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Pago’s Pizzeria and Italian Cuisine
Our Faves… Margarita ($13.50-$17.25); Milano ($14.25-$17.75)
Pago’s Pizzeria and Italian Cuisine has been a staple in the Village of Oak Creek for more than 20 years, as evidenced by the number of locals gathered around red-checkered tablecloths, laughing over glasses of wine and fresh garlic bread. The Sells family has owned the joint for the last six years, and Michael Sells, the pizza cook, says very few recipes have changed since the restaurant opened, including the pizza crust. (There’s a portrait of original owner and chef Frank Pagoto hanging above the cash register.) Michael and the other cooks make the dough daily – on a busy day, they will easily go through 40 pounds of dough. Pizza is the most popular item on the menu, and Pago’s is happy to make half-and-half pies, which is what they did for us. We are all about the Margarita with its marinara sauce, fresh tomatoes, julienned basil and mounds of mozzarella. Our other favorite is the Milano, which is topped with a garlicky pesto sauce, artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes. (To keep the veggies crisp, the chefs add a layer of panko bread crumbs between the sauce and the toppings.) The mozzarella is chewy, and the pizza crust is a medium thickness, though you can order Sicilian or “thick style” crust if you so desire.
For those of you who love to dip the ends of your pizza crust in ranch dressing (I’ll admit, I’m guilty as charged), Pago’s takes this indulgence one step further. The restaurant makes its own creamy feta dressing, and they will happily give it to you on the side upon request. Trust me. Make the request.
Pago’s Pizzeria and Italian Cuisine, 6446 SR 179 in the Village of Oak Creek (928-284-1939)
Picazzo’s Organic Italian Kitchen
Our Fave… Fig Gorgonzola ($15.75)
Rick Freedman owns four Picazzo’s restaurants throughout Arizona, but the Sedona location was his first – it opened its doors way back in 2002. In 2010, Pizza Picazzo’s changed to Picazzo’s Organic Italian Kitchen with a new menu that focuses on organic, healthy ingredients, but Jordan Kendzlic, the restaurant’s manager, says they didn’t change the restaurant’s motto: where pizza is art. Picazzo’s offers nearly 30 different pizzas, and that doesn’t include all the build-your-own options. And then there are the crusts, which include gluten-free, butter garlic, bagel sesame, whole wheat and Neapolitan (thin) along with a more traditional option. The meat is free-range, some of the veggies are sourced locally, and you can add arugula to any pie free of charge as an “investment to your health.”
We love the airy, lively atmosphere at Picazzo’s almost as much as we love the Fig Gorgonzola pizza. The Neapolitan-style pizza is topped with olive oil from Queen Creek (located south of Phoenix), garlic, caramelized onion, fresh figs, Gorgonzola, arugula and fig balsamic vinegar (also from Queen Creek). Sure, the pizza purists can scoff at us, but there’s something about the interplay between the sweet and seedy figs paired with the pungent gorgonzola and the bitter arugula that keeps us coming back for more. The crust is crisp and thin, which means the pie isn’t as filling as others on the menu – it’s great for lunch. Besides, when you’re at a restaurant that offers such diverse pizza toppings as chicken curry, avocado and applewood-smoked bacon, you have to branch out from pepperoni and sausage once in a while.
Picazzo’s Organic Italian Kitchen, 1855 W. SR 89A in West Sedona (928-282-4140)
Scott’s Chicago Pizza
Our Fave… Southside Classic – Deep Dish ($14.95-$18.95)
When I was growing up, every Friday night was pizza night in my house. We didn’t call for delivery (at least not until I was a teenager); we got in the car and drove to Angelino’s Pizza, where the family knew us by name. There’s a very comforting smell inside mom-and-pop pizza places, and I was struck by that smell – tomatoes, oregano, basil, yeast, etc. – when we walked into Scott’s Chicago Pizza in downtown Flagstaff. Scott, a Chicago native, began selling pies out of a gas station on the west side of Flagstaff before he opened the restaurant in March 2011. The pizza connoisseur spent years developing his crust at home, his wife and four kids acting as guinea pigs (his wife and oldest son are part of the family business). Today, people flock to the Chicago-themed restaurant for Scott’s deep-dish, Chicago-style pies.
Unlike pan pizza, which gets its thick crust from additional dough, authentic deep-dish pizza uses entirely different dough than thin-crust pizza (Scott can make any of his pies thin-crust or deep-dish style). Scott’s deep-dish dough includes cornmeal, giving the crust of his Chicago-style pizzas a different flavor and color than his thin crust. Deep-dish pizzas also take twice as long to cook than traditional pizzas, so expect a 45-minute wait (well worth it) after you place your order. When it comes to favorites, we side with Scott: It’s all about the Southside Classic. The dense crust is topped with Italian sausage (Scott orders his from Chicago), mushrooms, tomatoes, onion and green bell pepper. The two-inch-thick pizza arrives piping hot with dark brown edges, chunks of fresh tomato and mounds of cheese. There are no canned veggies used here, so the mushrooms are firm and the peppers snap when you take a bite. You need a knife and fork for this pizza, even if you aren’t Donald Trump.
Scott’s Chicago Pizza, 103 W. Birch Ave. in downtown Flagstaff (928-226-0065)