious and those who avoid gluten or dairy.
Pizza Fusion: Three Miami-Dade and Broward locations; Pizzas $7-$21.
South Beach's just-opened Casale is a shrine to fresh mozzarella, made on the premises. The massive space backed up to the bustling Sardinia is low-key and handsome with low-slung sofas, a brown and tan palette and a great soundtrack. Baked in a pair of scorchingly hot, Australian pine-burning ovens, these thin and complex masterpieces are gently blackened but pillowy and pliant with a subtle saltiness, topped with exceptional ingredients. A favorite is the hearty Sag Harbor - a sturdy crust supports a thin layer of sauce, plump mussels, clams, tiny octopus and snappy shrimp with just a bit of pecorino cheese for saltiness.
Casale Pizzeria Mozzarella Bar: 1800 Bay Rd, Miami Beach; 305-763-8088. Pizzas $11-$15.