Hall of Fame New York Yankee Yogi Berra is renown for his malapropisms, notorious flubs that made him one of the most quoted personalities in the sports world. ”You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six” is one of his classic examples of misspeak. In a more serious vein, Pulitzer Prize award-winning writer Anna Quindlen, used pizza in an analogy ”Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.”
Profound quotes all, but perhaps the one which best expresses the sentiment most Americans feel about pizza–which we consume at the rate of approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, or 350 slices per second–comes from “every man” comedian and actor Kevin James who said, “There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap.”
Posting in the Chow Down in Burque Town forum, a Duke City Fix member who goes by the sobriquet “Coffee Freak” waxed eloquent about a new pizza restaurant which opened in the Northeast Heights in May, 2009. Feeling as if he’d “been stuck in exile since moving to the NE Heights,” the coffee connoisseur’s dreams had been dominated by good pizza, dreams which “were answered with the opening of Straight Up Pizza.”
Diversifying from his nocturnal and now diurnal cravings, Coffee Freak also discovered that Straight Pizza offers “one of the best calzones I have ever devoured,” a calzone so good he considered “giving up pizza and just eat calzones. Except that their pizza is amazing.” Amazing pizza! Best calzones! Could this be straight up?
That rousing endorsement was filed in my expansive mental database of new restaurants to try. By coincidence, shortly after reading Coffee Freak’s homage to Straight Up Pizza, we happened to be in its neighborhood one Sunday at about lunch time. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence. Maybe it was straight up fate.
Straight Up Pizza is located in a modern stucco edifice on Wyoming and Burlison, directly across from Academy High School. An ill-fated tenant named Woody’s Sports Cafe previously occupied the yawning space which doesn’t subscribe to the stereotypical trappings of an American pizzeria. In fact, it has the look and feel of a modern, maybe even industrial space whose tenant happens to be a pizza restaurant. The walls are relatively stark with no pretensions to New York style pizza or any other. Air Force and Marine Corps banners are proudly displayed on one wall.
Above the counter at which you place your order is a menu scrawled with the pizzeria’s offerings which include the aforementioned calzones as well as salads, wings, garlic cheese sticks and of course, pizza. Pizzas are available with your choice of three sauces: original marinara, hot marinara or garlic and olive oil and are baked with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. They range in size from a ten-inch personal pizza to an eighteen-inch large pizza. The menu lists only seven pizzas, but you’re free to customize your pizza or calzone with any number of ingredients: bacon, black olives, chicken, fresh basil, fire-roasted red peppers, fresh Hatch green chile (regular or XXX hot), green peppers, ham, jalapenos, meatballs, mushrooms, pepperoni, pineapple, red onions, roasted garlic, sausage, spinach and tomatoes.
One of the more intriguing pizzas is called The Chupacabra. Readers new to New Mexico or who haven’t caught the playful banter between KRQE’s legendary news anchor Dick Knipfing and manic meteorologist Mark Ronchetti might not be familiar with the term chupacabra which literally means “goat sucker,” a name which comes from a mythical creature’s reported habit of attacking and drinking the blood of domestic livestock, with a particular taste for goats. Straight Up’s rendition has nothing to do with goats. It’s made with pepperoni, meatballs, fire-roasted red peppers, hot (XXX) green chile and hot marinara chile.
The Chupacabra is sure to catch your attention and not solely courtesy of its piquancy. It is an excellent pizza with a canvas of made-from-scratch dough and artistically positioned ingredients. The pizza is prepared in a WOW conveyor oven reputed to cook any pizza in four minutes. The pizza arrives at your table piping hot and disciplined though you might be, you’re going to want to attack it. Burnt tongue not withstanding, you’ll enjoy every bite. The XXX chile is not only five-alarm piquant, it has a roasted flavor chile lovers will appreciate. The other ingredients are top-notch, too.
Straight Up’s rendition of the pizza which started it all, the legendary Pizza Margherita is fashioned in the traditional manner with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag. It wouldn’t be America if we didn’t do it our way, however, and that’s what we did during our second visit, adding red onions, green chile, roasted garlic and ham. The additions don’t change the color montage, but certainly alter the pizza’s flavor profile. Prepared with the garlic and olive oil sauce, it’s an excellent pizza. The crust is thin, but not cracker-crispy. It’s formidable enough to stand up to the ingredients which aren’t piled on, but placed strategically so that there’s flavor in each bite.
As Coffee Freak discovered, the only thing on the menu which could possibly top a Straight Up Pizza is the calzone. A Meaty Calzone (pepperoni, ham, sausage, meatballs and bacon) half the size of a football may be the very best calzone I’ve had in New Mexico, certainly in the top three. Rather than the seemingly de rigueur marinara sauce, try this carnivore’s dream calzone with the garlic and olive oil sauce. Carnivores might expect the five-meat combination to be the star of the show, but it’s the sauce which they’ll remember most. There’s especially something magical about garlic and bacon.
Perhaps even better than the meaty calzone is the ominously named “Devil Dog,” a calzone made with pepperoni, pineapples, hot green chile, roasted garlic and bacon. The combination of the green chile’s piquancy and the sweet tanginess of the pineapple is eye-opening. The only way to have improved this calzone is if the pineapple had been grilled to the point of near caramelization, but that’s a nit. With either (or both or neither) the garlic and olive oil sauce or the hot marinara sauce, this is one special calzone, one I’ll order time after time.
Straight up, this is one of the best new pizza restaurants in the Duke City. In 2009, Albuquerque The Magazine readers selected it as the city’s best unknown restaurant. If it continues to make the same broad strides it’s made in its first couple of years of operation, it won’t be unknown for very long.
Straight Up Pizza
6501 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 20 March 2011
1st VISIT: 19 July 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: The Chupacabra, The Meaty Calzone, The Devil Dog Calzone, Pizza Margherita