Wednesday, August 5, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Tuesday - Pizza Crawl Final Round @ Fratelli la Buffala & Casale

After a nice night of sleep thanks to the burger from the Taurus, I was well rested and feeling good about tackling my day. Work was crazy busy all day and I made sure to limit myself to a tiny bowl of frozen yogurt, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries for lunch. The light lunch was pure strategy because I was planning to attend the 4th and final round of the Miami Pizza Crawl. That strategy definitely paid off...big time.

After downing a few Kronenburgs at Cafe Maurice (soon to be name changed AGAIN to Louis XIII I was told), I met up with the other crawlers at Fratelli la Buffala on the corner of Washington and 5th. The restaurant was cozy with scattered tables here and there and the pizza hearth in the back corner of the room. Our table was right next to the pizza cooking action so it was a tad warm (at least in my seat) but that just helped make the cold Moretti beer that much more enjoyable. Our pizza lineup was decided as:

La Reale - tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, bufala smoked mozzarella, bufala ricotta & prosciutto crudo
Diavola - tomato sauce, spicy salame, mozzarella, basil & crushed red pepper
Vesuviana - fresh cherry tomatoes, smoked bufala mozzarella, bufala mozzarella, green olives & anchovies
The Special - sausage & broccoli rabe

Our server said the chef had a special pie ("The Special") for our group that stretched the pizza criteria for ordering. It was our first major dilemma. First, we had a special pizza made for the group which meant its a must order, right? On the other hand, said pizza was more of a pizza sandwich or double-decker pizza. You had a regular pizza crust, topped with fresh mozzarella, broccoli rabe, and sausage, then they took another pizza and slam dunked it on top of the 1st pizza. In the spirit of fun and to avoid insulting the chef who had made a nice gesture by offering something special, we went with it. It was pretty good. I liked the tartness of the broccoli rabe and the saltiness of the sausage together. I dont think I'd order it again though as it was really filling. Which brings up another Pizza Crawl 1st...full slices! We all were able to get a full slice of each pie at FLB because they cut the pies in 12 and we only had 11 for this stop on the Crawl. All aboard the carb caravan!

After "The Special", we moved on to the other pies. I liked the crust at FLB. It was thin with enough yet had nice stability in the middle to keep it from being too floppy when you picked it up. The sauce ratio was a good one too and I liked the thickness of the outer crust. Unfortunately, like another crawler has stated, none of these pies really blew me away. Ive had the diavola at Spris many times and didnt think this one was anything special. Not that it was bad, just not memorable. The La Reale was a nice pie but, then again, when isnt prosciutto on a pizza nice? I think my favorite here was the Vesuviana. Im a fan of more salty toppings on pizza to pair with the cheese and the combo of the olives and anchovies provided that for me. I did notice that some slices were devoid of one or the other though, so I guess I was lucky.

The next and final stop on the Pizza Crawl was Casale, a brand spankin new pizza joint conceived by Pietro Vardeu, owner of Sardinia right next door. This place had been hyped up rather epically on the Florida board of Chowhound, so it had a lot to live up to.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous. A lot of wood, brick, and stone features along with leather chairs lining both a crudo bar and an illuminated liquor bar that really stood out. Its a rather large space and Im only talking about the downstairs pizzeria right now. Upstairs, they have a lounge area with nice leather couches and chairs, a wine storage room, and another nice illuminated bar. A sweet outdoor patio also awaits diners and drinkers alike with more lounge chairs and couches and a giant umbrella "tree" that branches off into 4 large umbrellas and covers just about the whole patio. I could definitely see this place being a hangout for me if I lived in the neighborhood, thats for sure. Its casual without being too casual and has a nice vibe for chilaxin'.

We added about 7 new Crawlers to this stop on the Pizza Crawl for a total of 18. The menu had a lot of options and I like the creative combos of ingredients. Lots of pizzas you dont really see elsewhere. The pies we ordered were:

Smeraldina - braised fennel & bottarga
Atomica - spinach, artichokes, guanciale & quail eggs
Sag Harbor - mussels, clams, baby octopus & shrimp
Sagaponack - potatoes, anchovies & ricotta

Casale's pies have a nice thin crust, much like many of the pizzas in Miami, and the crust has a nice balance between crispy and chewy. They also use a nice san marzano tomato base for the sauce on most of the pizzas that provides a light flavor without stealing from the rest of the pizza. I'll also point out that the cheese is made in-house which is pretty frickin cool.

The Smeraldina had been hyped up from what I'd read but it really didnt do anything for me. I thought the flavors were sort of bland and nothing really stood out to me. We were splitting slices again, so maybe I didnt get all the ingredients on my 1/2 slice. I was really looking forward to the Sagaponack and found that to be a little disappointing as well. The potatoes either needed to be sliced thinner or possibly cooked a little longer because they were a little soggy and I didnt get any bite of anchovy on my 1/2 slice so I missed out on that flavor (I was crying on the inside). The Sag Harbor was a total trainwreck for me. Calamari on a pizza just doesnt work. It gets way too chewy. I also thought the sauce was off on this one. Sorry Frod, youre 0 for 2 on these types of pizzas. The Atomica was my favorite of this pizza lineup. I cut my own slice purposely so I could get all the ingredients and it totally paid off. The creaminess of the egg mixing with the saltiness of the guanciale was awesome and the texture and flavor of the spinach and artichokes worked well too. Id definitely order the Atomica again. Id probably try the Sagaponack again too.

But wait! We weren't done yet!

With a much larger group now, about 1/3 of which had not already housed 4 pizzas at Fratelli la Buffala, there were groans for more pie. So, we ordered 5 more! This time we went with:

Pugliese - rapini & wild boar sausage
Funghetto - wild mushrooms, taleggio & sage
Catalana - chorizo, manchego, tomato & olives
Buongustaio - baby zucchini, parma prosciutto & burrata
Super Margherita - prosciutto, bufala mozzarella & arugula

I didnt get to try the Super Margherita so I cant comment on that one but this round of pizzas really kicked the 1st rounds ass. The Pugliese was similar to "The Special" pizza we had at FLB yet much less hearty thanks to only 1 crust. I liked the wild boar sausage too. The Catalana was a real winner with the group and provided a nice taste of Spain. The chorizo bits were plentiful and who doesnt like that? The pizza of the night for me, however, was the Funghetto. This was the only pizza where the cheese really stood on center stage and was complimented by the other ingredients. The oyster mushrooms provided an awesome earthy flavor and really meshed well with the sage while accenting the saltiness of the cheese. It was just a great pizza.

I think the pizza crawl was an awesome experience. We had a great turnout during each and every round and the group was a pleasure to hang with. Even paying the bill was a simple process! Everyone had a great time and the costs were minimal considering the amount of pizzas we tried and the beers we sucked down while consuming said pies. I think the Casale visit was our most expensive at $18 apiece but we also covered Mr. 2top's portion since he had these awesome shirts made for the group. What a nice guy, huh?!?

This crawl proved that Miami really does house some great pizza joints that pump out great pizzas, regardless of what the naysayers from New York might say. Honestly, I'll take Miami pizzas over New York pizza any day but thats just me. Miami pizza is more my style - thin dough with a little bit of crust so you arent just eating all bread and getting full, minimal sauce, and fresh quality toppings.


Danny Brody said...

Hey I really love that shirt-what, no room for DailyCocaine, the douche who started the whole thing with his annoying piece proclaiming Racks the best pizza in So. Fla?? Just kidding. Sorry I couldn't join you on the crawls---it looks like everyone had a blast. So BM, what kind of bourbon goes best with pizza?

Blind Mind said...

I think there is some mocking of the douche who made proclamations with the quote on the t-shirt, so youre getting some representation at least... Thats my take anyways. It was a good time. I like a spicier, bolder bourbon with pizza. At Casale I went with a simple Maker's Mark because I didnt feel like Knob Creek after already having a few beers and I think those were the only 2 choices. My favorite with pizza is probably Blanton's, Bookers, or if a bar has a good selection, Black Maple Hill or Rock Hill Farms.

Danny Brody said...

In that case, to paraphrase a great man, "There is only one thing in life worse than being mocked openly, and that is not being mocked openly." Blanton's it is...