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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
LATEST VISIT: 10 December 2014
1st VISIT: 19 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: The Bonanno, The Siciliano, Dark Chocolate Bar, Gourmet Chocolate Bar, The Fredo