Frequent and lengthy business trips to California in 1997 nearly ruined me forever for a food that belongs on America’s food pyramid (never mind the government’s nutritional aspects)–pizza. Despite an open mind and willingness to try anything, the heretical toppings adorning Golden State pizzas quelled and quashed what I had thought to be an everlasting love. Even today, I’m traumatized by nightmares of pesto impregnated crust desecrated with sushi grade sashimi, artichoke and the designer vegetable de jour.
Returning to the Land of Enchantment with the taste of pizza parodies fresh on my mind, it was weeks before I could bring myself to even contemplate partaking of the pie Italians (and those who wish they were) consider sacred. Then we discovered Giovanni’s Pizza & Subs, a neighborhood pizzeria in the finest tradition of East Coast pizzerias. Giovanni’s is one of several Duke City area pizzeria claimants to proffering “New York style” pizza. In my estimation and that of several Metropolis transplants of my acquaintance, it’s also the very best.
New York Yankee memorabilia, framed Mafioso movie photos and an “I Love Me” wall replete with dozens of favorable review clippings and awards told us this restaurant might be more than just another “New York style” claimant. Could the fact that the pizzeria’s proprietors, the Zito family moved to Albuquerque from Italy via Queens possibly portend the best of both the birthplace of pizza and the city in which it is incomparably crafted? As they say, the proof is in the pie. On paper–or rather, on the walls–there are accolades a plenty attesting to the greatness of Giovanni’s.
In its annual food and wine issue for 2010, Albuquerque The Magazine undertook the enviable quest of selecting the very best pizza in Albuquerque. The magazine staff ordered a pepperoni pizza at each pizzeria visited, rating it on taste, appearance, authenticity and creativity. A pizza “playoff” ensued among the five finalists with each one serving a specialty pie of their choice as well as a pepperoni pizza. The premier pizza in Albuquerque, the very best from among nearly 40 pizzas rated,was Giovanni’s. That surprised virtually no one who knows and appreciates pizza greatness.
Later in the year–November 10, 2010, in fact–Giovanni’s made it to the national spotlight. USA Today asked local experts to name just one great pizza parlor in each state and the District of Columbia. The New Mexico selection was none other than Giovanni’s Pizzeria. According to USA Today, “local foodies agree that Giovanni’s Pizzeria in Albuquerque makes the best pies. This is New York style thin-crust pizza crispy with a blackened spot or two and a good, yeasty taste. But being New Mexico, green chile shows up frequently as a topping. Specialty pizzas include the New Mexican with chicken, ricotta, garlic, red onions and green chile. Both dough and toppings are made fresh daily in house.”
USA Today didn’t ask just any uncredentialed local expert to name New Mexico’s best pizza, nor was that task assigned to some nameless, faceless writer in New York City. Giovanni’s pizza was recommended by Sally Moore, author of Culinary New Mexico, “the ultimate food lover’s guide” and one of my most trusted sources for information on New Mexico’s specialty food stores, cooking classes, wineries, bakeries, tortilla makers, food festivals and restaurants.” Earlier in the year, USA Today trusted Sally to name New Mexico’s very best burger as well.
National notoriety is nothing new for Giovanni’s which has been named one of America’s Top 100 Independent Pizza restaurants more than a dozen times by Pizza Today, a highly respected trade publication which honors the industry’s highest grossing independent pizzerias. Giovanni’s is as close to an authentic New York style pizzeria as you’ll find in the desert hamlet of Albuquerque, a practitioner of pizzeria perfection considered by many to be the best of its genre in the city. It holds a special place in my heart because it restored my love of pizza.
Giovanni’s is renowned for its specialty pizzas, some of which aren’t offered anywhere else in the city. The White Pizza (pizza bianca) features three heaping layers of cheese (mozzarella, Romano and ricotta), a rendition more than slightly different from the white pizza made famous in Connecticut which is crafted with fresh topneck clams, garlic, Romano cheese and olive oil–no tomato in sight. Giovanni’s white pizza is almost too rich with its surfeit of oleaginous cheese. Better tasting and better for you is the green pizza, a spinach pie with a thick layer of Popeye’s favorite vegetable (Gilligan’s, too).
Giovanni’s traditional pizzas are baked on a thin crust topped with ingredients of your choosing and baked in an oven until the crust has more than a hint of pinto pony char and the cheese has fully melted. Thin crust here doesn’t mean some emaciated model-thin gourmet pizza crust you can almost see through. This is New York style thin crust which means you can fold it in half horizontally and eat it sandwich style as they do in Metropolis. It means a crust that you’ll have to hold from both the top and from its tapered bottom. It’s a challenge to hold in all the ingredients because Giovanni’s ingredients are piled on generously. Unlike at some pizzerias, you don’t need to mount an expedition to find some of the ingredients you request.
Giovanni’s sausage, Canadian bacon and pepperoni are excellent while the garlic enriched tomato sauce is prominent without detracting from other ingredients. More often than not, the green chile on your pizza will actually bite you back, an increasing rarity even among restaurants serving New Mexican food. During a 2006 visit, a wandering vagabond came into Giovanni’s and asked for a slice of our green chile pizza. Never one to deny a hungry man, I gave him two. One substantial bite later and he was begging for water.
6 February 2015: Italy meets New Mexico in a unique to Giovanni’s specialty called an Italian Burrito. As explained by a server, it’s essentially a calzone shaped like a burrito. That, and the beauteous char marks, are where the similarities end. Instead of a tortilla wrapped around sundry New Mexican ingredients such as ground beef and beans, it’s a pizza crust wrapped around sausage, green peppers and green chile with a thin and watery tomato sauce more reminiscent of tomato sauce than marinara. This burrito deserves a more substantial sauce or alternatively a thick dipping sauce. The crust is a highlight.
Dessert options are limited, but who needs a compendium of confections when you’ve got some of the very best cannoli in New Mexico. The cannoli is homemade–cylindrical tubes engorged with a sweetened, rich ricotta cheese sprinkled with confectioners sugar and decorated with semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Giovanni’s warrants and receives a salute from the many airmen from nearby Kirtland who patronize this restaurant heavily. It’s the life’s blood of the nondescript and dying shopping center in which it is tucked away. Were it anywhere else in the city, it might be plying its pizza to overflowing crowds.
Giovanni’s Pizza & Subs
921 San Pedro, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 12
BEST BET: Green Chile Pizza, Cannoli, Italian Burrito