Featured Pizza Place

Downtown Pizzeria Pompano Beach

downtownpizzeriaToday I learned an important lesson in selecting the right pizza restaurant when that familiar craving comes calling: If you don’t have the time to go get good pizza, there’s always Taco Bell. Sometimes the risk just isn’t worth it.

According to my trusty Google Maps app, I work a mere 3.7 miles from The Sicilian Oven, makers of possibly the best thin crust I’ve eaten since my last visit to New York. But lunch hour traffic in east Pompano can range from slightly aggravating to aneurysm-inducing, and today it was certainly on the brain hemorrhage end of the spectrum. Knowing there were other closer pizza joints in the area, I took a quick drive down to the corner of Sample Rd. and US1, where I found Downtown Pizzeria. I soon learned there’s a reason people  usually prefer to move Uptown (cue the Jeffersons’ theme).

East of I-95, Pompano is a peculiar place. It’s never been an affluent area, but any town close to the ocean has its occasional bright spots. One moment you can be strolling through a pristine, new retail strip mall, and across the street there are any number of crack dealers eager to feed your addiction, should you be so inclined. Downtown Pizzeria sits closer to the latter, conveniently located right up against an adult video store. Who could have guessed my lunch money would have been better spent on a used VHS cassette featuring dwarves in clown makeup performing acts of abuse that would make Abu Ghraib seem like an afternoon at Elizabeth Arden? (Alright, that’s a little harsh, I know. I should refer to them as “little people”).

I entered the remarkably small pizzeria and immediately knew I was asking for digestive trouble. A rather large wall panel painted as the Italian flag is the first thing I noticed, and as I gazed around the room, I could tell this place was begging for a Gordon Ramsay, curse word-laden makeover. The few fluorescent lighting fixtures in the ceiling were turned off, except in the kitchen. A giant, plastic menu board hung at the top of the wall behind the counter (as you see in many takeout joints), and all of the prices have been strangely scratched off. How was anyone to know how much anything cost? Oh, there’s a faded paper takeout menu scotch-taped to the order counter. How convenient for us nearsighted folks. Small tables appropriately peppered the small dining area, and there were only 3 customers – 2 seniors sitting together, and another sitting in the corner staring out the window, no food or drink in front of her.  In addition to the large flag, another Italian tradition was being practiced – Omerta, the mafia code of silence. There was no TV or radio on, no phones ringing, and seemingly no activity back in the kitchen. I was beginning to realize this pizzeria wasn’t a hotbed of pie-tossing activity.

No staff could be found up front, and I patiently waited at the counter wondering if anyone in the kitchen knew (or cared) a customer had arrived. I noticed on the back counter a metal pizza tray, sadly displaying one lonely slice of cheese. Another paper sign informed me of their 2 slice/1 soda $4.99 special. Finally a polite young man emerged and asked if he could help me. I kindly inquired if there were more slices left, and he seemed happy to inform me that a pie was just about to come out of the oven. I ordered the special, but with 3 slices, because I’m an American and poor health is a national pastime and pursuing it is my patriotic duty. While I waited, an older gentleman came out of the kitchen and was equally polite and helpful. They spoke Italian to each other while assembling my order, and it was reassuring to know there was at least some semblance of authenticity here.

I paid and chose to take my order to go, as the decor and atmosphere inside wasn’t very inviting. As I exited, I noticed their delivery car parked upfront at the curb, engine off and windows down, indicating the vehicle was expected to sit there quite a while and interior heat buildup was a guaranteed problem. I took the pizza back to my car, where my driver’s seat became Table For One. I opened the pizza box and was horrified at the odor that emerged and filled my car. I’ve had countless pizzas that looked and tasted bad, but in nearly 30 years on this planet I’ve never encountered one that smelled bad. It was a pungent and almost sour aroma, possibly from the cheese.

I tasted the first slice and a barrage of saltiness assaulted my tastebuds. All kinds of firsts for me were occuring – the smell of the pizza, and now the unreal saltiness. What next? Having subsisted on little sleep and lots of caffeine this week, my hunger was the kind that keeps places like White Castle in business, so tearing through the first two slices was more out of necessity than anything. I reached for the third slice, but the lack of paper lining at the bottom of the box had helped fuse the cheese to the cardboard, and the crust slid out like a magician yanking a tablecloth out from under a porcelain place setting. It was then that I had a better chance of analyzing the sauce, which had no sweetness and probably contributed to the salt-overload. The crust was your typical Florida crust – soggy from the tip to the middle, and decently crisp on the outer rim. No bubbles in the crust or the partially orange cheese, but bubbles never bothered me, anyway.

Downtown Pizzeria’s cheese slices are the gift that keeps on giving. Heartburn, that is. And I’ll be 110% honest when I say that heartburn is something I never, ever get. Four hours later and it still felt like ninjas were fighting with flamethrowers in my stomach. Another two hours passed until I was able to put out the fire with a dark Arrogant Bastard beer, which isn’t exactly comprised of whatever’s in TUMS. I never enjoy bashing locally-owned business, and it’s unfortunate there’s genuine Italian heritage behind this pizza. I give them points for politeness and friendliness, a rarity in south Florida, but the pizza has much work to be done. Downtown Pizzeria gets 1 out of 8 slice

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