Pizza is a universal treasure. It should be protected by UNESCO. If we classify tomato as a fruit (which it is), pizza covers all the food groups (unless you get the quattro-formaggi).
Miraculously, amidst the whitewash of unnecessary reinvention (ie. Kale, nutella and meat-pie stuffed crust) pizza has remained pretty true to its traditional glory. However, tension caused by a difference in opinion about what constitutes the “perfect pie” is still enough to end a relationship. Your taste in pizza defines you as a person.
It’s tough. Dough can be thrown or rolled flat, topped with four different cuts of pig or a selection of seasonal veg. The crust can be chewy or crunchy and the pizza can be baked on a conveyor belt or tossed and manually manoeuvred, elbow-deep inside a 400-degree wood-fire oven. Either way, I think we can collectively agree it needs handfuls of mozzarella and fresh herbs.
We can pretend that winter is the perfect opportunity to devour a hot, cheesy, pizza, but we’d be lying: any time is a great time. And luckily, there’s delicious pizza in every pocket of this city. This is by no means a definitive list – but it’s unarguably an excellent place to start.
Who is Lazer Pig? We’re unsure. But what we do know is he spins a darn good pizza. Topped with seasonal ingredients and freshly cut meats, the crust is chewy, the base is thin and the pizza is perfectly speckled from the wood-fire oven. The Ronny J (a shout-out to porn star Ron Jeremy) is a favourite. It involves pork-and-fennel sausage, fior di latte, roast jalapenos, parmesan and a drizzle of honey. Order a tin of Cuca anchovies, a jar of olives and an Aperol spritz and you’re in for a good night. Just mind the smoke machine and laser beams on your way out.
Rita’s is more than just a cafeteria, it’s a neat little Italian-style diner with delicious pizza. With a crispy base and a crust on the crunchier side, the combinations at Rita’s feel endless. There’s the classic pepperoni or Hawaiian option. Or for something more ambitious, try The Salty Pig; tomato, mozzarella, chilli, garlic, pancetta, capers and olives. It also offers two sizes, 10 or 13 inch, perfect for trying all the combos.
Yeah it’s modern-Italian, a little bit fancy and somewhat difficult to nab a table at, (not quite as hard as it’s brother restaurants Chin Chin and Kong) but when the mozzarella is homemade, it’s worth the wait. Baby takes a more traditional approach by offering a range of specialty pan-fried and grilled pizzas which have a pretty thin base and crust. The emphasis is on quality and authenticity. If you don’t fully understand the descriptions, never mind, you’re not alone. If in doubt, the San Daniele prosciutto pizza with fresh rocket is always a winner.
If being spoilt for choice is wrong, then Meine Liebe doesn’t want to be right. The menu at this Northcote institute is so large it even offers a handy little reference guide explaining the lesser-known pizza ingredients you’re too embarrassed to query. For example, taleggio; “An Italian washed-rind cheese with a manky smell, but a lovely, nutty flavour when cooked.” The pizzas are pretty punny, too. The Greenpeace – a solid vegetarian option – has mozzarella, taleggio, silverbeet, broccoli, lemon and parmesan. The QLDer involves tomato, mozzarella, speck and pineapple. All are presented on a thin, slightly chewy, slightly crunchy base.
Setting these Thornbury guys apart is the use of spelt flour for the pizza dough. Spelt is low in gluten and higher in protein compared to common varieties of wheat, but you still get a thin base, reasonably chewy crust and well-rounded pizza. Farro also throws a killer gluten-free base. The Salsicce is popular among locals. It has S. Marzano D.O.P tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella, spicy pork sausage, roasted red capsicum, spring onions and shaved GP parmesan. Visually, the shop is also very stimulating; you’ll be dining underneath hanging rolling pins and other pizza paraphernalia.
Gradi at Crown
The list wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Johnny Di Francesco, “Mr Pizza” and the man behind 400 Gradi in Brunswick and 90 Secondi in the Docklands. Staying true to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Neapolitan Pizza Association principles), Gradi has been praised for creating “The World’s Best Margherita Pizza”. Whether it’s worthy of the hype or not, this place crafts a pretty mean Margherita, and it’s cooked in no more than … 90 seconds.
Opting for the electric oven over the wood-fire, newly established Compass is creating a fine reputation for itself around Brunswick. Here the pizzas don't get too fancy; homegrown favourite Aussie is on the menu, and homemade sauces and fresh local produce atop bases that head chef Joseph Nauer kneads and throws himself are guaranteed.
The pizzas can get a little bit freaky here, but nothing that’s not tried and tested by owner Remo Nicolini. Formerly of +39 and brother to Tony, owner of the D.O.C empire, pizza is in Nicolini’s blood. There are classic pies available with simple, fresh ingredients cooked to precision in a wood-fire oven. However, the trippy options include the L.S.D (fior di latte, cream of dates, Berkshire sausage, radicchio, pecorino shavings and licorice dust as well as the Ink; a seafood combination cooked on a squid-ink pizza base. Eating here requires a lot of trust.
D.O.C is unstoppable. Armed with plates of mozzarella, it’s slowly taking over Melbourne and honestly, we’re not mad. The pizza base is thin but crisp and the crust is perfectly chewy. Observing the staff cook its pizzas is like watching magic. The simple combinations and the freshness of ingredients are quintessentially Italian. And besides, any venue name that involves ‘Mozzarella Bar’ is a go-to.
Melbourne’s very own West Side Story (without the tragedy) sees delicious pizza planting Footscray on the pizza map. Cooked in a Spanish, stone-deck electric oven the pizza is crisp and over flowing with stringy cheese. Choose from a tomato or a blonde base and a selection of classic combinations. The ‘Straya includes tomato base, ham, free-range egg, tomato, caramelised onion and fior di latte – now that’s a love story.