Review: Aviva Brick Oven (Warrendale)

I work up in Cranberry Township, but I live down in Squirrel Hill (don’t ask). Given that positioning, I invited some co-workers out to give the Aviva Brick Oven a try. Located in Warrendale–just down Rt 19 from Cranberry, I had driven by them a few times and thought they were definitely worth a try. The outcome? Wow; I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary, but Aviva provided a pleasant surprise: great wait staff, great food, and some excellent options. Even the pizza was on the healthy side.

Photo Credit: Aviva Brick Oven

Photo Credit: Aviva Brick Oven

Aviva Brick Oven
★★★★½ ($$)
16099 Perry Highway
Warrendale, PA 15086

Aviva Brick Oven Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

I easily give this one a 4.5 star rating. The only two problems I can possibly cite are some confusion in the timing for bringing out my friends pizza and no liquor license (and thus, no beer). All the pizza is prepared as you order it in a brick oven behind the counter, and the careful consideration given to every aspect of presentation is commendable. I witnessed salads and pizzas on our table and all were simply beautiful. Way to go Aviva!Enough with the swooning. Okay, I’ll stop; It’s time to hit on some details. There were three of us: myself and one other ordered entree salads, while the third ordered their signature margherita pizza. We all shared a meatball appetizer. I think we got a pretty good perspective of the primary options. I’m still interested to see how their soup stands up and whether their panini look as amazing as everything else, but that just gives me an excuse to go again. One of my coworkers actually happened to know our waiter–from his Monday night Volleyball team.

Look and feel (you  know, atmosphere). The restaurant is small: all one room in a tiny strip mall. Once you walk in, you are immediately presented with a “bar” (sans alcohol) that separate the brick oven from the host/hostess station. Immediately beside that area, is a single large room of small tables. The place is tastefully decorated, though a massive plasma TV behind the “bar,” detracts from the atmosphere. Then again, they also have free WiFi, so I can hardly complain. The TV just feels out of place (and gave me the wrong impression of the place when I first looked inside a few weeks ago). Oh yeah, and why do they even have a “bar,” anyway? It’s like the gun circle all over again.

The Menu. The menu is simple, but yet complete. The basic options are

  • soup,
  • salad,
  • pizza,
  • panini, and
  • dessert

A similar list would appear at basically any pizza shop, but each restaurant varies wildly in execution. You can find everything from “deliciously bad for you” to “not even trying.” Aviva excelled along the perpendicular from that scale: great flavor without unnecessarily clogging your arteries. If you follow this blog, you know that scores well with me. As outlined above, I only witnessed the salad and pizza on this trip.

The service. I can’t complain about the service. Our waiter knew one of my fellow diners, so he was clearly friendly and attentive. My iced tea glass was filled as necessary (no small feat with the way I suck down fluids), and the salads came out in a timely manner–except that was actually a source of trouble. I think our waiter assumed that we were sharing the salad and meatballs and then sharing the pizza. That wasn’t exactly it. One of us ordered a pizza, the other two of us ordered salads. The salads showed up very quickly after ordering, and the pizza took quite a while (because they are preparing it from scratch as we order). I would have been more comfortable if the salad and pizza was timed together, and our waiter really should have asked if there was any doubt.

My (exceptional) salad. I’ve gone on about the food so far, but I want to throw out some details. My salad was beautiful. I ordered the Insalata Aviva, which consisted of field greens, red onions, chick peas, sunflower seeds, and gorgonzola. The presentation was dramatic, with a wide plate containing chick peas and red onions uniformly spread over the top and the onions off to one side–presumably for all the haters (that’s you, Brett). The sunflower seeds fell to the bottom, which provided a nice end to the dish, but it was easy to miss them on first presentation. The size was right, the greens were fresh. The only downside was a lack of flavor in the few pieces of roma tomatoes. I think part of that was due to refrigeration (bad form for tomatoes), but it’s also just a bad time of year for tomatoes. I could have also gone for just a tad bit more lettuce underneath, but no one is perfect (and my tastes are different from…just about everyone elses).

The margherita. Aviva serves up one size pizza with 8 slices. It’s a small-ish pizza in the grand scheme of things, but probably more than one person should be consuming in one setting. I ended up eating half of my salad and trying one of my co-worker’s slices, so I can definitely comment on both flavor and appearance for the pizza as well. First, the appearance: it was gorgeous (and different). The standard margherita is a pizza with red sauce and dollops of fresh mozzarella with a little bit of fresh basil on top (after cooking). This one had more sauce than I normally find, or at least smaller dollups of mozzarella–but in a good way. The sauce, which Aviva calls their “signature sauce,” had a refreshingly bright flavor with a little more acidity from the tomatoes than you normally get in a pizza sauce. The tomatoes were less than pureed, and I suspect that cook time was minimal (again, in a good way). There was just enough mozzarella to take a little piece for flavor and really enjoy it with a crunchy-soft crust and tangy sauce. The basil was tastefully draped on after baking in whole leaf form, and the balance of the other flavors really allowed the fresh basil to come through. I loved it.

But no beer!? It’s hard to be frustrated with a restaurant for not having a liquor license. Especially in Pennsylvania, I’ve been told this is a challenging and expensive proposition–especially for a new restaurant. I was also out for lunch and not really looking for a beer. That said, I’m on the fence about trying to pull my friends out there for dinner. The lack of a liquor license feels out of place for a sit-down pizza place, and I hope this is a temporary limitation that they will someday resolve. After all, they already have a “bar” and that giant TV all set up. A few beers on tap and a few different wine options would go a long way toward perfection. Hell, I’d give them a 5.0 for that. I’d probably even stop in after work, do some reading and use their free WiFi while I enjoy a beer at the bar–but that’s just me.

My final recomendation? Just do it. If you’re in Cranberry/Warrendale/Wexford–you know the area, and looking for a meal, you really ought to stop by. If you like good pizza, appreciate attention to quality, or just want a salad, you owe it to yourself to at least give Aviva a try.

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One Response to “Review: Aviva Brick Oven (Warrendale)”

  1. Gina Says:
    April 8th, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Hey, you know one of your first sentences says “I wasn’t impressed”? I was then expecting a negative view. You might want to change that slightly significant typo! ;)

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