Paci's Pizzeria - 2307 S. Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33629 (813)-253-2973
Little Italy Pizzeria - 3523 49th St N., St Petersburg, FL 33710 (727) 522-2717
Gianni's New York Pizza - 936 58th St.N., St Petersburg, FL 33710 (727) 381-3209
Slice Masters - 4538 W. Village Dr., Tampa, FL 33624 (813) 341-1414
Valentino's Little Italy - 1003 4th Street N., St. Petersburg, FL 33701 (727) 895-5610
Cesare's - 2117 S. Dale Mabry Hwy Tampa, FL 33629 (813) 254-2141
DeLosa's - 2535 East Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33771 (727) 536-8800
Fortunato's - 259 Central Avenue, St Petersburg, FL 33701 (727) 898-4888
Best NY Pizza - 14741 N Dale Mabry Hwy Tampa, FL 33618 (813) 963-7600
Joey Brooklyn's Pizzeria - 210 1st Ave N St Petersburg, FL 33701 (727) 822-6757
A recent tour only scratched the surface, so my my choices aren’t intended to be a “Best of Tampa” list. The majority of the places that I tried were quite worthy of a return visit.
The austerely topped slice at Paci's was paper thin and so long that the tip flopped onto a second plate. It had to have come from a pie that was well over 21 inches. While it may have not won a beauty contest, the restraint allowed the crust stay perfectly crispy. The sparing toppings delivered flavor that was close to, well... ideal. Most street slices aren’t this thin, and for good reason; the added heat from underneath will ravage appropriately applied toppings quickly. Overly topping an uber-thin pie will result in a limp soggy mess. The tightrope to making such an ethereal slice should be a 101 for any aspiring pizzaiolo.
Paci’s made a more enjoyable slice than I’ve had in a long while. They are worthy of a much more in depth look. The owners are from New Jersey, and are only open in the evenings. It’s worth a big detour.
A top spot with daytime hours is Toby’s Original Little Italy Pizzeria. On a level of desirability, this is up there with Paci’s. The crust, and ratio of toppings are more similar to a typical Brooklyn slice. Tiny black char spots are on the bottom of a basically flawless crunchy crust. The flavor of the sauce and cheese also hit notes of near perfection.
Little Italy is a very welcoming place with tiled kitchen walls and a mural of Mulberry Street in the dining room. These guys are set up for volume. When I arrived just after 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, an elderly lady was leaving with a takeout pie, and a couple of families were already flowing in. Simple word of mouth led me here to find another memorable slice. This place didn’t even cross my radar during research. No doubt plenty of other undiscovered gems are nearby.
The Tampa Bay area pizza scene is thriving. Many transplanted Northerner’s are slinging pies, and there are plenty of New York area retirees to patronize them. Without the pressures of skyrocketing rents, or competing $1 slices, the cultural climate is conducive to the proliferation of quality slices.
Most of Ybor City is dark and quiet on Monday nights, but a few people gathered at a couple of late night slice joints. Both Manhattan Pizza and Grill, and New York, New York pizzerias had some solid looking pies in their display windows. I was on pizza overload, but enjoyed staring at more variety.
This adventure was a complete whirlwind, that left a special place in my heart for Tampa. I sampled a couple of other styles that will be covered in part 2 of the Tampa tour. Everything that I tried is listed below in order of preference.
Gianni's offered the most well thought out selection of specialty slices that I saw in the area. All involve simple combinations of basic Italian meats and vegetables. Mounds of slightly pooled mozzarella and generous portions of julienned basil on the grandma-Margherita slice made it the focal point of the glass display. The golden flat edges with small white dimples really made this pie stand out. Owner Gianni Colendrea actually made pizza al taglio in Rome, before having a restaurant in NYC. He now has two pizzerias in the area, and makes a very worthy basic street slice. This shop will have to be the subject of a full review in the very near future.
Valentino's had an interesting “well done”(as opposed to undercooked) slice that was very thin, but so heavily topped that that the crust was soft before the slice cooled. The tip was also part of a dried bubble, and this misshaped slice really shoudn't have been served. There was so much good sharp cheese flavor going on that despite all of the flaws, I’d be interested in another try.
There were only a couple of pies that I tried that were baked on screens. The first was Best NY Pizza, which was also adequate in ingredient quality, but a bit thicker, and not a great first choice. Joey Brooklyn's is the second downtown pizzeria. This pallid screen cooked slice is not something I could finish, let alone try again.
Cesare's is worth a stop for a bit of history; it has been around since the late 70s. My slice held on to a slight bit of flour, and the quality of the toppings wasn't quite on par.
Delosa's is creating some adequate fare. It is a large full restaurant with lots of televisions. While nothing is technically wrong with the slice, the flavors aren't as intense as Little Italy, and the crust is tougher than a top tier slice.
Fortunato's is the better of the two downtown St. Petersburg slices that I tried. They had a nice display of pies, including a grandma slice. The cheese wasn't of great quality and overall flavor was adequate at best.