Munch goes to Mercurio's
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Way back in the day, when dinosaurs and trans fat-laden snacks roamed freely, Munch spun pies at a pizza joint after deadline, pulling on a grease-stained T-shirt and hat to go stand next to a sweltering oven to earn some cash to pay off those hefty student loans. OK, so maybe it was a beer debt.
It was then that Munch developed a true appreciation for a good pie -- one artfully crafted by mostly sober teenagers, former crack dealers and guys with dragon tattoos -- out of made-from-scratch dough. It was a skill Munch never totally mastered, despite passing Honors Geometry, which is why the Munch special was the "50 States" pizza, where your pie might be shaped like Texas or Missouri or Mississippi. Truly, a good crust is tough to master: the right amount of thickness on the outside, a little char, a little crunch. But the folks at Mercurio's have done it.
Munch has long been a fan of the homemade gelato at Mercurio's, with its more than 200 flavors. Death by Chocolate is a longtime favorite. (It will not actually kill you, unless you try to steal it from Munch.)
Last year, it relocated from a cubbyhole on Copeland Street (that now houses Chica Loca Taco; see last year's "Munch goes to Chica Loca") to a space about double the size on Walnut Street and installed a dome-shaped wood-fired oven to churn out Neapolitan pizza. Salads -- sort of like the antithesis of gelato -- bruschetta and other antipasti have been added to the repartee. So now you can get three authentic courses for dinner, rather than just eating three servings of gelato, as Munch was sometimes prone to do.
We started with a couple of salads, the Insalata con Portabella ($6), greens tossed with cooked mushrooms and bouncy mozzarella, and a Rustica ($9), which came with salty prosciutto, olives and marinated artichokes (because no salad is complete without meat). Predictably, the FOMs preferred the latter, but both were consumed heartily. Even Engineering Friend of Munch -- whose diet is about equal parts cereal, rum-and-cokes and Boston Market -- ate the salads enthusiastically and called them "great."
The Bruschetta ($6), crostinis topped with a thin layer of ricotta and sweet tomatoes, were also a lovely, balanced start to the meal.
Next, a veritable cornucopia of pizza pies. The Salsiccia ($9) was a favorite for Munch, marinara topped with a healthy portion of ground sausage and dollops of fresh mozzarella. Doctor Friend of Munch diagnosed it delicious and ordered it twice the following week.
The Bianco ($10) came naked of marinara and instead was topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and parmesan. This was Ultra-Marathon Friend of Munch's favorite, and indeed, it was the pre-race carbo-load that propelled him to a top-30 finish at the Pittsburgh Marathon. Louisiana Friend of Munch, an avowed carnivore, said he was surprised at how much he enjoyed the Margherita ($9), the simplest of the bunch topped with tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.
The sole complaint among the group was that the pizzas could use more cheese, especially because the toppings seemed to escape the crust with a little too much ease.
For those accustomed to pizza in chainstream America -- the stuffed-crust-double-downs with extra cheese and meat-explosion variety -- these might seem petite and restrained. But Mercurio's shoots for quality, not for artery-clogging quantity.
First Published May 24, 2012 12:00 am