A Slice of OK 

The veggie and margherita blanca pizzas at Pie in the Fan are acceptably tasty if not memorable.

click to enlarge food08_pie_200.jpg

I've lived in Richmond for 10 years now, and if there's one thing I can say that the Richmond culinary scene lacks, it is truly great pizza. Sure, there are proponents of this New York-style slice or that, from Mary Angela's to Candela's, and any of those will do in a pinch if New York is what you think of when you're thinking 'za. Some people swear by Bottoms Up's unusual crust and mammoth slices. Hell, I even know some folks who frequent California Pizza Kitchen, not that I consider them friends or anything — but they're out there. After all, it is pizza — how could it not be good? Crust, sauce, cheese, toppings — hot out of the oven and onto your plate. No real rocket science there. Uncomplicated, but satisfying and relatively inexpensive.

Almost nothing stirs heated gastronomical debate, however, as the big pizza questions: Thick or thin? Traditional or gourmet toppings? Sauce or no sauce? And though I grew up in Chicago — I'm not even going to go there. I like all kinds of pizza. What I'm looking for is a no-brainer for a night when I don't want to cook. Give me something consistent, not too tricky, and available immediately.

The unlikely space that once housed Si Tapas and a list of predecessors has reincarnated as a pizza house dubbed Pie. The narrow focus of the menu should lead to attention to detail in preparation, timely service and a strong sense of consistency. On various visits, though, Pie disappoints me in at least two of those categories.

The menu takes all of two minutes. You can start with wings or a salad. The traditional caprese, Caesar and Greek salads are exactly what one would expect, and the arugula and basil salad with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella is vibrant and palate-whetting. The wings likewise are familiar and simply presented. Nothing to write home about, but so far so good.
The bread basket features sticks and puffs of the pizza and calzone dough and bodes well for the main attraction — light and crisp, flaky, golden portents of what's to come.

But when the spicy squash pizza and meat calzone finally arrive, I'm left to wonder what happened between the dough's rising and someone tossing, topping and firing it. No, it's not bad — not bad at all — but it's not particularly good either, which is particularly troubling because this is pretty much all Pie does. We're happy enough to sit in the frigid, music-less dining room and give these guys a chance repeatedly during the course of two months, but if you're going to name the joint Pie, you'd better deliver the goods.

SautAced yellow squash with a shake of red-pepper flakes, a few dabs of goat cheese and a smattering of pine nuts doesn't really hit the gourmet pizza benchmark, which leads me to wonder how thought-out these recipes are. The presence of canned tomatoes in place of sauce and masquerading as something that belongs on the traditional margherita, seems like grounds for excommunication from the Church of Pizza to me.

The meat calzone features pepperoni and sausage and the surprise addition of prosciutto, which had the unfortunate effect of making each bite a stringy challenge, something a calzone shouldn't be.

On subsequent trips I confirm that the pizzas are across-the-board average. Not much creativity in the more gourmet selections; not enough oomph in the more traditional ones. The crust itself is one of the better offerings in town, but the rest doesn't work for me.

When we exit into the slightly chillier night, the host swings the door wide for us and inquires — as if he couldn't wait for the opportunity — “How was your Pie?” This seems to be the self-fulfillment of the catchphrase the owners were seeking in naming the joint. My sense of etiquette leads me to automatically say, “Oh it was good.” But in reality I wanted to say: “Um, it's OK. But if you're putting all your effort into a single product, I'd expect it to be better.”

And, no, I'm not any closer to finding that perfect slice, but I am narrowing down what I'll accept and gladly pay for, and this ain't it.

Pie ($)
214 N. Lombardy St.
257-7940
Lunch and dinner daily: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
pierichmond.com

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