Friday, June 19, 2009

Mission #1 - East Side Pizza On The West Side

Let the Quest begin! On Sunday, May 31st, The Las Vegas Pizza Quest set out on Mission #1. We were following a suggestion from Tonia, a friend on Facebook. She told me she's a picky New Yorker when it comes to pizza and we needed to head to the west side of the valley to East Side Pizza at Boca Park.

She also suggested that we ask for Miguel, one of the pizza chefs. She wrote to me, "He'll take good care of you."

I called ahead to confirm the location and available seating and spoke with Paul, the manager. I told him, "The Nanny told me to see you guys." Paul immediately recognized her nickname and was eager to welcome The Pizza Quest Team.

Our tasters included my buddy, Sam, our dear friend, Christina, my 8-year-old daughter, Natalie and myself. We were starving and hoping to see if "The Nanny's" recommendation would hold up.

East Side Pizza is located behind Jason's Deli on the south side of the building at Boca Park, near the corner of Charleston and Rampart. It was easy to find and had plenty of parking.

When we approached the unassuming storefront, we were greeted by a marker board featuring the day's specials - always a good sign (pun intended).

Inside on the left, is the wide open pizza kitchen, where you can see all of the creations being made. On the right is ample seating for about 30 guests. I say guests because Paul, the manager, and his staff treated us like guests, rather than just customers.

Dressed in a white T-shirt and white kitchen apron, Paul pulled up a chair at the end of our table and wanted introductions. After we all swapped names, he was ready to talk about the four-year-old establishment.

One of the first meaty questions I like to ask pizza purveyors is, "What makes your place different?" Paul didn't hesitate for a microsecond and replied, "Our dough."

He explained to me that all of their dough is made in Boston. It is frozen and shipped to their restaurant. Las Vegas' lack of humidity and our high altitude made it impossible for them to get the consistency they demanded for their product. I was impressed. Paul added, "If you look at our menu, we offer a lot of specialty pizzas that you won't find at most pizza places. We wanted to be more than just a standard-topping pizza maker."

Miguel working the dough made in Boston

Since my daughter, Natalie, was with us, we had to stick with her favorite and the official benchmark pizza of the Las Vegas Pizza Quest - A Large, Pepperoni, Sausage and Black Olive pizza. Sam and Christina were excited to try the Chicken Artichoke pizza, which included grilled chicken breast, marinated artichokes, roasted heirloom tomatoes, black olives and garlic.

After we placed our orders and Natalie ran to get sodas for all of us, Paul continued the tour of their menu. He was right, they have a lot of menu items you won't find anywhere else. Under Veggie Pies on the simple white paper menu was Eggplant Rollantini - something I have never, ever seen before, anywhere. This pie features breaded and fried eggplant, topped with their homemade marinara sauce, dollops of ricotta and a healthy covering of mozzarella. I love eggplant and I'm looking forward to possibly doing a little private, solo mission on a week night just to try that combination.

East Side Pizza is much more than just a pizzeria. You would not be disappointed if the sign on the building said, East Side Italian Eatery. In addition to more than a dozen unique specialty pizzas, you'll find calzones, pasta dinners, hot and cold subs, appetizers, fresh chopped salads and a full dessert menu.

Even their dinner selections are out of the norm for standard Italian fare. Chicken and Eggplant Parmesan are rather common, but Sausage and Veal Cutlet Parmesan are only found at much pricier establishments, if at all. Portions are ample. A woman behind me barely made a dent in a mounded bowl of spaghetti and was definitely in need of a To-Go box.

The menu is not the only place where you see great thought and care. East Side Pizza is currently undergoing a renovation - they are making changes in lighting, adding some flat panel TV's and a few other touches to enhance your dining experience. If Paul had not told me that they were renovating, I never would have known. They are proceeding very discretely and you don't have to worry about dining with power saws grinding away in the corner.

East Side Pizza also has a North End. Black and white photos along the walls in the dining area add an old-world touch to the ambiance. Paul explained to me that he has photos of sports icons from New York and Boston, and they are strategically grouped apart from each other so that a turf war doesn't break out in October.

Finally, the pizza arrived. Having worked with a number of well-known Las Vegas eateries when I owned an ad agency here, I learned that visual presentation is as important as the taste. Two large thin crust New York-style pies gently landed on pedestals on our table and we were all impressed.

One of the first things I noticed was the size of the black olive slices. These were not shavings. You could see they only chopped three or four slices out of each large olive. On my daughter's favorite pizza, the sausage was cross-cut from links, very east coast style. Sam and Christina's pizza, the Chicken Artichoke, looked like it was served up from a gourmet magazine.

What we tasted with our eyes did not let us down when we started devouring the large thin triangles. I was so thankful to have Sam and Christina there because I would have missed out on a chance to taste their selection. The blend of the roasted tomatoes with the artichokes was amazing.

Sausage is a topping that can vary a lot. Rich flavors were in every bite. And you will notice the difference with the Boston-imported dough. With toppings pushed right to the edges, the nice firm crust that ringed each pie had enough stiffness to satisfy those that like more texture, without being so stiff that you lose a tooth.

We ate until we were pleasantly stuffed and had plenty to take home.

Part of the test of the Quest is to have cold pizza to eat later that day or for breakfast the following morning. Yes breakfast! I'm the Pizza Guy... it's allowed. Pizza served unheated gives you an idea of the fat content of the meats and the cheese. ESP's leftovers were just right. Although, this is the kind of pizza that you'll enjoy even more after about 10 minutes at 375º on a piece of foil.

For a premium product, you'd expect to pay a lot. A benchmark I use on pricing is that a plain cheese pizza should be around $1.00 per inch or less. A 16" cheese pizza on the east side is only $14.75. Additional toppings are $1.75 for the same size pie. Specialty 16" pizzas are $20.95, a great value considering the number of ingredients that go into each.

East Side Pizza also offers complete catering. Available menu items and pricing are included on their Take-Out Menus. Home-delivery is also offered to a specific area. Check the Take-Out Menu for details.

Before we left, Paul did a very Vegas kinda thing. He pulled me aside and slipped me a scoop... (Pssssst... they're opening a second location at the M Resort in November.)

For a first Mission, Paul and his friendly staff gave The Quest an experience that could be lingering around the title of The Best in a year from now. To be fair, we're not ready to pass out crowns like Burger King, but all of us will have no problem heading to East Side Pizza - on the west side - at Boca Park.

Mission #1 was concluded with a long nap when Natalie and I got home.

East Side Pizza
1000 South Rampart Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89145
(Corner of Charleston and Rampart)

Posted by Roger Blazic

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Mission #4 - North Central Las Vegas

This Sunday, June 21, 2009, we are heading to North Central Las Vegas to Rocco's New York Pizza.

Rocco's New York Pizza
6885 Aliante Pkwy #109
North Las Vegas, NV 89084


I called ahead and spoke with Gabriel. He said he and Mike, the manager, will be there on Sunday. We'll meet there around 1 PM on Sunday. Seating inside is limited to about 10. There are benches outside for overflow.

Join us.

Posted By Roger Blazic
Las Vegas Pizza Guy

Suggest A Mission For Our Quest

Every Sunday, we head out on another Mission to taste and savor pizza in the Las Vegas Valley. It is a noble quest and not for those that suffer from chronic heartburn. Each week, I select a place for the Mission. Even if you can't join us, you can participate in This Noble Quest by offering suggestions.

Enter your suggestions as comments below. If you have connections at the pizzeria - you know the manager, owner or chef - please add that info. We always like to get the red carpet treatment when we arrive.

Posted by Roger Blazic
Las Vegas Pizza Guy

Add Your Review To The Quest

If you have visited a pizzeria lately, and the flavors are still lingering on your tongue, add your review as a comment below.

Please include as much of the following as possible:
  • Name of the Pizzeria
  • Location/Address
  • Phone
  • Manager - if you spoke with the manager
  • Description of the pizzeria - seating, size, etc.

RULES: We believe there are no bad fresh pizzas. The way we rate pizzerias are, "Do they serve their customers?" If a place is fancy and the pizza is not fancy, then they are not doing their job. If the place is a takeout pizza shop and has a great value, then it can't be compared to a gourmet pizzeria. However, it may be perfect for the customers it serves.

Share your thoughts. We love to hear from our readers and what they're eating.

Posted by Roger Blazic
Las Vegas Pizza Guy

Reviews Coming This Weekend

This week the calls and emails were coming in asking, "Where are the reviews from the Pizza Quest Missions?" Sorry... I've been overwhelmed.

Plus, having my Facebook account disabled for five days because I was adding too many friend requests for my mafia family in Mafia Wars did not help. I couldn't get to the Facebook Group to admin the last event.

Things are back to normal and I'm adding more info to help those who want to join us. I'll be picking out a specific place to meet. I'll also have two backup locations, just in case something does not work out at the primary location.


I'll be posting maps to each event to the blog, too. That should make it easy for everyone to find us.

I promise, the reviews will be coming this weekend.

Posted by Roger Blazic

Join my mafia

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Final Reminder: Join Us Today For First Mission

We're heading out for our inaugural mission to commence The Great Las Vegas Pizza Quest. You can join us between 12:30 pm and 1 pm today at the Café at Canyon Ridge Christian Community after the 11 am service. CR is at 6200 W. Lone Mountain and Jones. I'll be the guy with the chef's hat on. You won't be able to miss me.

We don't know where we're going. We can figure that out once everyone is assembled.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

There Are NO Bad Pizzas

We believe that any establishment who dares to mix flour, water, egg and a little salt to form a dough, top it with sauce, cheese and an assortment of nicely chopped ingredients cannot fail. There are NO bad fresh pizzas. There are pies that might not live up to our expectations. But even the weakest of finds can still be a delight, even cold for breakfast the following morning.

We are not out to disparage any pizza makers. If we find the steaming offering to be less than desired, we hope that our comments will be looked at as constructive, rather than destructive. If our taste buds were not happy on an initial visit, we promise to return in six months and give the establishment a second chance to wow our buds.

Our evaluations will attempt to be objective, that is why we will always start with a pepperoni, sausage and black olive pizza. (This is based on my 8-year-old daughter's preference.) A truly empirical study must have its benchmark, and that is ours. Although, depending on the size of our expedition team, we may be ordering a larger selection of topping combinations or house specialty pizzas.

We'll be examining the flavor and texture of the dough and crust. Sauce samples will be requested from the kitchen. With our finely calibrated eyeballs, we will gauge the quantity of cheese and check it for gooey elasticity. The game breaker could be - the sausage. Brown morsels of greasy spiced meats will be masticated slowly, seeking to find hidden flavors that are only produced by exceptional sausage recipes.

Another requirement for out research - the pizza must be eaten dine-in. No cardboard shall touch our specimens. Ambiance of the pie shop will be absorbed and noted. Staff, service, and the overall customer experience will be jotted into our pizza journal. And we will check the restrooms!

We don't care if you have a thousand pie shops across the universe. We are here today at your joint in Sin City and we want PIZZA! We hope it's good. Actually, we hope it is the Grail. The Holy Grail of Las Vegas Pizza.

Posted by Roger Blazic