For more than two years, Dan Brown’s brilliant and controversial novel, The DaVinci Code was a permanent fixture as number one on the New York Times best seller list. Brown’s magnus opus postulates the existence of a clandestine society in Europe which, for centuries, has been the guardian of a hallowed bloodline whose lineage descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. This secret society included such luminaries as Leonardo DaVinci, Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei. While many people may consider this terrific tome heretical, at its very least the DaVinci Code spawned a renaissance (rebirth of learning) in the Renaissance (period of European history between the 14th and 17th centuries when a cultural rebirth occurred).
In 2005, renaissance man (a man with extraordinarily broad and comprehensive knowledge) John Mickey launched DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza in Albuquerque’s far Northeast Heights and his brainchild is spawning a renaissance (rebirth again) of its own among pizza enthusiasts–so much so that it was named the best new restaurant in the Alibi’s 2005 Readers Choice issue. What makes this accolade doubly impressive is that his restaurant is tucked away in the Shops at Mountain Run and serves only lunch and dinner and until 2009, was available only for carry-out and delivery.
DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza now boasts of five tables, all covered in plastic table cloths. The table is set with charger plates, gold-colored decorative plates used to dress up tables. They’re as functional as they are decorative. Atop each charger plate is a more apropos (for pizza) paper plate. It’s a strangely inviting setting if you’re used to stopping by and picking up your pie. Today, about fifty percent of the restaurant’s business is delivery-based, 45-percent is pick-up and five-percent is sit-down business. Should you opt for the latter, DaVinci’s offers very personable tableside service.
The name DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza is subtitled “where every pizza is a work of art” while the menu lists ten pizzas under the category “The Masterpieces.” The basic pizza is called “The Canvas” and all but one other pizza is named for a famous artist of the Renaissance era, some contemporaneous with the eponymous Leonardo himself.
Children of the 90s who have come to associate the names Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo with anthropomorphic turtle brothers who live in the sewers of New York City might learn more from reading the menu than they otherwise would in their history classes. Prefacing each pizza’s description is a short biographical profile of each Renaissance artist for whom a pizza is named. They might learn, for example, that Alberti designed such influential buildings as the Santa Maria Novella and the Palazzo Rucellai.
We learned that DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza is like a breath of fresh air, so uniquely different in concept and execution that it should continue to be more than competitive in a glutted carry-out and delivery pizza market currently defined by mediocre national chains. Visiting DaVinci’s will also affirm that four walls and a hovering wait staff don’t define a great dining experience; we’ve enjoyed our pizza at a nearby park where we took in the sights of romping dogs, playing children and nature’s finery. We’ve enjoyed it in one of the restaurant’s few tables.
Gourmet pizza isn’t a stereotypical, haphazardly thrown together menagerie of fru-fru ingredients, it’s the culinary arrangement of top quality sauces, seasonings, cheeses, meats and toppings that work harmoniously to craft a delicious pie. DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza offers 43 different toppings, some of which aren’t used anywhere else in Albuquerque. The Botticelli, for example, includes rosemary roasted potatoes. Best of all, the inventive array of DaVinci’s creations are fashioned on a crispy New York style canvas substantial enough to hold hefty portions.
Owner John Mickey is justifiably proud of his four slate Baker’s Pride ovens. Inferior pizza restaurants tend to favor conveyor ovens and their formulaic, predictable pizza in, pizza out functionality. Slate ovens require the pizzaioli to babysit each pizza, to spin them 180-degrees at the precise time, to ensure just the right amount of char. Mickey trains his staff to be attentive to each pie. He wants a remarkable consistency in each pizza. A perfectionist with a keen attention to detail, he spent more than two months experimenting until he crafted the perfect whole wheat crust. He’s contemplating adding a gluten-free crust, too.
Gourmet pizza also isn’t necessarily crafted on a canvas of dough topped with tomato sauce. In Connecticut and other Northeastern states, the traditional white pizza (pizza bianca) generally has no sauce, just a covering of mozzarella cheese on top of garlic, olive oil and herbs with whatever other toppings a pizzaioli might add. DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza is introducing Albuquerque to pizza sans tomato sauce and while not a new experience for us, might be a revelation for some Duke City diners so accustomed to plebian tomato sauce based pizzas.
The aforementioned Alberti easily lives up to its “masterpiece” billing with standard ingredients that work together exceptionally well and made the additives we requested more than welcome. The standard Alberti features Fontina and mozzarella cheeses, roasted garlic, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, goat cheese, parsley and Kalamata olives on an olive oil base to which we have added Canadian bacon and Italian sausage. This jazzy, grease-free pizza with its exceedingly fresh and ingeniously non-traditional toppings and olive oil blessed crust is fabulous in every respect. The marriage of Fontina and goat cheeses is particularly memorable.
Michelangelo was arguably the most influential Renaissance artist and it will probably be debated as to whether his pizza namesake is the best from among DaVinci’s formidable collection of masterpieces. This unique white pizza features chicken marinated in vinaigrette, artichoke hearts, red onion, red and gold peppers, mozzarella, ricotta and parsley on an olive oil sauce. It is a stroke of genius punctuated by the eccentricity of creative ingredients.
The Boticelli is yet another example of John Mickey’s creativity. The description–marinated chicken on a bed of rosemary roasted potatoes, red onions, covered with a blend of mozzarella and Kasseri cheese over an olive oil base–sounds at first browse, as one dry pie. Rosemary roasted potatoes and marinated chicken baked in a slate oven can’t possibly be moist, right? Far from it. This is a moist, cheesy pizza with right-sized ingredients baked for the optimum time to ensure a delicious pie with nary a hint of desiccation.
DaVinci’s doesn’t have any traditional “appetizers” but you can start off your meal with one of three artisan salads or bread knots. The Veronese salad (green leaf lettuce tossed with garbanzo beans, diced red pepper, Kasseri cheese, Genoa salami and red onions served with your choice of Ranch, Bleu Cheese or Italian dressing) is fresh and delicious, an excellent starter. A small salad is big enough for two to share. DaVinci’s has two dessert offerings, cannoli and tiramisu, neither of which are homemade, but both of which are highly recommended by the owner.
For most Duke City diners, a non-rush hour drive to DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza takes about 20 minutes or roughly the time it takes for one of these outstanding orbs to be prepared. It’s a drive savvy diners should take often.
DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza
5809 Juan Tabo, N.E.
LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: The Alberti with Canadian Bacon & Sausage; The Michelangelo, The Boticelli, The Veronese (salad)