Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pizza Grosso

I've never fallen in love with a pizza in Prague.

There. I said it.

I've tried quite a few. I even enjoyed some of them. But there was no love.

(Cue violins)

As much as I've tried, I've come to accept that I can only well and truly love a New York-style pizza.

You never forget your first.

Of course, mere words can hardly express the magic for those who don't know. But to give some idea of what I'm talking about, you can read Wikipedia's description of New York-style pizza.

As for other pizzas, there's never one reason a relationship never formed. Usually, it's a combination of factors: The sauce is bland or there is not enough or it's ketchup. Or the crust is too thin or too soggy or burnt. Or the mozzarella is not good (or not mozzarella at all).

Sometimes, there's just no chemistry. Italian or European-style pizzas aren't my thing. I can't fight it.

There is one pizza in Prague that warms my heart. This is the one pizza I go back to again and again. It's not love, but it's close. Sometimes in life, you have to settle for less than the dream.

In my head, I hear Lyle Lovett singing, "I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You."

The pizza I'm talking about does not have a fancy address. It actually comes from a hole in a wall in a hole in the ground. In other words, the "food court" in the tunnel under Legerova, behind the National Museum, at the top of Wenceslas Square.

The name of the place is Pizza Grosso. Just like in many New York pizzerias and a few in Prague, they pre-cook the pies and line them up, ready for reheating. I actually love eating pizza this way. This is almost always how I eat pizza in New York. They often have Margherita, pepperoni (more like sliced salami), Hawaiian, mushroom, spinach, olive, and even a corn pizza. Is that called an Iowan?

Reheating the slices gives them a beautifully crispy, crunchy crust. You just have to make sure they make it hot enough -- sometimes they rush the slice in and out of the oven to move people along.

Say "Ohřát prosím" when you order (the best I can do phonetically for visitors is OH-zhat PRO-seem). They'll heat it up anyway, if it is not fresh from the oven. But it encourages them to heat it a little more.
They get a lot of things right with this slice. First, it is big -- a quarter of a 50 centimeter pizza for 30 CZK. Wikipedia says a New York-style pizza has a thin crust, but it is usually a little thicker than most of the pizzas you'll find in Prague.

It stands up very well to folding and holding as you walk. Just be careful with the pepperoni version -- it'll drip red oil down your arm.

Then there's the sauce. There was quite a lot on my last slice -- it depends who's making it that day -- but it's good, so I didn't mind. It is nicely salty and spicy with a great kick of garlic and oregano.

If you really need a place to sit, there are some benches and ledges nearby, but my advice is to keep moving. This is not usually a gathering place for Prague's cleaner or better dressed citizens.

I told the people behind the glass at Pizza Grosso that their pizza was my favorite in Prague. They informed me that they have another location, right under the Kotva department store near Náměstí Republiky.

I was going to compare this pizza to a slice from a similar operation that a friend claims is the best in town. But this post is getting long, so I'll leave it for another day.

People have made various recommendations like Pizzeria Rugantino in Old Town or Pizzeria Grosseto, near Náměstí Míru. Grosseto recently won the contest for the best pizza in Prague, as judged by the Prague Post's restaurant critic, Davie Faries. It's been years since I've tried these places, but they just didn't do it for me.

Pizza Grosso does something for me.

You can tell me about your love, but don't think it will make me jealous. If you've been to Chicago, Naples, or Yerevan and want to tell me the pizza there is better than a New York pizza. I have one word for you:


Pizza Grosso
The Tunnel Behind the National Museum
Under Legerova
Prague 1


Anonymous said...

Not a great lover of pizza, but am wondering how you feel about Mexican food? Goin on the basis that you seem to enjoy hot food?
I was looking at one near where we will be staying in May
,Mezcal latino bar & restaurant? The fact that it may have a bar too? Looked at the web seems good? Any feed back

Brewsta said...

Love Mexican. Not a lot of great Mexican here -- never been to Mezcal. Doesn't look too inviting to me and I pass it a lot. Maybe others know better.

For Mecican fast food/take out, I like Picante near Namesti Republiky. Probably where I go the most. Open late on weekends.

I used to go to Buffalo Bill's for chimichanga's on Vodickova near Wenceslas Sqaure, but haven't been in a long time. Ambiente on Manesova has some pretty tasty beef fajitas, but they don't have a lot of Mexican options -- also have wings and ribs and steaks. There is Mexican at Banditos on Melounova near Wenceslas Square -- some people love it -- I've had good and bad there. Wasn't happy last time I went. There is Cantina on Ujezd -- very popular hard to get a seat. I didn't think it was that special.

Anonymous said...

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, so for me that's the benchmark :-)

Having visited Naples, I can only say that the pizzas there have to be tasted to be believed (plus the ice cream is to die for). Pizza Nuova near Namesti Republiky is not a bad place if you're looking for an authentic Neapolitan pizza - the head pizza chef is from Naples - although they sometimes don't bake it long enough for my taste.

Wasn't overly impressed by pizza in the US to be honest.

As for Mexican: Cantina on Ujezd gets my vote.

Jay said...

This is my first comment, but I've been readind this blog for a while now. I love it! I think I check every day for updates.

Anyway, I agree about this pizza. I had it once as I was walking by and in a hurry, and wow... I was suprised. I think it's cheaper than pizza from Pizza Factory (at Masarykovo Nadrazi) and better.

As far as Mexican goes, you're right-- it's hit and miss. I'm from Texas, and so I really enjoy good Mexican food, but it's hard to come by here. Banditos could be really good, but it seems to just be "off" some nights when I'm there. Jama's has decent fajitas; Cantina isn't bad, but not that great either; and Radost has good nachos. I've even found one dish I like at Hombre Del Mundo (Andel). I think you just have to experiment with the Mexican places here-- usually you'll find something at each place that's not bad. Now if only they served FREE chips and salsa with the meal....

Brewsta said...

Glad someone else agrees about Pizza Grosso -- thought I'd considered crazy, American, or both for championing that place.

I forgot to mention, I love the chili nachos at La Casa Blů.

How they cook for that big place from such a small kitchen, I'll never know.

Anonymous said...

I love Nachos and Tacos and Enchilladas, and love going Mexican when I visit new cities. Have a look at our local restaurant and see what I mean. Although we prob pay too much ( as for everything in Ireland) the food is always

I have such a long list of places to try when i go in May, we will need a dose of epsom salts when we go home.

I will keep reading!!

Anonymous said...

Mexican food in Prague is usually an ill-advised adventure, but I've found one place that's good by Prague standards and decent by North American standards: The unfortunately named Amigos on Manesova. It's Tex-Mex and full of American kitsch, but it's the only tolerable Mexican food I've found in Prague - not a ringing endorsement, but for Prague's slim Mexican pickings, it's an endorsement nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I have never tried your little pizza window, but I will give it a try next time I go by ...

I am curious about why Prague doesn't have better pizza in general ... of all the places in town, I like Rugantino the best, but they have no atmosphere to speak of and the place is usually filled with squabbling kids or Italian teenagers (not sure which is worse ...) Anyway, it's my second home, if I don't feel like cooking in my own kitchen ..

Anonymous said...

You really need to try the pizza at L'Incontro. Corner of Jungmanova and Narodni Trida. It's before the entrance gate to that park/garden. It is truly a fantastic pizza. My favorite is the Veneto because it has authentic Italian sausage on it which you just don't find in this country. Try it, you'll love it!

Anonymous said...

Blessings upon you. Though I haven't visited this place it sounds like exactly what I have been looking for, in addition to Zen Mastery and good, cheap sunglasses. If you enjoy music, please come as a guest to our next concert, just as a token of gratitude in regard to the pizza revelation.

Anonymous said...

Their sister joint, at Kotva, serves something which is only technically pizza. Abysmal. But thems the standards here. Have you tried it? Is it the same as in the tunnel? ......... I grew up on Bklyn. pizza. Where in NYC are you from?

Brewsta said...

Fan, I haven't been to Amigos since it was Kojak's, but maybe it's time for a return. And now I'm curious about L'Incontro. Too many places..

I never did try the Kotva pizza location, so I can't say if it is the same. Even the tunnel location can have a bad day, depending on who is making the pizza -- I've seen some poor pies on some days.

Rev. F - I still haven't been to a Blaq Mummy show, but I think it will happen at some point. I am involved in music a bit myself. Prague is a small town, and I think we know at least one person in common, but I'll keep it mysterious for now.

Nomadness -- I won't label myself too specifically. I grew up outside NYC, but worked in Manhattan in earlier days. I'm still a regular visitor. Lived in Little Neck for a while, but it wasn't my favorite period.

And Irish Ice Cream Gurl, one more Mexican suggestion -- Fraktal does a Mexican breakfast I truly and unreservedly love. I recommend the breakfast enchilada.

Anonymous said...

God, Kojak's, there's a blast from the past. I'm always happy with Cantina, but I'm British so what do I know. Will try the pizza from Grosso. I'm ashamed to say I have a soft spot for that grease-filled pizza from Little Ceasar's (is that what it's called?)in Tesco downtown. It's good in that bad way, kinda like Tom Cruise movies. Keep up the good work, Brewsta. The blog is always a good read and a good resource.... Nice one.

griga said...

Hi Brewsta,

you really surprised me! Americans in Prague are really weird with their taste ;-) I can't believe that you love this smelly pizza place in tunnel behind Muzeum. I pass this place every morning going to work and I swear to never get any food from shops there.

The best mexican restaurant in Prague is Sonora (close to Flora). It's a small place but the food is delicious.

Brewsta said...

Hmmm.. I do like chimichangas. I'll have to try Sonoras.

And I think the pizza place smells great. The tunnel itself.. not so much.

Anonymous said...

I've heard some conflicting reports on Sonora's cooking, mostly negative - good selection of tequila, mind.

Any Mexicans out there that can give us the definite verdict? All the places here are Tex-Mex or Czech-Mex (yuk), which is hardly a true reflection of Mexican food.

Btw, is there such a big difference between American pizza and Neapolitan pizza? (apart from the size).

Brewsta said...

And Italian-American, New York-style pizza is fairly different from an Italian Neapolitan pizza, everything from crust to sauce to cheese. The Italian crust tends to be thinner. Click on the link in the word "Naples" in the post (if you haven't) for more on how controlling they are about Neapolitan pizzas in Italy.

Pivní Filosof said...

I have been to Napoli and southern Italy, liked their pizza, but to be honest, was not very impressed by it. I was not a big fan of the way they cook it, with a very thin crust. Still, lovely food.
Now, I must agree with Brewsta, there are some good pizza places in Prague (grossetto migh have good pizza, but I hate the place, I hate the way they try to pack as many people as possible in their restaurants, and that you have to sit at a table that is not big enough to put two pizzas on), but none of them very memorable, really.
Now I must take issue with you. I haven't been to NY myself. I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and it is there that you will find the loveliest pizza in the world. The style seems to be similar to the american, a thicker crust. But down there, we like them really cheese, you simply wouldn't be able to eat them while walking. Lovely stuff. But I can't compare, thoughI know people who have been to NY, and agree with me (well, I don't know how impartial they are, since they are porteños as well:)
As for the hole in the wall in Kotva. Really good stuff for the price (25Kc a slice), better than in many other more expensive places.
PS: One more thing about pizza places in Prague. Most of them seem to have crap, overpriced beer.

Anonymous said...

I am not Mexican although the fact that I'm from Southern California would give me a good base to judge Tex-Mex restaurants in Prague.

In the past few years I've gone to pretty much all the Mexican restaurants that have opened, and I have been a bit disappointed.

Cantina USED TO be good and I believe part of their downfall is due to their big success. Truly enough, it's quite hard to get a seat there especially during weekends but if I may be overly sentimental, it seems like their chef doesn't cook with 'love' anymore. In addition, it also would seem like the owner doesn't care about the lack of 'love'.
Nevertheless, I still consider it the best Tex-Mex place in Prague.

Sonora is ok, although nothing too special. Places to avoid: El Hombre (enchiladas soaked in a crusty tomato paste - que asco!) and Picante (over priced and terrible food -seems like they sell old refried beans and taco shells.

It's obvious these places try to cater to Czech and not Expat tastes, but I still believe that a little more authenticity would go a very long way in this city.

Brewsta said...

I've enjoyed Picante.. Then again, my judgement is somewhat, ah, impaired when I'm there.

Prague lacks for late-night bender food.

Anonymous said...

I was actually thinking about that, is there any where after the pubs/clubs close... 2am time to get something decent to eat? Greasy... that will soak up the alcohol. We have "chippers" in Ireland but also fast food joints and a great place called the Istanbull that does excellent kebabs and chips..

Anonymous said...

Max Bahnson, interesting that you've been to Naples and found the pizza to have a very thin crust - I found it was fairly thick? Pizza Nuova is IMHO a fine example of a Neapolitan pizza, and their base is also fairly thick, plus they use San Marzano tomatoes from Naples, which is essential for a good tomato sauce. I still find it incredible that a lot of pizzerias in Prague don't use mozzarella, WTF...

I agree with the last anonymous poster on Cantina - the quality has slipped a little recently, but it still serves up v. good fajitas & margaritas at affordable prices and has a charming interior. Unfortunately, reservations are a must unless you go mid-afternoon.

Prague is crying out for a decent Mexican restaurant, not to mention a tapas bar...

Brewsta said...

I guess crust thickness is a relative thing.

Sybarite -- have you tried La Bodega Flamenca on Šmeralova? I'm not saying it is good -- been there a few times, mainly for drinks.

Irish -- very few late-night food places in Prague. Pizza Roma at IP Pavlova tram stop is open until 4a. Picante near Namesti Republiky is open late on weekends. I'm sure there are others, but nothing comes to mind right now.

Anonymous said...

Brewsta, thanks for the heads-up on La Bodega Flamenca. Will check it out, although I've heard mixed reports on it - good place for drinks, average food?

Having lived in Seville, I'm rather partial to tapas and am surprised that no-one has opened a proper one yet in Prague. A business opportunity perhaps? Pata negra, pimientos de Padron, anchovies, queso manchego, olives, pa amb tomaquet, tortillas, chorizo en sidra, calamares, gambas, cigalas, chipirones fritos, cazon en adobo, jerez, Rioja, cava, Agua de Valencia...

Brewsta said...

La Bodega Flamenca can get very crowded and smokey, a young crowd when I was there.

I'm not the biggest tapas expert -- I quite liked the tapas place L’Estrella de Xaimar in Sitges a few weeks ago -- but my friend there told me after she read my post that it is her least favorite place.

Then again, I only had anchovies and potato salad to fill up ahead of a party. Hard to screw those up.

Anonymous said...

Picante - Has to be the most overpriced place in Prauge, and that's saying a lot. I remember paying something like 80 crowns for two very tiny (10 cm-diameter) soft-shell tacos. They were actually pretty good, but the price made me angry. That, and the fact that I was still hungry after leaving.

La Bodega - Pretty good food, not great, but pretty good. But unfortunately, I got food poisoning the last time I ate there (paella with shellfish).

And a new option for pizza connoisseurs (if such a creature exists): Sbarro, the ubiquitous pizza chain found along turnpikes across the northeastern U.S., is opening a location in the mall at Flora. If they can make a good slice at some rest stop between exits 104 and 112, I hope they can replicate it in the Palac Flora food court, but we shall see.

Brewsta said...

Sbarro? That's news I can use.

I wouldn't consider it when in NY (and the one at JFK is highway robbery).

Here, it could go to the top of my food court list if they keep the prices in line.

Anonymous said...

Top of your food court list should be Novy Smichov. Safir, the Lebanese place, has the best dish in Prague: chicken kebab.

Pivní Filosof said...

Pizza: I must have been to the wrong place in Napoli, anyway, it was several years ago, I visited many towns in Italy and I may be confusing them. But still, I do know that I like BA pizza better. There, as I said, is really cheesy. The crust, however, will hold the considerable weight of the cheese, without being too thick. Some kind of art, I guess. If you know Spanish and want to see what a good pizza in Baires looks like, go here
Now, to give the napolitans their credit, their suco is without any doubt the best.
Places to have a bite late at night: Now that I am married, I don't go out late very much, and certainly not on the benders I used to when I was single. But I remember that whenever I went on a bender with my mates we would all end up the evening at one of the stands in Vaclavak and order a fried cheese sandwich. That really did the job of sucking up all the extra alcohol and give that extra dose of energy for the way back home.
Tapas: It would be an ideal world if tapas bars were everywhere. And I mean the true thing, the place where they will not charge you for your pinchos, as it happens at most places in Spain that aren't too turisty. The thing there is that the more you drink, the nicer the pincho you will get. That also applies if you are a known face at a bar. But then again, Spanish beer is not good. Nobody can have it all.

Anonymous said...

Pizza Grosso offers a one-way ticket to heartburn and loads of grease to boot.

Sure, it can satisfy your hunger on that mad dash for the 11 tram but good pizza this is not.

My suggestion is to try Rugantino again. Make sure you get one of the pizzas with mozerella (or ask them to substitue the normal cheese for mozerella).

Otherwise, that little place at the Paleckeho (sp?) tram stop on the corner also makes a mean brick oven pie. Check it out!

Brewsta said...

Heartburn? I grew up eating White Castle burgers in Bayside, Queens. That means a mere pizza cannot harm me.

I ate at Pizza Grosso only yesterday and I remain firm in my convictions.

They lose points for the smelly tunnel and oddballs hanging around. Just have to get some distance before you take a bite.

It's not so much worse than standing with line of freaks at 6 am for White Castle "slyders." You do what you have to.

I have heard about the importance of getting the real mozzrrella at Rugantinos and haven't done it. But my recollection is I wasn't thrilled with the crust or sauce.

But it won't hurt to try again -- especially because the place has a lot of fans. It just may be that my tastes are very specific to me and my background.

Anonymous said...

Okay Brewsta, I have now tried Grosso three times since you posted this review (before that I rarely even ventured into that tunnel -- I'd almost rather take my chances on crossing the highway!) First the good news:

For 30 kc a slice, it's great. It can't be beat. It looks like they make it fresh daily. I have yet to have a bad experience.

On the negative side, aside from the pepperoni slices, some of the variations don't have much flavor. I had a mushroom slice today and it left me wanting something ... And, as you rightly point out in your review, they don't keep it in the oven long enough. I want it crisp -- almost (but not quite) burnt ..

But still, not bad.

Now a tip for you: try Pizza Nuovo by Kotva when you get a moment. It's an Ambiente chain (as you know) and I think you will really like it. Their Pizza Diavolo is now entered into the lexicon as my favorite pie in Prague (just nudging out Rugantino's Marathon -- the spinach one). It's very good.

Brewsta said...

I can understand if not everyone likes that pizza. I usually do get the pepperoni or Hawaiian. I still wonder who eats corn pizza.

Been to Pizza Nuovo a couple of times, but the idea of all you can eat pizza or past didn't thrill me. That's a lot of starch.

I always got the all you can eat antipasta bar. Good stuff and if you eat a lot, you can get your money's worth. Lot's of healthy stuff there too.

Once saw a guy scrape a whole offering of beef carpaccio on his plate in one swoop.

Anonymous said...

I usually just get the Diavolo and a drink and let the rest of the customers fight it out over the antipasta bar ..

One complaint about that place, though (and I think it extends to every pizza place in Prague -- certainly to Grosso and Rugantino). The crust is not fully baked. Either their oven is set to too hot (so that the exterior of the crust starts to blacken before the middle is cooked) or they don't leave it in long enough. I like a couple of bites of uncooked pizza dough, but I hate to cut into the crust and have the dough ooze out (as it did today at Nuovo). They are awful about that at Rugantino too (particularly if they are very busy). Tell me the logic of springing for a super expensive pizza oven and then serving up pizzas made of nearly raw dough??

Anonymous said...

I know this thread is quite old now, but I love the stuff from Pizza Grosso. I walk past quite frequently, and if I'm hungry will have a slice. Definitely, imho, the best I've had in Prague so far...

Brewsta said...

I hear ya.

Anonymous said...

La Casa Blu has the best nachos in Prague and pretty cheap too.