As a third act, it's a departure of sorts. Gerard Pickhardt was in pest control, then he started an aerospace manufacturing company. And now? Pizza.
Pickhardt and wife Bonnie opened Flippers about a month ago in the increasingly crowded restaurant stretch of lower Fourth Street N. This is no mom-and-pop pie shop. Having purchased the franchise rights to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, they've already got a bead on Store Two, in Carrollwood, with an agenda of opening 16 in the next decade.
Flippers is a small chain out of Orlando, named because the first outpost was a herring's throw from Sea World. In a fairly dense playing field, what differentiates Flippers? It's not coal-oven pizza, so it's not the dark, blistery thin crust (Anthony's, Cristino's, Grimaldi's). Flippers pizzas are made in a brick oven that caps out at about 600 degrees (a little hotter than a home oven). This yields a pizza that has some chew, some puff.
Higher-end ingredients and swankier combos (arugula and prosciutto; pesto and artichoke hearts) place it above the national delivery chains. In fact, Flippers aims to be about 50-50 eat-in and delivery. The setting is fresh and attractive, with a decent list of craft beers and wines by the glass, so there's plenty of incentive to ditch the Snuggie and the remote and hop in the car. A large pie runs around $20 (as opposed to say, downtown St. Petersburg's Wood Fired, where a personal pizza runs around $16). In short, prices are moderate, ingredient quality is high, and it's a pleasant place to relax.
The Pickhardts have hired a service staff of folks new to the restaurant business, and they're still green around the edges. But they're eager to please, and Gerard Pickhardt trolls the small dining room lending a hand and giving feedback. It's the kind of hands-on approach that bodes well for a new concept in the area.
Start with an order of bread sticks ($5.99), a passel of puffy, cheese-dusted tubes perched on a shallow slick of garlicky butter and paired with a ramekin of San Marzano tomato sauce. Yes, it's bread before pizza, but offset the carb load with a Greek chopped salad ($7.99) or the more substantial Tuscan chicken chopped ($8.99) with roasted peppers, salami, red onion, croutons and little slips of crunchy prosciutto. Salads are not vast but enough to share between two people, the house Italian vinaigrette punchy and appealing.
And then the pizza. I preferred the thinner, more Neopolitan style crust option to the puffier traditional version, but that's a matter of taste. I can see the allure of the more doughy, pillowy style, perhaps when topped with a sturdy assemblage like the all-meat pie (pepperoni, sausage, ham, ground beef, bacon and meatballs; $20.99 large) or the racier steak Diablo ($20.99) with its chipotle-addled sauce and sliced steak dotted with jalapeno, black olive, green peppers and a mantle of sharp cheddar.
Still, Flippers gives you the option of build-your-own, with a deep toolbox of ingredients with which to tinker: How about Gorgonzola, bacon, pine nuts and a topper of fresh arugula (toppings each $2.29 for a large pie, so this strategy can creep up in price quickly)?
Thus far there aren't desserts made in house, not a biggie if you've loaded up on bread sticks or flatbreads (a nice touch: a whole wheat crust option) before the main attraction. With a wide delivery radius and lunch specials like a $6.99 two-topping personal pie (includes drink), Flippers seems like it will get along swimmingly as a newcomer in the local market.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow her on Twitter @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.