Regular readers of this space know that Munch has a vast underground intelligence gathering network across Southwestern Pennsylvania that operates like a bacon and wings powered Mossad (which wouldn't be kosher, but whatever).
Diners, dishwashers, bartenders and barflies alike all kick up scoop to Munch, not to mention Munch's legion of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Some tips are good, some aren't. But when one comes directly from the mouth from of a Hall of Fame quarterback, Munch listens.
True story: Munch and recurring character, The BBBOM (blond barkeep bud of Munch) were enjoying a nightcap recently at a tony Downtown hotel bar co-named after the most famous deceased native of South Oakland (Andy Warhol), when the most-famous living native of South Oakland came strolling up to the bar.
Dan Marino, ladies and gentlemen.
Visiting for neither family nor football, but rather commerce, Mr. Marino was here to help open the first Pittsburgh-area location of the Florida-based Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza. We made chitchat. But from Isotoners to Nutrisystem, Mr. Marino is also Pittsburgh's greatest pitchman after the late Billy Mays. So he kept pimping the pizza, telling us it's the greatest we'll ever have, that Pittsburgh has never had anything like it.
Hold it, Danno, we countered. PI on the South Side makes great coal-fired pies, and the wood-fired varieties at Il Pizzaiolo and Il Piccolo Forno are exceptional.
This would be different, he insisted. Better.
A blotto business traveler from Philadelphia ruined our exchange, butting in about how he played football at the University of Delaware in the 1980s -- as if Dan Marino should care -- and an equally obnoxious woman insisted that the best pizza in the world is on Route 51 in Baldwin. Then the arrogant bartender from New York chimed in, saying that there is no good pizza anywhere in Pittsburgh. Check please, said the greatest pure passer in the history of football. Thanks, jerkstores.
The very next morning, the esteemed Teresa Lindeman had a business story about Mr. Marino's local venture. The BBBOM and Munch had to check it out. We enlisted expertise: two Italian-American lawyers and a fresh-off-the-boat friend from Rome.
Located in the new Settlers Ridge development, the stand-alone restaurant is handsome and inviting. Decor was a mix of an upscale sportsbar and a chophouse. The beer selection was acceptable, the wine selection decent. Service was prompt and friendly.
We started with the Coal Oven Roasted Chicken Wings (20 for $15.50). Served with caramelized onions and focaccia, they offered a unique, smoky flavor, rather than the cliche deep fried, slathered-in-hot sauce variety. Sandwiches, salads, calzones and a few other items are available ($6.95-$17.75) but the panel came here for pizza.
Traditional pies are made with mozzarella, plum tomatoes, Romano, basil and olive oil ($12.25-$15.25). We tried three of the specialty pizzas: the Paul & Young Ron (meatballs, sausage, peppers & ricotta), the Broccoli Rabe & Sausage and the Eggplant Marino ($16.25-$19.75).
Cooked in an 800-degree coal oven, the pizzas are done quickly. Presented with three nice looking pies, we promptly tore them apart.
Prosecutor Friend of Munch and his better half, Solicitor Friend of Munch, both had no objection to the Eggplant Marino, that it sustained their tastebuds, and they would motion for some more. (Thank you, Munch is here all week.) Seriously, they really liked it, noting that the eggplant was perfectly cooked, and that it was like eating eggplant parmesan on a pizza.
The BBBOM and the Roman liked the Broccoli Rabe & Sausage, appreciating the bitter taste of rapini mixed with the salty sausage. Munch's favorite was the Paul & Young Ron. The meatballs and creamy ricotta were a great changeup from the norm.
The quality of the ingredients was evident. This was very good pizza. But all five of us agreed that the crust on all three -- although crispy -- was too thick for this style of pizza and had zero flavor. None. It badly needed some salt. And that's a hard thing to rectify. Great crust is quite literally the foundation great pizza. You cannot have one without the other.
Very good, but not the greatest. If this pizza was a quarterback, it wouldn't be Dan Marino. It'd be more like a Phil Simms or Joe Theismann.
Except much less annoying.
Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza is at 1810 Settlers Ridge Center Drive, Robinson; 412-787-3434.