7563 W. Sand Lake Road
Orlando, FL 32819
Scalini's Pizza 'n Pasta
5106 Dr. Phillips Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32819
In case you haven't noticed, it appears pizzerias are gravitating toward an "out with the old, in with new" approach these days. Gone are the red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, white-shirted dough-tossers and, pardon the pun, cheesy décor. Those archetypes are being flipped for spiffier digs catering to wine lovers, the healthy-minded and the eco-conscious.
One such entry — Pizza Fusion, in the space once occupied by Vines Grill and Wine Bar — just so happens to cater to all three segments, particularly the latter. Here, black-shirted waiters serve up pizzas with crusts as thin as crackers in a space that's as green as any restaurant you'll find. Being LEED-certified, the franchise takes pride in its EnergyStar appliances, post-consumer building materials and biodegradable utensils, all of which underscore their commitment to environmental sustainability. They've even jumped on the hybrid bandwagon with their delivery vehicles and make a point of fostering inclusivity with vegan and gluten-free options. Even better — more than 75 percent of the ingredients used are certified organic, and the rest are all-natural. But how does it bear on the pizza?
I gave the personal-size vegan pizza ($10) with an organic white crust a try, and immediately noticeable was the pie's earthy pungency. I attributed it to the cremini mushrooms, though the mix of roasted garlic and soy cheese could have lent to the strong aroma. It's a fairly small pie, but the thin crust makes it appear smaller, so you might want to consider supplementing your meal with a salad. I opted for a half-portion of roasted beet and feta salad ($5) and enjoyed sinking my teeth into the big chunks of beets and candied walnuts, but the arugula was drenched in vinaigrette, making it all too soggy, and the roasted red onions marred the essence of the salad.
On another visit, I sampled the "founder's pie" ($19) with free-range chicken, kalamata olives, red onions and a four-cheese blend on a gluten-free crust ($5 extra). The toppings were wonderfully fresh, especially the chicken, and the gluten-free crust was crunchy, though it did have a slightly grainy texture. While I can appreciate offering pizza for those with celiac disease, the $24 price tag makes it somewhat prohibitive, a charge echoed by a gluten-intolerant friend of mine. The crusts are purchased from Still Riding Pizza (www.stillridingpizza.com), a Connecticut-based outfit that sells partially baked gluten-free crusts to restaurants and individuals, then prepared in a separate area of the kitchen.
The other pizza I sampled was the four-cheese and sundried tomato ($11) on a multigrain crust, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Unlike the gluten-free pizza, this one held up the next day (the gluten-free crust all but disintegrated in my mouth), but not as well as a traditional thicker-crusted wedge of cheesiness would. A trio of warm chocolate chip cookies ($3) made a nice ending, though the triple dark chocolate gelato ($3) was a creamy all-natural and gluten-free option. If you're getting takeout or delivery, don't throw out the box — return it for 25 cents off your next order.
A couple of miles up the road on Dr. Phillips Boulevard sits Scalini's Pizza, a more conventional parlor in the same vein as its predecessors — Stromboli's and A Slice of New York. There isn't much to look at inside, but the proprietor and staff are accommodating, and the prices won't raise any eyebrows. In fact, they serve a 10-inch gluten-free pizza ($8.50) here at nearly a third the cost of Pizza Fusion's and, as it turned out, I liked Scalini's pie better. It probably had more to do with the zesty meatball slices than the Publix-bought gluten-free crust, but my guess is that the gluten-intolerant will appreciate both.
A number of combo meals are displayed on a yellow board, and for $7.99 you can get a slice, five chicken wings and a drink. The crispy New York—style pizza wasn't the best I've had in town, but it was a decent slice; the wings, conversely, were an oily mess — I could feel my cholesterol level go up by 50 points before even biting into the drumettes. For $2 more, you can get a calzone, salad and a drink. The unctuous pocket of ricotta and mozzarella, while satisfying, was undermined somewhat by a thin crust, but the mixed greens in the garden salad were fresh and not soggy in the least.
When it comes to pizza, we all have our go-to joints that we'll defend to no end (my personal fave: the baby pizza at Famas). Perhaps that's why surveys of the city's best pizza are such contentious affairs, more so than contests for other categories like best burger or best chicken wings. Don't be surprised if local eaters vote these two onto next year's list of the best pizza in Orlando.[email protected]