The underdogs of the pizza world are the locally owned restaurants that compete against Domino's, Papa John's and Dallas-based Pizza Hut on Super Bowl Sunday -- the busiest delivery day of the year.
Taking the time to find a good mom-and-pop pizza place in your neighborhood, and making sure its delivery rules fit into your football viewing schedule, could be the difference between hosting a winning Super Bowl party this year or just being an also-ran.
A review of pizzerias in the area showed that, no matter where you live in Tarrant County, chances are there's a noteworthy Neapolitan nabob of nourishment or a Sicilian-style sleeper just a phone call away.
"It is hard to get attention, when you see all the advertisements the big companies can do," said Debra Kline, co-owner of Pollenzo's Pizza House in Keller.
Kline's pizza parlor, which delivers in a five-mile area in far north Fort Worth and Keller, is known for cranking out a creative menu of pizzas with a delectable crust and nouveau ingredients such as pine nuts, steak and caramelized onions.
With family in tow, but on official Star-Telegram business, I picked up the phone and sampled pizza from lots of locally run joints over the past several weeks. My unscientific study focused on ordering from places that would be a viable option for someone to call on Super Bowl Sunday -- perhaps while hosting a party -- and have pizza delivered in 30 to 60 minutes.
The ravenous review uncovered some incredibly delicious offerings in Arlington, Fort Worth and Northeast Tarrant County.
We learned, for example, that even 1,500 miles southwest of New York, it's possible to order a tasty, 18-inch pie with a distinctively thin crust, just like you might find on the streets of Manhattan.
We chomped down big bites of unusual pizzas bejeweled with pecans, Old World cheeses and even one with sliced, golf ball-size meatballs.
We even tried a few slices after they got cold, to simulate what leftovers might taste like the morning after a football bash. If you like cold pizza, as I certainly do -- although my wife and two young children don't -- you'll be happy to know that in my humble opinion most of what we ate for this story was at least as good the second time around.
The point of this crusty research wasn't to sully the success of the big delivery companies. Their food is good, and the speed with which they can get a piping hot meal delivered to your door is masterful.
But tomorrow, you'll get enough of them in TV commercials.
Today, the goal of our little taste test is to spotlight the unheralded neighborhood pizzerias -- the New Orleans Saints of the industry, to use a sports analogy --- who make the effort to compete with the big guys, but without skimping on the unique qualities of their local fare.
We know. They're not all things to all people, and this is perhaps their lone collective weakness. Most deliver only to certain ZIP codes or within a certain distance. Some even restrict deliveries to certain times of day. Although most can deliver in about a half-hour, none of the places we called made any explicit promises to be there at a certain time.
But they make up for these geographic challenges by selling a bolder, more unusual taste than the big dogs. And, to build a local following, they also spend a fair amount of time sponsoring and supporting local schools, churches and youth leagues.
Across Tarrant County, patrons who know the ground rules at their neighborhood pizza places and are willing to build a little flexibility into their Super Bowl party schedule, can reward themselves and their guests with some of the tastiest pies ever to grace the inside of a cardboard box.
Pollenzo's Pizza House
12404 Timberland Blvd., Keller
Delivery area: A five-mile radius that includes Timber Creek High School and Alliance Airport.
Slice of heaven (what we liked): One of the house specialties, the Timberland Pizza, featured a divinely complex tomato sauce and medallion-size chunks of Italian sausage along with a blend of cheeses, ground beef, pepperoni, onions and black olives. The piñon chicken pizza was a tribute to the growing category of white pizzas, with New Mexico-style pine nuts and fresh spinach, basil and parsley. Next time we'll try the Pollenzo's Signature Steak Pizza, which includes cuts of choice steak, pears, spinach and gorgonzola cheese.
Soggy setback (what we didn't like): There is absolutely nothing we didn't like about the pizza here. About the only critique we could fathom is that we live seven miles away and could only order carry-out. Friends who live closer say delivery is reliable, usually around 30 to 45 minutes.
How was it cold? We stowed some of the piñon chicken pizza in the fridge, and the next morning it made for a fine breakfast item. It had a nice cheese-to-sauce balance and a sturdy crust.
Cost: About $30 with tax, no tip. We caught a daily special and bought one 14-inch pizza for $15 and got the second for $12.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Contact: 817-562-1970; www.pollenzos.com
1430. S. Cooper St., Arlington
Delivery area: Within five miles of UT-Arlington, and ZIP codes 76006, 76016, 76017 and 76018
Slice of heaven: A fun, friendly place and a terrific value. You know you're in for a real treat when you have trouble making room on the table for the pizza. I had a moment a la Adam Sandler in the movie Big Daddy, teaching my kids to fold their pizza slices in half to eat them like New Yorkers.
Soggy setback: I don't live in Arlington but took the kids to a model railroad show at the Arlington Convention Center and thought I could order a pizza to be delivered there. But even though the convention center was well within Nizza Pizza's five-mile delivery range, I made the mistake of calling at 1 p.m., only to discover that they don't start daily delivery service until 4 p.m. Other than the limited service area, there's nothing to dislike. The pizza ingredients are traditional rather than innovative, but what's wrong with that?
How was it cold? Better than the first time, if you can believe it. New York-style crust really stands the test of time.
Cost: Just $11 for an eye-popping 18-inch cheese pizza, but we paid $3 extra for hamburger and extra cheese.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, delivery after 4 p.m.
Contact: 817-274-5220; www.nizzapizza.net
Perrotti's Pizza and Subs
3201 Greene Ave., Fort Worth (other locations at 3801 Altamesa Blvd. and 6136 Southwest Blvd.)
Delivery area: Downtown Fort Worth and a wide swath of the county's southwest side that includes Arlington Heights, Benbrook, Cityview, Edgecliff Village, the hospital district, the Hulen area, Ridglea, Texas Christian University and Westover Hills.
Slice of heaven: The Works is a great choice for a football-watching party and enough food to quell even an offensive lineman's appetite. It's piled with 13 crunchy and savory ingredients, including sausage, green and black olives, and big ol' mushrooms. For the vegetarians at your party, the white Sicilian with spinach is a nice option. Delivery to downtown Fort Worth on a weekday was only 25 minutes.
Soggy setback: No lingering issues. The Pereira family keeps the ingredients pretty traditional.
How was it cold? Both pizzas were solid at room temperature.
Cost: $27 including tax and $3 tip. We caught a buy-one-get-one-free special and got two 16-inch pizzas for that price.
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Contact: 817-927-2209; www.perrottispizza.com
Roma's Pasta N Pizza
4610 Western Center Blvd., Haltom City
Delivery area: Haltom City, Keller, Saginaw and the north Fort Worth neighborhoods of Park Glen and Summerfields.
Slice of heaven: I asked the friendly guy on the phone what the house specialty is, and he said, "You just tell me what you want, and I'll make it for you." We ordered a 16-inch square deep-dish Siciliano with pepperoni and cheese, and a 16-inch round Hawaiian with Canadian bacon and pineapple. The order was placed at 5:14 p.m. and our doorbell rang at 5:40 p.m. The Hawaiian crust was light, crunchy and a bit garlicky, and each piece had three inch-wide slices of Canadian bacon and about five pineapple wedges. The deep dish was even more garlicky, and soaked in tomato sauce, with a thick layer of mozzarella. Father and son Muzo and Tek have run the place with few changes since 1993.
Soggy setback: No major problems. Decent pizza at an affordable price.
How was it cold? The Hawaiian was great cold -- the cheese was somehow still stringy. The deep-dish was better hot. Too much tomato sauce to enjoy cold.
Cost: $31 including tax and $3 tip. On Super Bowl Sunday, patrons who buy a large pizza at regular price can get a medium pizza for $7, a savings of $2-$6.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday
Contact: 817-281-8000; www.romaspastanpizza.com
Rocco's Wood Fired Pizza
5716 Locke Ave., Fort Worth
Delivery area: 76107 and 76116 ZIP codes
Slice of heaven: We ordered two 12-inch pizzas and loved the cracker-crisp crust on both. The Brooklyn featured perfectly seasoned meatballs sliced into coin shapes. The Cabonara featured Alfredo sauce, grilled chicken, smoked bacon and red onion -- which my wife and I enjoyed but which was a bit strong for our children's taste buds.
Soggy setback: My wife works at Baylor All Saints hospital, less than four miles from Rocco's, so I made plans to have pizzas delivered there. But Rocco's strictly delivers to 76107 and 76116, so I had to do the carry-out routine (we drove to the nearby Fort Worth Botanic Garden to enjoy our meal picnic-style).
How was it cold? Not a good choice. This style of pizza is much better straight out of the brick oven. Within an hour, the once-crispy crust becomes chewy.
Cost: $28 with tax, no tip
Hours: 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Contact: 817-731-4466; www.roccosfortworth.com
Other places for delivery:
I Fratelli Pizza , a Northeast Tarrant County foodie landmark for many years, known for thin crust, homemade sauces and unusual ingredients such as artichoke hearts. Delivers to the Grapevine and Hurst-Euless-Bedford areas (817-416-1566) and to Southlake-Trophy Club (817-749-0990). www.ifratelli.net
Mama's Pizza , with locations on Berry Street and Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth, plus locations in Arlington, Burleson and Mansfield. A Tarrant County staple since 1969. mamaspizzas.net
GORDON DICKSON, 817-390-7796