It's the single most controversial food. No, not foie gras or bouncing baby veal. It's pizza, and everyone is partisan, everyone is fist-bangingly confident in their chosen pie's supremacy.
There are two pizza newcomers, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say they're both the best thing to happen to Tampa in a long time (well, these two and Datz Deli, which I'm reviewing Thursday in Weekend). What's funny is that the pies are similar in aesthetic but vastly different in origin. Anthony's is the 13th restaurant for Anthony Bruno; all the rest are on the east coast of Florida. Located in Carrollwood, it's coal-oven pie, extra crispy ("well done," they call it) New York-style, no bones about it. Pizzaiolo Bavaro, in Tampa's deliciously blossoming downtown, is pure Neapolitan know-how.
Bavaro owner Dan Bavaro is also a New Yorker, but after selling a luxury transportation business there, he spent time roaming Italy, falling deeply in lust with the mosaic-tiled, rounded brick pizza ovens handmade by Stefano Ferrara and his family outside Naples for the past 100 years.
He bought one and had it shipped by container while pizza maestro Sandro Vitale was imported by plane. Vitale is serious, his mien more appropriate to a neurosurgeon just gloved up. No matter. He could give the stink eye and spit nickels as long as his pizzas come out this great. It's clearly a precise science: Stretch the ball of dough, toss rakishly for ideal thinness, then give it a topping of hand-crushed and deseeded San Marzano tomatoes and other ingredients (less is more) and slide it into the maw of the blistering oven. Vigilance is paramount. Ten seconds either way make a difference. We had five pizzas that were perfect — chewy, blistery, crisp-bottomed — and one that was a little floppy.
Bavaro's oven hovers around 900 degrees. It's 850 over at Anthony's, that kind of heat cooking the pies quickly and adding a nutty, charry flavor to the dough. Twelve-inchers and 16-ers at Anthony's (only 12 over at Bavaro, kind of a large one-person size), each one getting a luscious mantle of mozzarella and Romano cheese, a little basil, olive oil and crushed plum tomato. At neither place are topping options exhaustive. Nope, no stinkin' ham and pineapple. You can get broccoli rabe and Italian sausage ($15.95 or $18.95) at Anthony's, soppressata and buffalo mozzarella at Bavaro ($15). You can build your own, but you're better off letting the experts concoct one of caramelized onion and provolone at Bavaro ($13), or a specialty pie topped with a bloom of peppery arugula at Anthony's ($15.95 or $18.95).
Both restaurants are family-friendly, bustling, with enough hard surfaces to have laughter and clattering dish noise ricochet over the soundtrack (at Anthony's a guilty-pleasure blend of old rock and Rat Packers). Decor is charming at both, servers even more so, and when Anthony's gets a liquor license extended to its patio tables out back, it may be Carrollwood's top place to sip Chianti through a lovely Florida dusk.
At both, nonpizza offerings are worthy of more heaps of praise. In no particular order, the Nutella dessert pizza at Bavaro ($9) is stupendous, matched bite for bite by a waffle that gets a little wood-smoke from the pizza oven topped with a ball of gelato (ours a stunning strawberry, $6). At Anthony's, a side order of eggplant Marino ($9.95), simple breaded and fried rounds with bright tomato sauce, is hearty and wholesome, as are the wings ($8.95 for 10, $14.95 for 20). They would leave a Buffalonian head-scratching, but these Italian-style beauties are herb-flecked and deeply bronzed from the coal oven, then paired with a tangle of caramelized onions and lengths of griddled focaccia.
In both cases, these newcomers have moved in not far from existing pizza joints (Eddie & Sam's near Bavaro; Cici's, Best New York and others near Anthony's). But as I've said, since opinions are so divided on the topic, there's room for more pizza any way you slice it.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs. tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.