March 29, 2006

Pizza war breaks out on Westport Road. That’s a good thing

Historically, Louisvillians living near the intersection of Westport Road and Hurstbourne Lane have suffered from a dearth of pizza choices. Curing the jones for a good pie necessitated a trip to the Highlands, home to several great independent pizzerias.The arrival of Wick’s Pizza on Goose Creek Road several years ago, however, brightened the situation significantly. Housed in the site of the much-missed and too-often-dissed Café Joppa, “Wick’s East” served up the same savory piled-high pies that are now legendary citywide. Problem is that site just doesn’t have the groove of the original Baxter Avenue location, which, for me, is half of the Wick’s experience. Still, it was by far the neighborhood’s best pizza fix — until 2005, when The Pizza Box hung out a shingle about a mile down the road in Springhurst Crossings. The move saw the former Murphy Lane hole-in-the-wall go uptown with brand new digs, truly comfortable seats, tasteful lighting and a much larger bar area (which, unfortunately, appears to trap as much cigarette smoke as the old one). Thankfully, the adoption of the slick new look didn’t change the great, cheese-laden, crispy-crust pizza.Not to be left out of a good food fracas, restaurateur Tony Palombino opened his third Tony Boombozz Pizza and Vino in November on Hurstbourne, about dead center between Wick’s and Pizza Box. The latest rendition is a quick-casual café serving not only some superb pizzas, but panini, salad, lasagna and desserts, as well as beer and wine. But about the time Boombozz opened for business, groundwork was under way on a new Rocky’s Italian Grill just blocks away on Westport. The second offspring of the now-closed Rocky’s Sub Pub (the primogenitor is in Jeffersonville) drew its first breath in February, and crowds have poured in ever since. The facility is, quite simply, one of Louisville’s most handsome. For those who’ve suffered the acoustic nightmare of the Indiana location, the good news is it’s cured in the new one.Its pizza, however, isn’t on par with the dashing décor or the legendary reputation of the pies served at the Sub Pub. Thankfully, the menu’s breadth of traditional Italian offerings makes up for it. If you must get the pizza, convince your dinner-mates to get something else so you can share. One recommendation is the fried calamari appetizer ($7.79), a portion large enough to serve as a single entrée. Don’t get greedy, though, as this super squid deserves to be divvied up.But back to the pizza. Crust is most important to me, and Rocky’s thin version scored low marks for flavor and freshness. Intending to order a Giuseppe (chicken, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic, $9.99 to $14.99), I accidentally ordered a Genovese ($9.99 to $14.99). Though only a small pizza, half of the forgettable assemblage of olive oil, onions, peppers, black olives and tomatoes was left uneaten. Our anchovy and banana pepper pie, also served on the heavily laminated thin crust, was better, but at best, ordinary.On a return visit, I ordered sausage and banana peppers (yeah, I have this thing about banana peppers) atop Rocky’s “regular” whole-wheat crust, which was flavorful, delightfully chewy and tasty. Plus, the sausage was excellent, which made the sort-of-steep $11.30 fare worth it.The crust at The Pizza Box, on the other hand, is top-notch: a crackly-crisp and nearly hollow edge attached to a thin and tender platform for the toppings. The pizza-maker working the night I visited understands the value of a well-browned crust; the nutty, barely bitter result is reminiscent of some great New York pies, and that’s a taste you’ll never find in the predictably golden rim of a chain pizza. Still, the blanket of rich mozzarella couldn’t hide the disappointing sausage slumbering below. It was as bland as Rocky’s thin crust.Like Wick’s, The Pizza Box is not a lightweight pie, but the price is more than reasonable. My one-topping small was a paltry $8.83, and my 7-year-old and I couldn’t finish it. The 23-ounce Blue Moon draft was an equal bargain at $3.50.If you’re in the mood for a good app, get the fried chicken wings ($6.99). But if you like heat, order the hot sauce. The mild didn’t bother even my meek palate, so I gather the medium is probably within reach.Since LEO has reviewed Tony Boombozz recently, I’ll not say much other than it’s my preferred East Louisville pizzeria. One taste of its traditional or Neapolitan crusts demonstrates why the pizzeria has won so many awards. I’m a Wick’s admirer, too, but I simply like less cheese and fewer toppings.So, should you venture into the pizza battle zone described above, I recommend hunkering down first for a stay in the Boombozz bunker.Rocky’s Italian Grill is located at 10206 Westport Road. Hours are 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday. For more info, call 339-0808. The Pizza Box is located at 10331 Champion Farms Drive. Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and noon-11 p.m. Sunday. For more info, call 423-0530. Both restaurants are wheelchair accessible and accept credit cards.BY STEVE COOMESleo@leoweekly.com