The ingredients with which you can top your pizza are limited only by your imagination. Crocodile and caviar? Been there, done that. In fact, a New York restaurateur will sell you a thousand dollar pie topped with four of the priciest caviars in the world. Blueberries, shrimp, cookies? That’s pretty tame stuff. A Swiss-based pizza chef laces his pizza with spiders and snakes (Jim Stafford, where are you now?). The Japanese propensity for invention is on display with a “mega pizza” monstrosity (Godzilla? Mothra?) that starts with a crust constructed of hot dogs wrapped in bacon and rolls of molten cheese. The center is built with hamburgers, cheese rolls, sausage, bacon, ham, bacon bits, mushroom, onion, pepper, garlic and tomato sauce and it’s topped with ketchup and maple syrup. And you thought Cosmo Kramer’s idea to top his pizza with cucumbers was out-of-bounds!
Comparatively New Mexico’s pizzaioli are pretty unimaginative. About the most “extreme” ingredients you’ll find at Farina Pizzeria are eggplant, broccollini and farmhouse goat cheese with leeks. DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza throws caution to the wind with their toppings offerings of rosemary roasted potatoes, artichoke hearts and barbecue sauce. At Santa Fe’s Rooftop Pizzeria, you can scale the heights of risk-taking with such ingredients as caper berries, smoked salmon and prosciutto-stuffed crimini mushrooms. Get the picture?
Okay, so the Land of Enchantment’s pizzaioli may not traumatize small children and the elderly with weirdness on a pizza platter, but almost all of them offer an ingredient you won’t find at many (if any) New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles pizza parlors. It’s green chile, our official state vegetable and second largest (legal) cash crop behind pecans. If there’s a pizza joint in the Duke City that doesn’t offer green chile as an optional topping, it’s probably not long for this life. If it wasn’t for Five Guys, you could probably say the same thing about burger restaurants in the Duke City.
Green chile not withstanding, a pizza artisan had better know what he or she is doing because you just can’t fool Duke City diners. Green chile on a bad pizza is–to paraphrase Sarah Palin–just lipstick on a pit bull. On September 20th, 2012, a new but familiar purveyor of pizza launched on Central Avenue and it’s got the pedigree to do it right–chile and anything else you might want on your pie. The new-old kid on the block is Fratelli Bistro which slung pizzas and created sandwiches for nearly ten years at the Target Shopping Center on Lomas in the far Northeast Heights. Back then it was called Fratelli Italian Deli. Note: Within weeks after publishing this review, Fratelli Bistro moved to the Northeast Heights.
You can’t miss Fratelli Bistro which stands out like a marinara covered thumb on an otherwise architecturally bland stretch of Central Avenue. Its colorful trompe-l’oeil (an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects really exist, instead of being mere, two-dimensional paintings) exterior walls are eye-turning and interesting. Its signage is the colors of the Italian flag: red, white and green. The interior isn’t quite as interesting.
While “fratelli” translates from Italian to “brother,” Fratelli’s Bistro became a one brother operation when one of the siblings went corporate. The heart and soul of the bistro is mamma who was born in Sicily but has been in America for some 42 years now. Fratelli’s still does things the old country way. That means preparing, pounding and stretching pizza dough by hand. It means using generations-old family recipes to make their own sausage and its own cannoli filling. It means preparing food with the finest, freshest ingredients they can find. Time-honored tradition does go out the window when it comes to New Mexico green chile, not an ingredient you’ll ever find on a pizza in Sicily.
The menu showcases pizza and calzones served with a homemade marinara sauce. Available toppings are pepperoni, Italian sausage, ham, mushroom, black olives, sliced tomato, marinated artichoke, roasted peppers, red onion, breaded eggplant and pineapple. No spiders, snakes, caviar or catfish, but there is green chile and it’s a good green chile. It’s Bueno Foods green chile, a New Mexico staple for more than sixty years. The menu also features several Italian specialties lasagna, vegetarian lasagna, eggplant parmesan, baked rigatoni and spaghetti marinara. Appetizers, salads and oven-baked subs are also available as are desserts.
The pizza is available in three sizes: small (12″), medium (14″) and large (16″). No Japanese-style mega pizzas here. No matter what else you might request on your pizza, one ingredient you really should try is sausage, a nicely seasoned, coarsely blended, fennel-rich blend. Then there’s green chile which is no pizza or burger should ever be without. The green chile is positioned on your pizza in strips so there’s at least one strip on each slice. It’s of medium piquancy and has a great roasted flavor. The pizza crust is dense and chewy, almost bagel-like. The homemade marinara sauce is redolent with oregano and garlic and is generously ladled onto the pizza.
For dessert, the cannoli are a great bet. The ricotta filling is made from mamma’s secret recipe. It’s not overly sweet as some cannoli filling tends to be and there’s plenty of it stuffed into the flaky tube shell. The dessert menu also includes seasonal cheesecake in various flavors as well as seasonal flavors. One Urbanspoon touted “cannoli cupcakes” which were sadly not available when we visited.
As tens of thousands of pizzaioli prove every day, a good pizza does not to be adorned with strange ingredients. It needs to be adorned with great ingredients prepared by people who know what their doing. Fratelli Bistro knows what it’s doing.
2740 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 1 December 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pizza, Cannoli