Posted by mike | Filed under Reviews
Months ago, a friend of mine at work was raving about a Pizza Place in the South Side: Giotto’s. A quick Urbanspoon search for the place turned up nothing. Unwilling to give up, I kept on digging until I finally figured out that the place had changed its name—to Blue Grotto Pizza. Fast forward to mid-January, and I dragged a friend of mine out there to give it a try.
Blue Grotto Pizza
1610 E. Carson St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Blue Grotto is what I would call a “high end pizza parlor.” The place isn’t exactly a full service restaurant, but it is the kind of place that is sufficiently comfortable to justify eating in. According to Munch, the restaurant was opened by the Girasole family (of Girasole restaurant fame, of course). Based on a conversation with one of the employees, they seem to have gone through a couple of different names: starting with Giotto’s (a reference to the artist and his circle) and eventually landing on Blue Grotto. Somewhere in the middle, they lost their pizza chef and original owner: Gino Girasole. Despite that setback, Blue Grotto continues—and I was still reasonably impressed by the food.
Only partially inviting. Compared to just about every other pizza place I’ve walked past in the South Side, Blue Grotto is beautiful. Compared to an actual restaurant, well, there’s always room for improvement. The employees behind the counter were talkative, helpful and just friendly in general. While waiting for my dinner partner, I asked about taking some photos and camped out for a bit at a table without too much interaction (or hassle). Eventually, I made an effort to kick off a conversation with one of the two employees to gather some background. The who experience, which could have been awkward, went off fairly well. Score one Blue Grotto.
What, no bathroom!? I don’t know about you, but I drink a lot of water. It’s a general good practice, but makes me highly dependent on the availability of facilities…somewhat more so than tends to be convenient. When I head out for dinner, I really depend on a restaurant “facilities.” That’s the problem: Blue Grotto had nothing for me. I asked, and was told they had nothing available “at this time.” I’m guessing that means they had something down the somewhat frightening and only partially visible stairwell into the cellar. The net results is that we didn’t exactly hang at Blue Grotto for long. We ate, then quickly made our way up the road to Piper’s where we could finish our conversation over a beer.
Minimalist menu, but fine by me. There’s almost nothing to say about the menu; imagine the bare minimum required by a pizza parlor and that’s about it. You’re basically looking at slices, full pies, pizza rolls, sandwiches, and a unitary salad option. I should note that not every pizza place has a salad, and Blue Grotto does deserve some FoodBurgh credit for having one. I’ll spend some time raving on that salad in a little while.
In terms of pre-designed pizzas, Blue Grotto presents three choices: Neapolitan, Margarita, and Bianco. See the menu on their site for all the details. All three are vegetarian, and all three are presented on a convenient display platter next to the register. In fact the only meat-based options are special concoctions that you build up from a list of toppings. From one angle, the counter presentation is good—in the sense that you know what you’re ordering. That choice could just as easily play off negatively: your pizza is sitting out and getting cold for who-knows-how-long. If you’re lucky enough to head out with a big enough crowd, you could probably do far better ordering a whole pie.
First, that side salad. It doesn’t actually have to be just a side salad: they serve up a large version as well. To ensure that I actually had something to say about the pizza, I went with a small salad and a slice of pizza. Having been largely disappointed by salads from pizza parlors, I honestly didn’t expect much. Fortunately, my expectation couldn’t have been further off target.
The salad was made with a good assortment of fresh greens and topped with exactly the sort that I like to see in a good italian salad: tomatoes, olives, shredded carrots, chick peas, roasted sunflower seeds, and blue cheese. The proportions were to my liking, but the plastic serving container was a little awkward. Still, that’s par for the course for an establishment limited to paper and plastic. I certainly can’t fault them for it.
Also worth noting, the house dressing, a balsamic vinaigrette, was right on target—basically the standard recipe. The only potential issue: you better like balsamic—that’s the only option available. Overall, I’d say the salads at Blue Grotto are definitely worth a try. A side salad and a slice of pizza is is more than a sufficient meal.
Neapolitan and Margarita Slices. In an effort to maximize FoodBurgh material, my dining companion and I each ordered a different slice: one Neapolitan and the other Bianca. As one would expect, they pulled slices from the display then tossed back in the oven for a few minutes before serving. Sadly, I think they pulled it out a little bit too early: the slices were mildly warm but not sufficiently so.
Ignoring the need for just a tad more re-heat time, the flavors for each was well balanced. The amount of cheese wasn’t excessive, and the subtle basil from the margarita slice had plenty of clearance to shine through. Overall, pretty good flavor.
Being a bit of a baker, I’m also fairly attentive to a quality crust, and Blue Grotto stood up. I would call it just chewy enough to be a pizza crust with a moderately crisp exterior. Again here, that extra time re-warming could have been helpful—provided that the crust wasn’t heated to the point of continued cooking.
Would I go back? For take-out, I’d definitely give them another shot. At $16 and $20 for a pie, you’re definitely paying for premium pizza. Fear not, I suspect you do get your money’s worth: the pizzas are huge, and a fresh-baked pie would eliminate my only real criticism. If you do stop in for a slice, I also highly recommend the salad. If I ever needed a quick, healthful meal in the south side, I would definitely consider a large salad to go.