Ballo Italian Restaurant and Social Club at Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, CT

In the heart of Mohegan Sun’s Casino of the Earth, new kid on the block Ballo’s sprawling, exuberant scale may appear to be as over the top as any Vegas establishment, but is a perfect example of big things coming in big packages. This is a quality that restaurant maverick John J. Tunney III, owner of Ballo, emphasizes in his cuisine and brainchild. At a press lunch this afternoon, we got a chance to experience Ballo’s menu and see the newly finished restaurant in the flesh.

Ballo has come a long way in two months, transforming from a nervously piecemeal jumble to a polished, stately restaurant. Long expanses of artificial greenery and red accents make a bold statement in the otherwise dark casino. Immense Gothic arches and wood-carved columns fill the 16,000 square foot expanse, serving as a persistent theme throughout the restaurant.
As we tour the restaurant, the boyish Mr. Tunney points out in a flustered, yet noticeably pleased manner, the pieces of the restaurant that were recently finished yet appear as though they took months to create. The name of the restaurant spelled out in carved metal on the floor. The slender decorative touches on the Corinthian columns. All small details that make a big splash in the atmosphere of Ballo.
The restaurant is segmented into bar areas and dinner areas, dance floors and private rooms, but not in a way that makes the eater feel separated from any one area of the restaurant. Rather, Tunney wishes to have these alcoves as ways for diners to experience the restaurant through many lenses under one roof.
High-profile customers can have their library lounges and butler doors if they so choose, complete with hired security, yet with the option to hang out at the bar or dance in the back as well. A middle coffeehouse-style area has comfortably zany zebra print chairs and candlelit tables for close contact and a comforting oasis from the bustle of the casino. No one room feels staid or added on at the last minute. Each area presents its own set of unique possibilities for customizing your dining experience.
While we did socialize at the centerpiece of the restaurant, Ballo’s enormous marble bar, 12 in the afternoon seemed a little too early to dance on the tables. We started off our tasting by noshing on some frighteningly addictive figs, roasted to gooey perfection, smeared with goat cheese, and bundled in prosciutto.

We washed these down with a selection of drinks, including Ballo’s signature cocktail, the Ballo Limonata, a delicately spritzed mixture of limonata, Spirit Vodka, and a frozen blood orange sphere. Refreshing and quenching with a neat twist on ice cubes and less dilution.

Later, we retreated to the rear, to a back room that makes a fine case for coming back, with integrated speakers and Renaissance curtained DJ area. A little dark in the afternoon, but not cavernous. This area was where we ate our meal, a special tasting menu presented by executive chef Matthew Adler and chef de cuisine Shaun Golan.
I started off dinner with a quartino of the house red, a tangy Cabernet Sauvignon. Ballo serves wine in 8 oz. quartinos, a pleasant and generous portion compared to the standard 5 oz. restaurant pour and priced like a typical glass. This is poured in 2 oz. portions from an individual pitcher that prevents the likely dribbling that comes with great, galumphing glasses of wine. With this, I was able to replenish as I pleased (though our server was so attentive there was no need to) and pace myself throughout the lunch. I enjoyed the cab. For a house wine, it was neither overly complex nor hiding poor quality under the house name. It is worth noting that Ballo boasts a wine list of over 60 wines, 16 of them offered by the quartino, and all of them Italian.

For a lunch sandwiched between an unexpected 300 person cocktail party on behalf of the Mohegan tribe and the frantic anxiety of an opening night less than 24 hours away, Ballo presented a thoughtful and well-executed taste of its offerings, from cocktails to coffee, in a special seven course tasting menu. We started with the dish that had captivated us the last time around, the Ballo Caprese with a creamy mound of burrata, roasted cherry tomatoes, and housemade pesto. For an antipasti, this was a huge portion. The burrata was creamy and silky, with a porous texture that sopped up the pesto around it. The pesto was finely mixed and added a needed boost of salinity to the cheese, along with the tomatoes. Like last time, these were roasted, which added an additional dimension to the dish, but were roasted much better than the last time around and had less of a bite. An exceptionally good start.
Bread was passed around along with the burrata, freshly baked Italian loaves hot from the oven. This was ripped off in healthy chunks, and served with a mixture of herbed garlic olive oil and butter. A traditional start to the meal and like the burrata, an excellent sponge for the leftover pesto. We followed this with another antipasti dish, crispy artichokes with arugula and lemon. These were lightly crispy on the outside and yielding on the inside, and small enough to pop in your mouth. If all my vegetables were prepared in this fashion, I’d likely be more inclined to go vegetarian. The artichokes were not breaded, and I suspect that as a result of this, did not sop up excess oil. Light and tender, the mild flavor of the artichokes was perked up by the addition of tart lemon juice and pickled scallions. More scallions and a hair more salt would have been preferred.
Following this was a dish of pork meatballs with broccoli rabe, ricotta salata, and marinara sauce. Our server said there was pancetta floating around in this somewhere, but any additional ingredient would have died an anonymous death, smothered in the rich marinara and savory cheese. Pancetta or not, these were delightfully nostalgic for all at the table, at least, those of us with marinara running through our veins. The meatballs erred toward the large side with an airy, moist texture and a rush of oregano and garlic. The sauce was equally bold with a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and a smooth texture. Three of these sat in a miniature skillet. Believe me when I tell you that it took all of my restraint to not inhale each one.
The lunch took a slightly different turn after our trio of appetizers, and we were brought out a communal sweet sausage pizza to share amongst us. With a mozzarella and pecorino blend pooling in crannies left between strings of caramelized onion and chunks of pepperocini, this was a hearty yet controlled pie. With so many unctuous ingredients, one would expect something richer, sopping with oil and overspiced, but this seemed almost delicate. A meat lover’s special for the lady in Louboutins. It was sweet and fragrant, with a hearty crust and a light scattering of sausage.
It is worth noting that taking on a pizza project in Connecticut is as risky as taking on lobster in Maine or maple syrup in Vermont. While nothing could replace some of my beloved New Haven eateries, this was a worthy contender and offered up some creative deviation to the by-the-book apizza standard 50 miles west.
Our next dish was a small plate of fresh ravioli, the shell of which is housemade daily on premise, filled with mascarpone, ricotta, and parmesan, and covered in more tasty pesto. A tangy and comforting dish. However, the pasta shell was a little thick for its sweet, milky contents.
From that, we moved on to another pasta dish, a lusty tagliatelle doused in bechamel with chunks of proscuitto, and broiled with an end consistency of a savory toasted marshmallow. This achieved a nice bite to a normally saucy dish and added an additionally smoky note that the prosciutto certainly couldn’t have done on its own amongst all the cheese. The flavor was rich and the sauce a bit grainy, but flavorful. We found that the pasta held the sauce well and was cooked just a bit less than most mushy al dente offerings, with a firm structure.There was a brief rest in between the tagliatelle and this steak course, and a well-needed one to digest and chat amongst ourselves. When this came out, a hush descended over the self-proclaimed carnivores of the group as we tucked into a filet mignon with heirloom tomatoes, radicchio, arugula pesto, and a balsamic reduction. This was a steakhouse standard prepared with Italian accents. A great cut of steak, elevated even higher with a thick crust and a buttery, smooth cut, cooked medium rare and very moist. The steak knife was almost superfluous, and the steak was seasoned minimally, as all steaks should be. The fresh tomatoes were sweet, but somewhat excessive. The pesto was the only low point of this dish. This was now the third dish in our menu with pesto, and this manifested itself in a peppery, earthy version that dominated most of the flavors in the steak and vegetables if applied too liberally.
Our savory courses settled in our stomachs, we moved on to coffee and dessert, of which there was thankfully only one course. Illy coffee was served along with miniature cannoli with a double garnish of chopped pistachio nuts and dark chocolate chips, baked by resident chef-of-all-trades, Mr. Adler himself.
The cannoli, yet another Wooster Street facsimile treading dangerously close to its granddaddy, was a slimmer cigarillo-type pastry, lacking the bready, oily crust and choking globs of cheese that make its larger version so delectable. Still a sumptuous offering, with a spiced mascarpone filling and a crispy, wonton-like shell. A quiet, classic way to end the whole affair, as blended and solid as the artful quotes filling the walls, Thoreau interpretations by Tunney’s brother.
As our lunch wound down, Tunney lingered, not wanting the party to end and the music to die down. He chatted with us, cards were exchanged, and his smile fell a bit as we left. Tunney expounds upon his ideas as we walk out. “Everyone has a story,” Tunney tells us as we wait outside, not wanting to leave the splendor. “And we want to hear it.” Hear them he will. The man with the golden restaurant touch opens Ballo tomorrow to the public, ready to whirl Mohegan Sun visitors around the dance floor and delight the senses. Be there, or be square. This is one dance you won’t want to miss.

Free Freschetta By the Slice Event

Frozen pizza lovers, this is your wheelhouse, baby. On August 4th, Freschetta Fresh Connection is having a fairly massive giveaway consisting of 5,000 coupons for a free By the Slice product (MSRP $2.39) every half hour for the day, starting at 11 AM when the giveaway’s website,, launches. That gives you the potential to snag one of over 50,000 slices of free frozen pizza. If one slice isn’t enough, Freschetta is also holding contests throughout the day with more coupons for prizes. It’s like a food festival for neckbeards. Not a bad giveaway, if you ask me.

While the coupon is mailed rather than sent electronically, you can satisfy your frozen pizza cravings by seeing what I thought of the pizza here. It wasn’t necessarily the Cadillac of pizza, but I’ll probably grab a few coupons for those late nights studying.

Evol Pizzas Meatballs and Mozzarella

No, it’s not a Sonic Youth album, it’s one of our favorite brands- again! Evol Foods just keeps coming out with new products. And who are we to blame them? With the recent success of their flatbreads, it’s clear that this is a company that can deviate from one type of food, in this case, their burritos, and still come out on top. Now, we’re chomping through their pizza line, one pie at a time.
Despite the fact that we have to travel to our local Whole Foods to snare one of these, we love them so much that we don’t mind. Evol’s pizzas and flatbreads are the anacondas in a pet store world of easy-to-care for goldfish and hamsters. Yes, we’re talking to you, CPK. And no, we’re not calling you back. Make no mistake about it, though, the pizzas are not simply larger versions of the flatbreads. For one, the prices are a little higher for the pizzas, $1.50 higher, but they are only two ounces heavier than the flatbreads. This lessens their value compared to the flatbreads, but when placed against other one-topping pizzas, like Domino’s, ($10.15 for a medium thin-crusted pizza with sausage, they don’t have meatball or small) and Pizza Hut, ($8.56 for a medium thin-crusted pizza with sausage- is meatball being phased out?), it’s not a bad deal.
Out of the package, the first obvious flaw in the meatballs and mozzarella is the case of small balls it has going on. The photo on the box shows 24 adorable, miniature meatballs dotting the top of the pie like a lady bug. We got 13 1/2, and they are tiny. It’s a shame, because they’re really tasty, with a moist texture and a bold, herbed texture that stands up to the rest of the toppings. And honestly, for flaws, that’s about it. This is also a cheese-heavy pizza. There is an ass-ton of cheese, even though it might not look like a lot when shredded. This is the first pizza I’ve ever had where there was a drippy cheese overhang during the cooking process. It was intense and awesome.
The mozzarella is very present and doesn’t give off that bland mix-of-cheeses flavor that other frozen pizzas do. It’s chewy and buttery, with a nice hint of salt from the meatballs, and strings off substantially even after solidifying in a mass on the pizza. The cheese bubbles and crisps on top and all is well with the world. With this in mind, I’m now more inclined to try the four cheese and basil pizza. Even the prosaic gets a makeover here.
One thing to pay attention to is the thinness of the crust. Honestly, I was worried that with the brittle texture, the pizza would seize up and get crackery during the cooking process. The instructions will tell you that 10-15 minutes in the oven is a good idea. I was paranoid and monitored this more than any baby I’ve ever sat for, and after 8 minutes found that it was getting crispy and that was enough for me. The crust is substantial to hold up to the lavish amount of tomato sauce and cheese, and doesn’t get soggy or crunchy at all. The crust, with its varying degrees of charred edges, reminded me of a commercialized Pepe’s pizza. While I doubt this pizza will replace your favorite neighborhood joint, it’s a hell of a lot better than the pizzas we have up here and definitely bumps out its chain and frozen competition.

California Pizza Kitchen Pizza and Appetizer: Sicilian Pizza and Flatbread with Spinach Artichoke Dip

Keepitcoming is sick, and while purchasing her industrial sized bottles of Aspirin and Vitamin Water at the grocery store, I spied this frozen delight and figured I’d take her on a date just as average as the one I took her on last week when we went to see Water for Elephants and I burnt her house down, neither one worse than the other.

California Pizza Kitchen is quickly turning into the Cheesecake Factory of pizza-based restaurants, if that makes little to no sense at all. Whatever. It made more sense than the entirety of Infinite Jest, which says a lot. With a menu of over 100 items, including appetizers and small bites, the difference between which I cannot determine, and a gazillion pizzas, the total number of which amounts to more teeth than in Robert Pattinson’s mouth, you’d think they’d step out of the box for their frozen counterpart, the perpetual ugly stepsister to the restaurant glory, and create a new, different package deal, perhaps avocado club egg rolls with dipping sauce accompanied by a roasted artichoke and spinach pizza, or sesame ginger chicken dumplings with a four seasons pizza, but no, they chose Sicilian pizza and spinach and artichoke dip with flatbread. Yawn. Wake me up when the guy who makes this at home to save time getting laid instead of taking his date out asks her to go halfsies on the cost from the grocery store.
Anyway, at least the food looked decent, looked being the operative term here. Despite my initial disappointment with the selection- CPK’s guacamole is one of the best I’ve ever had, I persevered and started cooking. The cooking process was more complicated than a LEGO instruction book, forcing me to keep the box out and take up half of my cooking space. While cooking this, I noticed that almost everything required either lifting or tearing molten hot foodstuffs with the aid of my bare hands, a fate I neither requested nor deserved.
From a menu-based point of view, the pairings here are kind of strange. For starters, the spinach and artichoke with flatbread combo isn’t actually on the menu- the flatbread comes with hummus dip and the artichoke dip comes with chips, but frozen chips would have been pretty gross. Point justified. And the Sicilian pizza doesn’t seem to exist, its closest relative on the food chain in the form of the Meat Craver’s, the former being a pared down version with less meat. The flatbread was popped in the oven along with the pizza and came out cooked to perfection. The pizza looked really good, littered with spices and herbs and powders and sprinkled with a pretty decent meat topping with visible bacon chunks, large slices of salami, and sausage.
And yet, it had no flavor. The pizza, which was lukewarm by the time it and the accoutrements were whisked to the table, was thick and bland, not unlike a pompous ex of mine. The only indication of meat on the pizza was a slight anise flavor from the sausage, and when the sausage had to share space with the weaksauce-inspired ham and salami, there was little room for it to shine. Neither of us felt inclined to eat more than a slice, and even then, it was like pulling teeth. Robert Pattinson’s unicorn teeth. I zoned my sorrows into the flatbread, which was oddly enough, more soft and toothsome than the pizza crust. There was a lot of spinach artichoke dip, and although it was somewhat pureed together into a kid-friendly or Midwesterner-friendly sauce, it was tasty and garlicky and allowed me to occupy my mouth outside of criticizing the pizza.
If going to CPK and taking your date to dinner gets you laid at the end of the night, this boxed set is like falling asleep in front of your computer with your dick in your hand and waking up to photos of your semi-hot second cousin’s pool party on Facebook. Come on, man, she’s 13. I’d have been happier if this came with a few double vodka Caribbean Sunset Sangria so I could drink and forget about this depressing pizza. Alcoholism has surprisingly practical benefits, kids!

Evol Flatbreads Italian Sausage and Caramelized Onion

We love a good pizza, as you may already know, but are squarely divided on the topping front. For me, the ideal pizza is meat and cheese, just is the ideal burger, the ideal sandwich, and in some cases, the ideal dessert. And the more the better! My one deviation to this standard lies in jalapenos, and if I’m feeling lazy, hot sauce. Keepitcoming likes peppers and onions on her pies, with light cheese and smoky paprika.

This differentiation makes it hard to order a pizza, so more often than not, we settle for frozen varieties or just make something else. The new flatbread pizzas from EVOL may just change that game, though, because I think we’ve finally found a pizza with toppings from both of our sides that we can agree on loving!
EVOL’s burritos are known for their plentiful toppings and flavorful combinations, as are their flatbreads. In four different varieties- Italian Sausage and Caramelized Onion, Chicken and Roasted Veggies, Goat Cheese and Portabello, and Barbecue Chicken, the flatbreads feature premium toppings and an insanely delicious crust. As the critical purveyor of excellence in the crust department, I figured I’d be the judge of that, taking into account that Rodzilla was not a fan of this feature.

I’m pleased to say that all it took to transform a pizza clumping mess into a delicious, chewy lunch was a little rearranging and careful timing- 10 and a half minutes in the oven to yield a puffy, bubbly pie. The toppings were all amazing- the sausage, which looked sparse on the pie, was enough to get a little in each bite, and even without it, carried a wonderful cheesy base with fresh garlic, onion, and parsley. It wasn’t too salty and was crispy from the lack of sauce.
Our sole complaint was the size and crust texture, two factors that eventually worked together in our favor. Although the pizza could easily feed one, the size is beneficial for the crust, a crispy, chewy variety.
The upskirt.

It does harden over time, but I don’t suspect you’ll have any leftovers to worry about. If the crust was a few millimeters thicker and the pizza bigger, I’d be hard pressed not to order this in a restaurant. This is definitely going to be a future favorite of ours here in Kitchen Foodette.

Amy’s Organic Margherita Pizza

It was summer today. As we know from the fickle fancies of New England weather, it’s no surprise that this morning it was cold, humid, and rainy, and this afternoon it was 83 degrees. But we can roll with that, son, and tonight we busted out the al-ka-hawl and the frozen pizza. Keepitcoming Love picked up this frozen delight from the grocery store ’cause it’s new and we’re on top of shit all the time. This is Amy’s pizza and it kicks the infant asses of both Rustic Crust and CPK. Hell yeah.

The margherita features a thinner crust, tiny balls of mozzarella, tomato chunks, and fresh chiffonades of basil. Fuckin’ herbs, natch! Cooked that sucker for ten minutes and took it out. Fresh mozzarella is one of the best textural substitutes for meat out there, and on this pie, it was sliced into chunks that melted and got evenly distributed throughout. There was definitely more sauce than cheese, but it was a really tasty sauce with a subtle sweetness from onions and garlic and reminded me of a fancy bruschetta. Oh you fancy, huh? Well, Amy’s is, and it shows. Everything about this pizza, from the airy, crispy crust to the plethora of toppings, really showed how fresh its ingredients were. This pizza was $7 for the two of us and was ready in ten minutes. Of the three closest pizzerias in town, each listed their margherita pizza under their specialty section and ranged from $10-20 for a small pizza. That alone proves that this is better.
My one complaint, and believe me, I’m searching, was that the proclamation of a newer and thinner crust was a little misleading. While the crust was the same crispy, buttery crust I know and love, I just craved a deviation and wanted the product to live up to the promise as much as it had with the toppings.

Freschetta By The Slice Six Cheese Medley

Freschetta sent me a couple of coupons for their new pizzas, one of which seemed perfect for Healthy Month. Recently, Freschetta has come out with a new “by the slice” pizza, which is, as the name suggests, a lone slice of pizza. While this isn’t necessarily a new concept, rehashed by Red Baron and CPK, Freschetta certainly puts interesting spins on their slices.There are four varieties, and they all seem oddly hyperspecific or bland. On the hyperspecific side, we have a vegetable medley and a chicken, spinach, and mushroom, and on the bland side, the omnipresent BBQ chicken and a six cheese medley. This seems to eliminate a vast majority of people who don’t like some of those ingredients. For me, two of them were out of the running because I hate mushrooms. I decided to choose the six cheese medley for consistency’s sake. But geez, Freschetta, was pepperoni too prosaic for you?Because I had some free time today, I decided to dally and make this in the oven. I should note that this carries a $3 price tag and is roughly the size of 1/6th of a large pizza. This a little irritating for me. About a mile down the street from us is Mimmo’s Pizza, a joint that makes massive slices made to order, roughly the size of three of these put together with one topping for $2.50. If I didn’t feel like doing that, Red Baron sells two of their “by the slice” pieces for $3.49. What could possibly justify this?
Not a whole lot. After 14 minutes in the oven at 425, it was unevenly cooked, with crispy burnt edges around the perimeter and a white, barely melted center. It was cooked all the way through but the top made me wonder if I ought to have put it back for a few more minutes. Eating this with a glass of MiO fruit punch made me feel like I was eight years old, cooking Ellio’s at my grandmother’s and sitting down to watch an episode of Rugrats. The pizza crust was crispy on the outside, but flaky and airy in consistency. The “blend of six cheeses” was indistinguishable and gooey on top of the sauce, a salty Chef Boyardee-esque mess on top. It really seemed as though Freschetta had imitated the delicious mediocrity of Ellio’s, slapped enough cheese on it to cover the surface, and upped the price.

I wanted to like this more than I did, but there was something a little creepy about sitting around shirtless on a Saturday morning eating a lunch my childhood self would have high-fived me for. Maybe I’ll have better luck with the Freschetta Inspired line.

A. Fieschi Mostarda di Cremona

Where did all the apothecaries go? As I write this I feel like I’m giving the weltschmerz laced air of a woman who has seen it all and bought the t-shirt. Granted, I have never seen an apothecary, but I would trade the sterile, monochromatic blandness of Walgreen’s Pharmacy for those musty coiffers. The closest thing I’ve found lies in foreign groceries, the kinds in small cities where dust comes free with every purchase and meat comes in alive and often leaves alive as well. This particular treat resembles those murky jars with mysterious contents and comes from First Tracks as an intriguing gift. With a little research, we found that mostarda di Cremona is a condiment from Northern Italy consisting of preserved fruits in a mustard powder sauce. Despite looking a lot like alien eggs, it’s quite a unique regional product. It’s one of those things that has been around for centuries, unbeknownst to most of the American population. I had not heard of this prior to receiving it, making it that much more intriguing.First Tracks advised us to consume the little fruits with preserved Italian meat, like proscuitto, but before that, we had to perform an initial investigation. In other words, I needed to touch that fruit. It’s not every day you get to pry tiny fruits out of a gel-filled jar. The fruits inside were mainly stone fruits- peaches, nectarines, pears, and such, but also included a tiny orange. The consistency was thicker than a standard canned fruit syrup and more like a corn syrup texture- just as sticky. It had a spicy, sweet scent. The strangest thing about it, though I suppose this was more disorientation strange than actually strange, was that it tasted exactly like mustard, though with this thick, syrupy mouthfeel. Definitely unique.
The little fruits inside were surprisingly firm with mushiness only from the baby pear. When we cut into them, they harbored a crystalline, jellied texture reminding me of solidified polymers and tasted like the sauce in varying degrees. Out of all the fruits, the orange worked best with the spicy gel, the rind infused with a bitter, sweet flavor and a citrusy zing from the oils. I’d definitely try chopping this up in sesame noodles or on top of some roasted chicken. It was the kind of flavor that really seems to impart its sensations on other foods. We wanted to try these in a traditional application, so for dinner tonight we made a prosciutto and fresh mozzarella pizza with a few sliced fruits on top. Keepitcoming snacked on a few slices with some pieces of prosciutto as an antipasto. To drink, we took the cava and basil cocktail from The Roost and tweaked it to our liking. The end result was casual, and yet decadently sophisticated, something I could see myself eating out of the fridge as a snack or serving as a light summer lunch to friends. We extracted the little gems and sliced them into translucent wedges on top of the pie. Though we tried to wash some of the syrup off for fear of burning, a good deal of it seeped through the pizza crust and caramelized into a sticky area underneath. However, this was no problem- it transformed an unseasoned crust into a delicious, savory sweet treat! It did make it a bit difficult to handle. The flavor of the fruits really changed during the cooking process. The orange still remained the most intense and sauce-infused, but the peaches were gelatinous and juicy. The overall flavor was a charred, meaty, juicy spiciness, like pineapple ham or citrus marinated meat. On top of the pizza with crispy mozzarella, it was absolutely heavenly. A natural combination- meat, fruit, and cheese, just seemed to be bumped up another level as it was paired with peppery, piquant flavors. The heating element seems to be tricky- heating it too much dilutes the full spectrum of flavors.If I hadn’t already loved such a combination, this would have rendered me into a convert for sure. I was surprised at how versatile a condiment it was. I think my next step would be to incorporate this into a dessert, perhaps as a key ingredient in an individual crisp or mixed in with some ice cream. It really defied its hyper-specific ingredients, creating a delightful and universal set of flavors for all seasons.

Archer Farms Mediterranean Tomato and Arugula Pizza

I’m not sure what kind of benefit importing foods or ingredients can lend to specific foods. Certain ingredients, for example, are impossible to obtain within the borders of the USA, like burrata, bush meat (it’s not what you think) or the impressive McRice. But can imported mozzarella really make a frozen pizza taste better than a crispy New Haven pie? Will imported gelato taste more luxurious than Herrell’s homemade ice cream?

Granted, there are certain physical and chemical properties of these ingredients that can enhance foods in ways local specialties cannot. But adjusting to such a change in an ingrained love can have negative repercussions, especially when innovative chefs and companies try to reinvent the wheel. We all wept when Coca-Cola sold out to the man and took cocaine out of their formula for the more economical, purified imported coca leaves.When Keepitcoming and I found this pizza at Target, a frozen favorite that all but gave the equation that directly correlated the relationship between imported ingredients and blissful nirvana. I mean, really. The whole damned thing was shipped in pieces from Sicily, complete with a grade-school map on the back. It had better be good. Out of the box, I wasn’t impressed by the sum of its far-away parts. Though it had thickly slices pieces of buffalo mozzarella neatly spanning the inner circle, it was also inconsistently scattered with tomato and arugula, in a mannerism some may call “artful” but I liken to reaching into a D-cup set of breasts and coming up wrist deep in inflatable bra mechanisms. Damn you, Victoria’s Secret. Damn those fake nipples. But I digress.

What came out of the oven can only be best described by wordsmiths far better than I: in the immortal words of Joan Jett, “my, my, my, whiskey and rye, don’t it make you feel so fine.” Simply replace “whiskey and rye” with “tomato and arugula” and you have a point, Ms. Larkin. It looked perfect, but just didn’t do it for me. Without expounding upon the irritation I have about ignoring ingredients that are featured in the product’s title, I’ll just say that the amount of tomatoes on the entire pizza couldn’t have covered a stripper’s nipple, much less six large slices. The smells that wafted off the pizza radiated little more than steam and vaguely removed dairy, and forecasted the eventual taste. TL; DR, this shit was bland, yo.
While the mozzarella gave a nice chew to the toppings, the tomato and arugula had been so frozen and refrozen and cooked and exposed to high altitudes that they were shells of their former selves, bitter and mushy remains of vegetables that exclaimed more of maceration than Mediterranean. That being said, I didn’t quite see the connection between these ingredients and the Mediterranean. Maybe someone in copyediting mixed up the Med and the Margherita, but it lacked all of the acidic, tangy features I typically associate with the cuisine. The crust was inedible as well, having lost all semblance of moisture and airiness in the oven, but provided entertainment the next morning as we broke it in jointed segments like tree branches. This was a fun deviation from our standard Amy’s Pizza, but I think I’ll stick with my favorites and let the natives handle my requests in the future.

Tony’s Pizza, Sutton, MA

While traveling to and from our vacation this weekend, Keepitcoming pointed out a small restaurant on Route 146 that she remembered being delicious. It looked like exactly my type of pizza joint- on a creepy stretch of road and a local favorite. Call me Guy Fieri, but I was there, son. So on the way back, we stopped for lunch so I could see what the hype was all about.

Tony’s was packed for a lazy Sunday afternoon, full of regular patrons and families with kids, waitresses shouting salutatory questions out into the air. The decor was like stepping into someone’s furnished basement, with knotted pine walls and haphazardly scattered Little League trophies, along with photos and newspaper clippings and the requisite engraved “Captain’s Place” sign above the stairwell and doorway. The menu’s stock photos were straight out of the seventies and everyone called you “hon.” Definitely the kind of place that you can tell serves good pizza.

We placed our order- a small pizza with half cheese and half peppers and onions with a side of buffalo wings and waited a few minutes. Everything about this place was relaxed, so we sat for a bit and grabbed our drinks. After about fifteen minutes, our food was fresh and hot and we picked it up to eat. The pizza was twelve inches around, the standard small pizza size, and about 3/4 of an inch thick. I should give you a preface before I tell you how happy this made me- as a kid, I was a rebel to the “pizza theory”, that is, that your first slice/impression of pizza is what you consider pizza to be. Now that, of course, was thin, crispy, brick oven New Haven style pizza, and will always be, but in my youth, all I wanted was Domino’s or Pizza Hut. Party pizza. Greasy, thick, doughy pizza. I eschewed the artisan crisp for blankets of cheese, and never got it.

Now that I’m surrounded by mediocre pizza for the most part, (sorry, Western Mass) I find myself missing that crisp, thin tang, but this pizza really brought back memories of what I always wanted as a youth and never received. My god, this was delicious pizza. This was sublime. The crust was buttery, but not greasy, with a sweetness to the dough and a crisp exterior, barely passing the line of being crunchy. The crust, which never got soaked through with toppings, was covered in a layer of thick, sweet sauce- probably the closest thing I’ve found to a Beverly sweet sauce pizza thus far. It wasn’t really tomatoey, but flavored with more of an onion and brown sugar dominance, with garlic and tomatoes coming in to round it all out. The cheese was stringy, melty, and milky, all things I love in a pizza cheese. It was simple. It was comforting. When you get down to it, this was just delicious pizza. The upskirt.

Just when I thought I could have gorged myself on this and been happy for the rest of my life, the wings came. These were no ordinary wings. Up until now, I don’t think I’d ever been privy to dry wings with breading, but here they were. I realize I’m sounding a little like Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation when I tell you that “literally, these were the most phenomenal, most decadent chicken wings I’ve ever had in my entire life,” but they were that fucking good. Honestly. With one bite, the bulk of the meat fell off the bone along with the crispy, crispy shell, which was flavored with paprika and buffalo seasoning and garlic and all sorts of magic. Was this a traditional buffalo wing in the dictionary definition of the word? No. Was it better? By far. This is what I imagine broasted chicken to be- tender, falling off the bone, crispy, crunchy goodness. These are wings I would travel for.
The money shot. Doesn’t that look like a cartoon chicken wing? The kind that looks delicious and completely unrealistic? Yeah, that’s what these are. If we ever go down this way again, I’m definitely making a case to stop for more pizza and wings. For a menu with so many items, they do it right, and I absolutely love it.