Jon Patten and Bill Scott migrated to Albuquerque in 1978 and purchased New York Pizza with the intention of converting it into a Greek restaurant to be called Dion’s (as in short for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine). During the transitional period between pizza restaurant and Greek restaurant, they continued to make pizzas and quickly discovered that pizza was what their customers craved. More than three decades later, it is still pizza which draws patrons to this amazingly popular pizzeria.
In those 30 years plus of operation, Dion’s has established a near cult following of devoted patrons, many of them families. Dion’s is so popular that in its tenth anniversary edition, the long defunct Abq magazine named it to its “Hall of Fame” in recognition of the restaurant garnering more “Best of” votes than anyone else in the pizza category. In its annual reader’s choice issue, readers of Albuquerque The Magazine (an unrelated successor to Abq magazine) continue to lavish high praise for Dion’s, a perennial contender, if not winner, of the magazine’s “best pizza in the city” honors.
There’s much to like about Dion’s. The restaurant is immaculate and service is efficient and friendly. It’s staffed with energetic and smiling employees who seem to enjoy what they’re doing. There’s a viewing area from which children (of all ages) can watch the pizza-makers in action. Seating is plentiful and there’s even a drive-up window where you can pick up your call-in orders.
Today Dion’s has fifteen locations including nine in Albuquerque, two in Lubbock and on each in Santa Fe, Los Lunas, Las Cruces as well as two in Rio Rancho. Dion’s employs over a thousand employees, many of them teenagers. Among the secrets to Dion’s success and continued growth are fundamental rules established at the onset, rules by which each Dion’s restaurant still operate today:
- Always use the finest ingredients.
- Never change ingredients simply to get the cheapest price.
- Only serve pizza, salads and submarine sandwiches that we are proud of.
- Hire the best people. Promote team players and cooperation.
- Give the customer exceptional quality, service, cleanliness and a teamwork environment.
In its 2010 Food and Wine edition, Albuquerque The Magazine published the results of its search for the best pizza in Albuquerque. At each pizzeria, the magazine staff ordered a pepperoni pizza and rated it on its taste, appearance, authenticity and creativity. After tallying points, the top five had a “pizza playoff” in which the finalists served the specialty pie of their choice as well as a pepperoni pizza. Dion’s placed fifth from among nearly forty Duke City area pizzerias. Alas, my vote is much harder to get.
That highly touted pizza is, in my honest opinion, very inconsistent–sometimes good (not great), but more often than not, requiring lots of chile sprinkles to make it at least a little interesting to me. Too many pizzas during too frequent visits have been generally soggy with a surfeit of drooping cheese enough to clog an elephant’s arteries. My friend Mike Muller, a Dion’s devotee, claims that the quality of the pizza depends on which store you visit and who’s making it. My retort is that a restaurant which isn’t consistent visit after visit is one I won’t visit very often.
Still, I do credit Dion’s for its dough which we occasionally purchase for our take-and-bake dinners. The dough is made from scratch daily and serves as a nice canvass for whatever ingredients with which you top them. For dining in, pizzas are available in 12-, 14- or 16-inch sizes. Available toppings are pepperoni, Italian sausage, smoked ham, ground beef, chicken, bacon mushrooms, black olives, pineapple, red onions, fresh tomatoes, green chile, jalapeños, bell peppers and anchovies.
Dion’s venture into the realm of gourmet pizzas is a popular draw, though my experiences with these so-called gourmet pizzas have also met with mixed results. A Kansas City pizza features a barbecue sauce so insipid renders the pie’s name a misnomer. As a devotee of Kansas City barbecue, my expectations for s sauce bearing that bastion of barbecue’s name are high indeed, and Dion’s pizza failed to meet those expectations. So did the Duke City (turkey, Cheddar, green chile and Parmesan) which practically put my taste buds to sleep–and that’s not just from the tryptophan.
Dion’s sandwiches are the restaurant’s most redeeming item and a far better reason to visit than the pizza. Served submarine-style on original white or wheat hoagie-style baguettes baked fresh daily, the sandwiches are available in six- and ten-inch sizes. Green chile is available upon request on all sandwiches and there’s no charge for an ingredient which improves everything it touches. Sandwiches are served with Greek dressing, a dill pickle spear and crinkled potato chips which you can substitute with fruit for a mere pittance.
The sandwich board choices are Turkey & Swiss, Pastrami & Provolone, Roast Beef & Provolone, Ham & Swiss, Meatball & Provolone, Veggie (green chile and Cheddar) and an Italian sub. Sandwiches are adorned with lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise and deli mustard. The Italian sub, the restaurant’s specialty is engorged with ham, pepperoni and Genoa salami and is studded with Asiago cheese, Kalamata olives, bell peppers, red onions, lettuce, mayonnaise and deli mustard. It’s a terrific sub, a deli-class sandwich made with premium ingredients.
There are two facets to each sandwich which makes them special. The first is the baguettes which are lightly toasted in a conveyor oven to give them a crispy exterior while retaining a pillow soft contrast inside. The conveyor oven melts the cheese but doesn’t warm the beef to a mushy consistency and somehow manages to keep the vegetables crisp and fresh. The second facet is the Greek dressing which is simply terrific, so much so that you’ll want a second portion so that every morsel of sandwich you bite into is infiltrated by the tanginess of this excellent dressing. Save Dion’s ranch dressing for salads, but always use the Greek dressing on the sandwiches.
The one sandwich not warranting adulation is the meatball and provolone sub. As with most meatball sandwiches throughout the Duke City, the meatballs border on being desiccated. They appear to have been dipped or dunked in marinara sauce, but the toasting process dries the sauce, too. This sandwich is accompanied by a plastic tub of marinara sauce, but it’s barely enough for half of a ten-inch sub and still doesn’t provide the moistness of meatball subs I enjoyed so much throughout the East Coast.
Dion’s salad is a perennial winner of “best salad” honors during the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque” balloting. With that tangy Greek dressing, even plain lettuce would be delicious. In the 2010 poll, Dion’s was a runner-up for “best chain,” too.
4200 Montano, N.W.
LATEST VISIT: 14 December 2011
# OF VISITS: 20
BEST BET: Greek Dressing, The Italian Sub