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March 4, 2008

LEO Eats: The Boombozz theory of evolution

Boombozz Bistro: The most recent addition to the Tony Boombozz empire is the brand-new upscale casual Boombozz Bistro in Jeffersontown with an expanded menu and table service.Like a primordial anchovy creeping out of the sea and beholding bigger and better things on shore, the first Tony Boombozz pizzeria burst into view just a decade ago as a tiny but portentous creature.Louisville’s pizza lovers looked upon it and saw that it was good. So it wasn’t long before the small pizzeria moved into larger quarters on Frankfort Avenue, then spawned a second location on Bardstown Road, cannily providing artisan pizzas on both of the city’s primary restaurant rows.Now there are four, with the addition of a fast-casual dining room in Springhurst, and, out past Jeffersontown in the distant ’burbs, the subject of today’s sermon: a brand-new upscale casual Boombozz Bistro with an expanded menu and table service. (Coming later this year, an expanded Bardstown Road operation and tap room with 30, count ’em, 30 draught microbrews.)In short, Boombozz has become perhaps the most respected name in Louisville pizza, earning this place of pride the old-fashioned way. Winner of dozens of awards in pizza competition, owner Tony Palombino represented the United States last year in the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza; the editors of Pizza Marketplace named him Independent Operator of the Year for 2008.You can call it survival of the fittest, or you could call it intelligent design. I call it excellent food, value and service.We trekked out to the new place the other night, eager to check out the newest and most upscale Boombozz. This is no mere takeout spot but a large, lofty room, big enough to house a basketball court — at least one for grade-schoolers. The walls are bright and bold, the colors of tomato sauce and mozzarella, artichoke and sun-dried tomato. Bright, mural-size paintings catch the eye with bold cartoons that look like a village on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.Three rows of unusually comfy, tomato-and-sage-color padded booths surround large shiny wood tables. A few big-screen televisions and a cozy looking bar make the mood as welcoming as your family room. Attractive, hanging light fixtures and terra-cotta floors complete a distinctly Italian theme.The menu is heavy on pizza, of course, featuring all the familiar Boombozz creations, including gourmet-style pies that range from traditional Italian (among my favorites are the spinach “D’Sienna” and the “Quattro,” a four-seasons blend of prosciutto, sausage, artichokes and mushrooms on tomato sauce with cheese) to gourmet “California-style” (including the award-winning Chicken Fajita and the Pollotate with chicken and potatoes). You can also get very thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizzas or build your own from an extensive list of toppings, sauces and cheese. Pizzas range from $8.99 (for the dinner-plate-size Neapolitans) to $16.99 (for the larger size gourmet creations). Build-your-own are $8.99 medium or $10.99 large, plus $1.50 per topping.But wait, there’s still more! A short but appetizing list of Italian treats includes starters, salads, panini and a few hearty baked pasta dishes. During the lunch hour (11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday), in addition to all the above, you can have personal size pizzas ($4.69 to $5.99) and sandwich, salad and pizza combos.Decent if not overly long beer and wine lists offer mostly mass-market brews and vinos, but they come at affordable prices (most wines are $4.39 a glass, $18 a bottle), and you’ll find a few artisanal items for the beverage geeks.We made a delicious and filling square meal — er, make that a round meal — by sharing a “Manny” (white) Neapolitan pizza and a bowl of baked chicken Alfredo. For $2.99, you can add a side salad, and they’re generously portioned, served in white bowls so large that, at first, I thought they had sent out the full-size dinner salads by mistake. The field greens salad topped mixed lettuces with sliced red onions, decent diced red tomatoes, crisp herb croutons and shredded mozzarella. The optional Greek salad dressing was a tart, tangy, thick olive oil vinaigrette. The Caesar was a good rendition of the genre: crisp, cold and fresh chopped romaine cloaked with the right amount of creamy, sweet-tart Caesar dressing, shredded mozz’ and crisp croutons.The “Manny” ($8.99) was a Neapolitan-style “white” pie, simple and delicious: four molten cheeses (melty mozzarella, tangy blue Gorgonzola, creamy Fontina and aromatic grated Romano) blending their contrasting but complementary flavors and textures in an earthy mix atop a crisp, paper-thin pie. The cheeses were fired to a pretty gold freckled with darker brown caramelized spots; the pie was lightly scented with garlicky olive oil and topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil.The baked chicken Alfredo ($8.99) was splendid, too. Al dente penne pasta was cloaked in a thick, creamy Alfredo sauce, baked with bite-size bits of tender, boneless chicken under a thick blanket of melted, gold-flecked cheese. It came with good, warm, buttery and herbal garlic bread.It was tough to pass on the good-looking cannoli, and our server spoke highly of the tiramisu. But with all that food and two heavy leftovers boxes to take home, dessert just wasn’t happening. Next time!With a pint and a half of import draught beer, dinner and leftovers came to a rational $32.10. Exceptionally pleasant service, always on the spot but never intrusive, made it easy to round up the tip to an even $40. When it comes to evolution, Darwin’s got nothing on Boombozz. We’re looking forward to the next stage in its life cycle, confident that it will be good.Boombozz Pizza Bistro12613 Taylorsville Road261-0222www.TonyBoombozz.comRobin Garr’s rating: 86 points(Other Boombozz locations: 2813 N. Hurstbourne Parkway, just south of Westport Road, 394-0000; 1448 Bardstown Road at Eastern Parkway in the Highlands, 458-8889; and 3334 Frankfort Ave., between Crescent Hill and St. Matthews, 896-9090.)Hot? Not.The currently trendy Habanero pepper, meaning “guy from Havana,” is said to be one of the hottest peppers on Earth, or at least one of the hottest you can buy at your average grocery store. Food scientists measure its heat in the range 300,000 Scoville units, which is 10 times the strength of a Cayenne pepper, 100 times that of a jalapeño and a gazillion times that of a green bell pepper. Or, in less technical terms, “Wooooeeee!”Naturally when I saw an advertisement for Skyline Chili’s EXTREME Habañero cheese -— inscrutably spelled with a tilde over the “ñ,” an affectation not known in the pepper’s Cuban homeland — I had to try some right now. I reported for duty at the big, new Skyline on Dutchmans Lane and ordered a five-way with Ah-ba-nyair-oh. “Why the tilde?” I asked, mischievously. This got me a blank stare. OK fine, never mind. The chili looked pretty much the same as the regular kind, with a nest of shredded yellow cheez on top. On close examination, though, it also had some grated white cheez mixed in. I took a bite. Hmm. I couldn’t detect any hot flavor at all. I asked my wife to try it. She chewed a little, then dissected out a few of the white bits and tried them. She looked thoughtful. “I think the white stuff is a little bit hot,” she said. I tried some of the white. No effect. I looked dubious. “No,” she said. “It’s definitely got some heat.” OK fine. But ... EXTREME? Well, no. I dosed mine up with some of the regular Tabasco-like Skyline Hot Sauce from the squeeze jar. It’s hot, and it worked. But “Extreme” Habañero? Gimme a Scoville break!Skyline Chili4024 Dutchmans Lane895-7578(and four other metro locations)www.skylinechili.comContact the writer at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com