This is the Place
Prosciutto and Berry Pizza — Shockingly Good
Restaurant: Pizza Limone
I had heard of Pizza Limone for a few months before finally going there. To be honest, I was headed for another restaurant, but was short on time before heading to a performance of The Nutcracker, and passed by the downtown location of Pizza Limone, which I had heard served quickly. So that was how I decided to eat there. When I entered, my first thought was that it reminded me of Noodles & Company. You stand in a line with menus on the wall, then go up and order. However, glancing around the dining room ended that comparison. First, the tables were set at odd angles, ranging in size from seating two to 10 or 12. Then I noticed that, out of 20 or so tables, less than half had people sitting at them, but only three were actually clean. Worse, there were a pair of young boys who were running around, screaming and yelling like animals, their parents blissfully ignoring them and unwilling to do anything to teach a child how to behave appropriately at a restaurant. So, when one of them ran into me and his fellow stopped a step or so away, I did what I do when faced with misbehaving children in the wrestling room (I coach wrestling and deal with kids of all ages with great regularity): I gave them the look. The two boys, each about 7 or 8 years old, reacted like they were suddenly aware of how inappropriately they were behaving and that they were going to be in trouble, so they hurried back to their parents who were there together, seated at the largest table, who did not even notice that they had returned. On the one hand, this is not the problem of restaurant management — they are not the employees' children. On the other, it is a restaurant, and anyone behaving inappropriately should be asked to behave as befits the establishment or be asked to leave. I was only 19 years old when, as a manager at Blimpie, I first asked a family to leave because they were not parenting their children, allowing them to disrupt others who wanted to enjoy a meal. There was a lot of time and money invested into the ambiance of the restaurant, it is the job of management to ensure that it is maintained — which goes right along with so many tables being left for customers to bus themselves.
But more on that later.
So I looked at the menu on the wall and, like a black hole, one word dragged at me attention: prosciutto. I absolutely love prosciutto. As a Sicilian friend of mine is known to do, just say the words, and he'll throw his hands in the air and yell, "The king of meats!" I can't agree more. So it did not matter that there were going to be berries on the pizza, I had to order it, because it had my prosciutto. So I walked up to the counter that lined the entire front of the restaurant — so it suddenly reminded me of Café Rio, where you order, then follow the food along, where people prepare it and put it in the flaming oven in the back. The woman who took my order was very pleasant, as was the man next to her, who was going to prepare my pizza. I ordered the Viola and he started stretching out dough, not worrying about it being round or even oval. He dropped a couple small ladlefuls of red-brown sauce on the dough, followed by the other ingredients, chatting me up all along the way. He was very pleasant, moving me along with him, where I could tell him to put less of one thing or ask for more of another along the way, including four or five different types of cheese. He did everything I asked, regardless of what it was, all the while, keeping me moving along, until he put it into the oven. All the while, I could not help but notice the woman standing behind him, who was not cooking or cleaning or dealing with customers, she was just standing there. This got my attention, because the dining room was one of the worst I have ever seen. They were not in the middle of a massive rush, they were not even half-full.
An older man rang up my order at the end of the conveyer line. He started out asking if I had been there before. When I said I had not, he smiled and said, "You're about to have a new favorite pizza place." I bristled a little, thinking that there was no way it would be better than the Pie. Then I paid, got my drink cup, and even ordered a brownie that sat there at the register, which he said had a lemon butter cream (yum!), which he lifted the glass cover and held it out for me to choose my own. I was given a number that stood on a stainless-steel holder that I was supposed to put on the table, then I filled my drink from one of those soda machines that you can choose from many types, adding flavors, etc., all operated by touch screen, that I had only seen at the Jordan Commons movie theater previously. I went with plain, old Dr. Pepper, then sat at one of the three clean tables.
As I sat, I looked back at the two boys that were still sitting very quietly and politely as their parents prepared to leave, feeling a certain satisfaction that I had parented them more effectively than their own parents in the space of two seconds. I also watched the employees behind the counter. I assumed that the oldest man there was the manager, he was about 50, and it was not uncommon for management to keep an eye on the register by running it personally. A woman appeared that I had not seen previously, taking pizza out to others seated at another table, and I realized that the pizza was similar in appearance and style to Vinto. I ground my teeth, hoping that I had not wandered into a similar pompous experience, although the environment was very different. So I continued to watch the employees. That woman continued to stand and do nothing. She did not speak to anyone, she did not cook, she did not clean ... she just stood. The more I watched her, the more annoyed I became, because another group had come in, who proceeded to take the trash from a previous customer and put it on another table, so they had someplace to sit. They then went to the front to ask for a wash rag to wipe it down — and the man at the register gave it to them! I could not believe my eyes. At Blimpie, which is not fine dining, but we did get very busy and, I could have a line with forty people in line to order, but I would still tell someone near me, "Go wipe down tables! Now! Run!" But that was clearly not happening at Pizza Limone.
Then I saw the same woman come out with pizza in hand, who glanced in my direction, and headed toward me. I looked behind me, to see who she might be taking it to, then was shocked when she sat it down on my table. I looked at it, totally shocked that my pizza was ready — especially after my horrible experiences at Vinto — and was reassured that it was mine. The pizza was thin, like Vinto, but did not appear to be cooked unto the state of saltine cracker. The prosciutto was cooked, on the crust, rather than lain uncooked on the only thing the self-important chefs at Vinto managed.
So I was wary.
It looked really good: a big bubble was almost black, and I love the flavor of char, but the irregularly shaped pizza just seemed rustic to me. The edges of the prosciutto that had curled up were charred ... the cheese was all melty and gooey ... it was beautiful. So I picked up the first piece, choosing one that had prosciutto, berry, a leaf of fresh herb, and took a bite.
First words out of my mouth when I took that first bite: "That's amazing. I can't believe how well the berry goes with the prosciutto."
The crust was crunchy and chewy at the same time, the crust salty and crusty, with a hint of smoke from the charring in the oven. The prosciutto was amazing, a slice that broke down more easily in the mouth from being cooked, but the way it blended with the berry was amazing. Even with the red sauce, it was such a wonderful marriage of flavors. The only thing I can compare it to is when, at breakfast, you get a little maple syrup on your bacon or ham. The salt and sweet blends and compliments, elevating the flavor to a place beyond it alone. The prosciutto, the berry, the cheese, the sauce, the herb ... it all formed a blend of flavors that were undoubtedly more than the individual flavors alone.
After my second piece, I looked up to see a man in a suit and looked a bit like Doc Martin (British television). He appeared to be the owner. He looked around the room, then went out and started bussing and wiping down the tables himself. I could not believe it. He did not speak to anyone, he did not ask anyone to go out and do it, let alone the woman who was still standing and watching without so much as moving her feet, he grabbed a rag and went out to clean up the tables. He saw the need, but did not manage his staff. The woman who had been taking out pizzas started cleaning up tables, also, but not because she was asked. The look on her face seemed to indicate that she was bothered by seeing him doing it in his suit coat. This was another sign of poor management, not just failing to manage their eating environment, but not managing the staff to help maintain it, both in cleanliness and decorum.
Nonetheless, the food was excellent. Better than The Pie? I would have to say no, but a qualified no. First, one of the things that I use to qualify a good restaurant is not just the flavor, but the quantity. When I finished eating, I was ready to eat another one. I think that I could have eaten two pizzas. Try that at The Pie and I would end up losing all that cheesy goodness just outside. Second, because they are almost not even the same thing, and one should not enter Pizzeria Limone seeking the same type of satisfaction as The Pie. They two cannot be compared directly, it is a completely different experience.
Last words out of my mouth before leaving: "Can't wait to come back and see what other surprises they have for me."
On my second visit, I went to their newest location on 114th South and State. Surprisingly, when I entered, it looked almost exactly like the other location. The layout, the furniture, the menus, all the same. That is good chain management. I have a friend who, every summer, goes to a different country in the world for a few weeks. So, when he starts feeling homesick on the trip, where does he go? He goes to McDonald's. In all the countries he has visited (other than Spain, where McDonald's is more of a fine-dining establishment), it is nearly exactly the same, feels the same, etc. This is the same with Pizzeria Limone, so good for them in terms of controlling and managing their service brand.
So I looked at the menu on the wall and, like my previous visit, my attention was attracted by the word prosciutto, but I wanted to try something different. The problem was, there was not another pizza with that amazing meat, prosciutto. After a few minutes, the man behind the glass asked me if I had been there before, the standard types of questions, ending with what I was trying to find. I told him that I love prosciutto, but wanted to try something different from what I had before. He said that there is a pizza not on the menu, which has their House Sausage, Dry Salami and Ham, plus Roasted Peppers and Purple Onions. (I think he said it was called the Ferrari.) So I went with that. He was very pleasant, moving me along with him. It was hard to hear him sometimes, because they were in the middle of a rush, but it went well.
Another employee rang me up and I went to fill my drink from the same big soda juke box that the other location had, and I was given a number. I went with Mello Yello with grape mixed in, sort of a Lime Ricky with more oomph, and sat at a table, only having to bypass one for being dirty, regardless of how busy they were. Much better location management than the other place.
Pretty quickly, an employee came out with my pizza, not even calling out my number, and saw it down in front of me. The pizza was thin, but was loaded with toppings. It looked really good: big bubbles here and there in the crust, and the sausage was sliced, not the crumbled type with fennel seeds that so many other pizza places use and I really dislike. I was excited and took a bite.
First words out of my mouth when I took that first bite: "That's amazing. Sausage on pizza that I actually like."
The smoke from the oven filled the sinuses, and the House Sausage was spicy and had a smoother, less knobby texture than the counterpart most other places used. There was also Ham that was nice and smoky and the Dry Salami, which was sliced a bit thicker than on sandwiches, which was a nice change. The Roasted Peppers had been sweetened by the cooking, as well as having another dose of smokiness from the char. There is a brand of frozen pizza that I buy at the grocery store because I can cook it on my barbeque grill. Cooking it on my grill just makes it a different experience from something in the oven, and this was the same sort of variance from most pizza places. The pizza was thin enough to fold in half and eat, allowing the salt to coat my lips for an additional treat after swallowing down each bite.
Again, I finished the pizza rather quickly, but it did not leave me feeling like I needed another one to feel satisfied. The extra meat made all the difference.
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noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.