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Wise Pies Pizza – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Wise Pies Pizza

The connection between the Mafia and pizza is hardly novel. Throughout the fruited plain you’ll find any number of pizzerias sporting Mafioso names, including Godfather’s Pizza with which Duke City diners are well acquainted. It can be debated elsewhere that the Mafia-pizza connection is an offensive Italian stereotype, but no public outcry seems forthcoming as there was when the “Frito Bandido” was used to sell corn chips. In any case, if stereotypes have any basis in truth, the “pizza connection trial” in the 1980s helped perpetuate those stereotypes. That trial centered around the use of independently-owned pizza parlors as Mafia fronts for narcotics sales and collections.

In January, 2014, Michael Baird, the impresario who brought us Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse and Prime launched the first of several planned pizza restaurants which, much like their elder scions, embrace the storied history and machinations of the Mafia–thematically and whimsically, not operationally. The restaurant’s name, “Wise Pies” is a not-so-thinly-veiled play on the Mafia term “wise guys,” which describes someone who is part of a secret criminal organization (can you say Mafia?). Even the specialty pizzas, called “La Cosa Nostra” on the menu, include such familiar organized crime syndicate names as Luciano, Gambino and Bonanno.

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The toppings bar where you’ll find thousands of options

The Mafia theme extends to the name tags worn by Wise Pies employees. Names such as The Enforcer, The Muscle and Gams (she is cute) may sound as if they were they gleaned from any of a number of Mafia nickname generators on the Internet, but they’re actually descriptive of their bearers. The Enforcer, for example, is the shift manager, ostensibly a “capo” or captain within the “family.” The greeter wears a Prohibition era style fedora, today often referred to as a “gangster” (as opposed to “gangsta”) hat. Faux Chicago brick lines the walls.

Despite all the money spent developing the Wise Pies concept, children of all ages will invariably gravitate toward the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine which dispenses dozens of Coca-Cola product flavors. The mad scientist in you might want to mix and match different flavor options, but foodies among us will concentrate our creativity in building our own custom pizza or modifying one of the aforementioned specialty pizzas to our exacting specifications. The options are plentiful—and quick. On the conveyor oven heated to about 600 degrees, your pizza will be ready in just over three minutes. It will probably take you longer than that to decide what you want on your pizza.

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The Bonanno

The eight specialty pizzas on the La Cosa Nostra section of the menu are all prix-fixe at under eight dollars. That prix-fixe rate  also applies to build-your-own. Build your own options include four crusts (including a gluten-free option) made on the premises, five different sauces and six cheeses. Eight meats–including some unique options such as gabagool (capicola in the vernacular of non-family members), green chile chorizo and Andouille sausage—will appease carnivores while vegetarians will find some sixteen veggies to sate their cravings.  The ingredients are of high quality, especially the sausage which is made by the Vernon’s butchers.

19 January 2014: Because the people-pleasing staff at Wise Pies won’t balk at requests to modify even the specialty pizzas, you can truly have them your way. For me, the selling point on the Bonanno is the spicy barbecue sauce (on par with the Turtle Mountain’s Habanero stout barbecue sauce for flavorful heat) while the roasted chicken should be whacked. No problem. The pizzaiolis swapped the chicken for gabagool and Italian sausage, perfect complements for caramelized onions, a provolone cheese blend, roasted red peppers, banana peppers and feta cheese, only about half those ingredients starting off as part of the Bonanno. My additions (pizza my way) proved quite satisfying, making for a good, solid pizza.

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The Siciliano

19 January 2014: Similarly my Kim customized The Siciliano (roasted red pepper marinara, gabagool, Italian sausage, red onions, roasted garlic and a Provolone cheese blend), opting for a double portion of roasted garlic. If these specialty pies are indicative of other Wise Pie offerings, capos and their crews as well as families will enjoy Wise Pies. Each pizza is about nine-inches around with a thin crust formidable enough to hold up to all the ingredients you might pile on to your pie. The quick-baking process imbues each pizza with a light brown char. Being thin-crusted, there’s not much of a cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza. With only nine-inches of crusty canvas, that’s a good thing because it means more ingredients, less bread. 

10 December 2014: While chatting recently about American cuisine with a young Vietnamese server at Viet Q, he dismissed (maybe even dissed) American burgers but admitted to having fallen in love with pizza–but only if it’s topped with green chile.  As with our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers, New Mexicans love to top their pizzas with our official state vegetable.  At Wise Pie, chile is available not only as a topping, but as a chief component of one of its sauces.  The green chile Alfredo sauce on the Fredo actually packs an occasional kick–not with every bite, but sneakily.  Other components on this pizza are roasted chicken, a Provolone cheese blend, Roma tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  On those bites in which the green chile makes its presence felt, this pizza rocks.  When the green chile isn’t discernible, it’s still good.  For better results, ask for green chile and the green chile Alfredo sauce.

The Fredo

Wise Pies offers three (Greek, Classic Caesar, Garden) salads as well as a build your own salad option with four dressing options. Sweet stuff includes a chocolate chip cookie, an apple cinnamon pizza and Wise Pies Gourmet Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Bars. The chocolate bars are made especially for Wise Pies by Joliesse Chocolates of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The chocolate bars are kept in the freezer until ordered so they’re cold and hard if you bite into them immediately. Give them a couple of minutes and you’ll bite into some of the best chocolate in town. The milk chocolate bar is filled with salted butter caramel while the dark chocolate bar is imbued with hazelnut gianduja.  Both are terrific!

Albuquerque’s first Wise Pies on Alameda is relatively small at 1,600 square feet, but it offers two patios for Albuquerque’s sunny days. Ultimately, Michael Baird plans to open more than a dozen Wise Pie franchises throughout the Land of Enchantment with stores in Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Roswell planned.  On Monday, December 1st, 2014, Wies Pies Pizza entered into agreement with the University of New Mexico to rename the famous basketball arena. Henceforth, University Arena (also known as “The Pit”) will be named Wise Pies Arena after the local pizza and salad chain.

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For dessert, Wise Pies Dark Chocolate bar and Wise Guys Gourmet Chocolate Bar

There’s a code of silence in the Mafia called “omerta” to which members have to swear when they join the Family. Mafiosos and pizza aficionados alike won’t be able to keep silent about Wise Pies, a pizzeria with great value and customization opportunities which truly let you have pizza the way you want it.

Wise Guys Pizza
4545 Alameda Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-5260
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 December 2014
1st VISIT: 19 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: The Bonanno, The Siciliano, Dark Chocolate Bar, Gourmet Chocolate Bar, The Fredo

Wise Pies on Urbanspoon

Gioco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gioco Sports Bar in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District

Archaeologists in Spain have unearthed the original man cave.  What is most remarkable about this finding is how very similar Neanderthal man and contemporary man are.  Men, it seems, have not evolved much.  Neanderthals were hairy and brutish in appearance, much like the New York Giants.  They spoke in guttural grunts, similar to today’s politicians.  Neanderthals scrawled their art on cave walls; contemporary man expresses himself artistically on bridges, underpasses and walls.  Neanderthal man used tools: hammers and axes; contemporary man uses tools: television remote controls and iPhones. 

Cultural anthropologists (and Barbara Streisand) have long posited that throughout evolutionary history, man has had an inherent need for belonging to a social group.  We are driven to form and maintain at least a few lasting, positive and significant interpersonal relationships.  For many men, one of the most powerful bonding agents is sports.  We derive a sense of belonging through our affiliation with the sports teams we like–to the extent that we wear team apparel which encases us like engorged sausages.  We like to get together to cheer our teams and express our contempt and ridicule for teams we dislike (think UNLV Rutting Rebels and other miscreants of that ilk).

Gioco Offers a 130-Inch Television and 15 Smaller Ones

Our man cave away from home is the ubiquitous sports bar.  It’s our refuge from the interminable “honey do’s”  our significant others don’t remember until five minutes before kick-off.  It’s our sanctuary where, like a pride of male lions, we can kick back, tell a few lies and be waited upon as we enjoy our favorite team (everyone’s a Lobo! woof, woof, woof) conquer a hapless foe.  Nothing makes a man cave more appealing than copious quantities of food and televisions the size of drive-in movie screens.  For many Duke City residents who sport the XY-chromosome pairing, Gioco Sports Bar has become the man cave of which used to only dream. 

Boasting a 130-inch television and fifteen “smaller” televisions (most larger than a Smart car), it’s a man cave in tribal proportion, accommodating more than 100 avid sports fans (spelling bee watchers need not visit).  The menu is replete with such man favorite entrees as artisinal pizza, pressed panini sandwiches, nachos and chicken wings, all of which are baked (nothing on the premises is fried save for some of the patrons).  Adult beverages flow freely.  It’s no wonder sports fans plant their gluts on a chair as soon as Gioco opens and remain until closing time, standing only when nature calls or the visually impaired officials blow a call against our team.  Look for some Duke City sports fans to try homesteading at Giaco soon.

Korean Pork Ribs

Gioco opened its doors on September 1st, preceding the National Football League’s 2014 kickoff by a week.  Translating from Italian to “game,” Gioco is the brainchild of the good folks who brought us O’Niell’s, a popular venue despite the fact that 130-inch televisions don’t grace its walls.  Gioco, in fact, occupies the space next door to O’Niell’s on Central Avenue, sitting on an adjacent 3,000-square-foot space that used to be O’Niell’s special events area. 

Whether you enter through the Central Avenue door or through the rear entrance by the capacious parking lot, the minute you walk in your eyes will be captured by the sheer masculinity of the venue.  Only when Chuck Norris dines alone will there be so much testosterone in one place. Dark colors and subdued lighting are punctuated by televisions with sports on every channel. The menu is pretty manly, too, even though it lists five salads (albeit loaded with meats and cheeses).

Right: Salumeria-Pepperoni, Genoa salami, spicy capicola, Parmesan and mozzarella and a classic pizza sauce. Left: Pepperoni and green chile

Manly sports fans will love the descriptions behind every menu item.  The stuffed mushrooms, for example, are described thusly: “Not since Wilt denied Kareem twice has anything been so righteously stuffed, with cream feta and Parmesan.”  Some of us who can’t recite the preamble (or don’t know what a preamble is) to the Constitution of the United States can tell you exactly why The Italian sandwich description reads “Joe DiMaggio would order 56 of these.”   Sports trivia is something at which we excel. 

There are more appetizers (ten) on the menu than there are of anything else.  If so inclined, we can order two or three…or ten appetizers and call it lunch.  Among the more intriguing starters are the Korean Pork Ribs (described as “We’ve used our most flavorful Taekwondo to attack these ribs. Now shiu! At ease! Enjoy your half rack.”).  They don’t resemble any Korean pork ribs I’ve ever had (perhaps they were adopted).  As with several similar starters offered throughout the Duke City, these ribs were almost cloying with a lacquered on sauce.  Their sole redeeming quality is how meaty they are.

Build Your Own Pizza: Garlic Oil Sauce, Sausage, Cheese

Pizza, which occupies the top of the manly sports fan food pyramid, is among the featured fare at Gioco.  Never mind that it’s “artisinal” pizza, it’s still pretty darned good.  Better still, you can customize it the way you want it.  If you want half of one of the menu’s standard pizzas on one side and half of another pizza on the other side, tell your server and it’ll be done.  Each pizza is about ten-inches around, not one of those puny “personal pan” sized pizzas which leave you hungry.  The menu describes the crust very well: Our Sweet Spot crust hammers it home by finding the sweet spot of thickness, keeping it light while keeping the bite.”  It is indeed a very good crust. 

The crust is a perfect canvas for the “have it my way” custom pizza I ordered.  The Salumeria (pepperoni, Genoa salami, spicy capicola, Parmesan and Mozzarella with a classic pizza sauce) occupied half the pizza.  The other half was pepperoni and green chile.  This is a perfect combination!   Not unexpectedly considering the salted cured meats from which it is constructed, the Salumeria is a bit on the salty side, but those meats (especially the spicy capicola) are plentiful and they’re macho meats.  Alas, the green chile was a bit on the insipid (like Eli Manning) side, lacking the eye-watering, tongue-blistering heat men (at least New Mexican men) love.

Limoncello Cake

Though not a sports fan (save for a drive-by interest in the Chicago Bears…when they’re winning), my Kim didn’t feel completely out of place at Gioco though she didn’t understand why our server wouldn’t change the channel to the Food Network (isn’t Iron Chef a sport?).  We were both lamenting the fact that we hadn’t had a good pizza in four months (not even in California) so she ignored all the football games on the televisions.  Her  “build your own” pizza was constructed with a garlic oil sauce, sausage and cheese.  It was a bit rich for me and the garlic sauce was powerful enough to ward off a family of vampires (or any amorous prospects), but it just right for her. 

There are only three desserts on the menu, none made on the premises.  Frankly, most manly sports fans would just as soon have chicken wings and call them dessert.  The Limoncello cake is probably the least sweet among the three desserts, offering tangy (albeit not lip-puckering) notes to offset the sweetness.  After one bite I cursed myself for not having ordered the nachos instead. 

As a purveyor of pizza, Gioco is a people-pleasing place. As a man cave, it may have no equal in the Duke City.

Gioco
4310 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-2177
Web Site
LATEST VISIT:  25 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Build Your Own Pizza, Salumeria Pizza, Green Chile and Pepperoni Pizza

Gioco on Urbanspoon

Bistro Piattini – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bistro Piattini on Girard

Italy is an illusion, indeed, a mirage, the stuff of wishes.”
~Mario Luzi

In the 1996 motion picture Big Night, two Italian restaurants across the street from one another operate in diametric opposition to one another both philosophically and in practice.  One is enormously successful because it gives customers what they want and expect (even though savvy diners would consider the culinary fare mediocre and uninspired).  In the other restaurant, the chef is a perfectionist who will labor all day to create a perfect dish and becomes exasperated when diners don’t recognize the authentic culinary art he creates, preferring  “Americanized” Italian food instead.

You might think the American dining public would prefer the latter and reject the former.  Our inaugural visit to Bistro Piattini seems to indicate the opposite may be true in Albuquerque.  Our route to Piattini took us past an Olive Garden where throngs of patrons lined up to get their fill of mediocre Americanized Italian food.  When we arrived at Piattini, we practically had our choice of seating.  The cavernous restaurant was nearly empty on a Saturday at noon.  We could only hope this was an anomaly because diners should be beating down the doors to dine at any restaurant owned and operated by Chef-Owner Peter Lukes.

A view of the exhibition kitchen

Chef Lukes and his wife Maggie launched Piattini in May, 2014 after a 16-year-stint at Terra Bistro, one of the Duke City area’s very best Italian restaurants, despite violating the three most important tenets of successful restaurants: location, location, location.  Situated in the North Valley on heavily trafficked Alameda, Terra was the very definition of a destination restaurant, one with a strong enough appeal to draw customers from beyond the city’s burgeoning Northwest side.

Piattini is much more centrally located than was Terra, although Girard is somewhat less trafficked than Alameda.  Located just a few blocks north of the University of New Mexico, Piattini occupies the space long held by the Grocery Emporium in a neighborhood that’s more residential than it is retail.  No vestiges of the grocery store remain.  Piattini is a beautiful space courtesy of Maggie Lukes, an über-talented interior designer with a flair for creating spaces which are both comfortably cozy and upscale.

Fano bread with a mix of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar

As much as we’ll miss Terra (and selfishly, our proximity to it), in time the lure of innovative and well-executed Italian cuisine will make Piattini a favorite.  Where Terra was more formal and upscale, Piattini is just a bit more casual and relaxed.  While Terra featured a more conventional antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, dolci format, Piattini’s focus is on small plates similar to Spanish tapas or Chinese dim sum.  Many of the familiar favorites from Terra are still available though scaled down to fit the format.  Piattini, which translates loosely from Italian to English as “small plates” is an apt descriptor for the restaurant’s menu.

The dinner menu at Piattini is segmented somewhat differently than at Terra, at least in terminology.  Starters or appetizers are called “Boccone” which translates to “morsels.”  Next on the menu is the “Giardino” or “Garden” section which lists the restaurant’s salads.  The “Fattoria or “Farm” section lists small plates of meats and cheeses while the “Mare” section lists seafood items.  The “Farina e Acqua which translates to “Flour & Water” is a compilation of pasta dishes.  Then there’s the “Pietra” or “Stone” which lists Piattini’s pizza selections.  The “Contorni” section lists sides. 

Ceviche Italiano

The Pièce de résistance is the “Grandi Piatti” or “Large Plates” section of the menu. This section features several items with which we were familiar from having dined at Terra.  On his outstanding blog Larry’s Albuquerque Food Musings, my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, was especially effusive about the dinner menu which, unfortunately, is not available during the lunch hour.  Serendipitously, we did visit on the day Piattini introduced its new weekend brunch menu so even though we missed out on the fabulous dinner menu, there were many terrific options available. 

Alas not available at Piattini is the warm, fresh, house-made bread right out of the oven which was a staple at Terra.  It’s entirely unfair to consider bread from Albuquerque’s artisan Fano Bread bakery a consolation prize since it’s excellent bread, but the bread at Terra was peerless in the Duke City.  Still, Fano bread encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread.  When dipped into mixture of virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar the character of the bread really stands out.  If you’re not careful, however, you can easily fill up on bread.

Asparagi: grilled asparagus, prosciutto di parma, balsamic vinaigrette, Gorgonzola cheese

Time was the only restaurants in which you could find ceviche were either Peruvian or Mexican.  Today ceviche can be found in Japanese restaurants as well as avant-garde Italian eateries such as Piattini.  Each restaurant puts its own spin on a dish which is essentially seafood catalyzed in citrus juices.  At Piattini, the Ceviche Italiano ( scallop, shrimp, tuna, tomato, cucumber, lime, parsley, basil) would never be mistaken for the ceviche at a Mexican restaurant where the citrus flavors can be a bit overwhelming.  The emphasis at Piattini is on the freshness and natural flavor of the seafood and the way it plays against a lesser citrus influence.  The invigorating Italian basil and its peppermint-anise notes is a terrific twist. 

Many adults grow up to rue the wasted years in which foods such as spinach, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus were feared and hated.  Fussy eaters as children sometimes become adventurous diners who grow up to love those foods they once avoided like a plague.  Asparagus is usually near the top of public enemy number one lists.  If asparagus was prepared everywhere as it is at Piattini, even persnickety diners would enjoy it.  The Asparagi (grilled asparagus, prosciutto di parma, balsamic vinaigrette, Gorgonzola cheese) is an amalgam of ingredients and flavors that complement one another very well though the grilled asparagus is excellent in its own right.

Salsiccia: fennel sausage, roasted peppers, tomato sauce, blended cheeses

Amateur treasure hunters from around the country have been scaling mountains and scouring forests in search of an elusive one-to-three million dollar treasure believed to have been buried by Forrest Fenn, an eccentric New Mexico millionaire.  Jokingly, my Kim said she’d like to  challenge those treasure hunters to find sausage in Piattini’s Salsiccia, a pizza crafted with roasted peppers, tomato sauce, blended cheeses and (ostensibly) fennel sausage.  Kim is a Chicago area native used to mounds of sausage so Piattini’s Salsiccia failed to win her over despite the high-quality crust courtesy of flour imported from Italy.

Those treasure hunters won’t find syrup on the brunch menu’s stuffed French toast offering.  Syrup certainly wasn’t needed.  Two thick slices of soft bread are engorged with rich, creamy and soft Mascarpone cheese, an Italian cheese with a very high butterfat content and sweet flavor (reminiscent of a sweet cream cheese) then sprinkled with confectioner sugar, tangy strawberries and even more Mascarpone.  Over the years stuffed French toast have fallen out of fashion in a calorie-counting society which eschews sweetness.  These French toast will bring back even some of the most ardent ideologues.

Stuffed French Toast with strawberries, mascarpone, walnuts

The stuffed French toast are served with skillet-fried breakfast potatoes ringed with red peppers and onions, a bowl of fresh fruit (watermelon, honeydew melon, pineapple) and two slices of crostini created from the aforementioned Fano bread.  The potatoes are a wonderful foil for the French toast, providing the savory contrast often necessary with sweet entrees. 

As wonderful as scones can be, they are very fickle and have a relatively short shelf life.  Case in point the raspberry scone my Kim (it just wasn’t her day) ordered in lieu of dessert.  Though made fresh early in the morning, by 1:30PM, it had seen better times and was hard and crumbly, two of the characteristics you don’t necessarily associate with scones.  The raspberry jam was terrific, but would have been even better on a softer, less grainy scone.

Raspberry Scone with raspberry jam and butter

Although portions of our inaugural experience at Piattini didn’t meet our exceedingly high expectations, there’s no doubt we’ll return soon. That dinner menu beckons.

Bistro Piattini
1403 Girard, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 792-1700
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Asparagi, Stuffed French Toast, Fano Bread

Bistro Piattini on Urbanspoon