Something really right is going on at Pizza Republica’s new location at the Convention Center. Actually, there are so many things going right, I’ll do my best to fit them all in one blog post. Sitting on an angle [smart!] at 14th and Champa – as it’s said, location is everything – they have themselves some exceptional restaurant real estate.
The thoughtful and masterful design of the space put me immediately at ease. With 5000 square feet and 160 seats [plus another 4000 sf and 100 patio seats], it could easily feel cavernous and sterile, but it feels just the opposite. Cozy. Warm. Welcoming. Considerate details, like a ledge added to the back of the large, high-backed entry bench, allow for those standing in the bar to have somewhere to put their drink when the rest of the tables are full. It’s design decisions like this – ones that truly consider the comfort of guests and not showiness – that get my attention.
The food. The food! I had the privilege of hearing directly from George Eder, Executive Chef and Owner, about choices made in dishes that set them apart in presentation and flavor, while staying true to tastes we’ve come to expect and crave in Italian food. This is a man who sincerely cares about the quality of ingredients he puts on the plate, with a commitment to local, seasonal and organic. Mozarella and buratta are made in house and the pure, clean taste of both trumpets this. Chioggia beets – with their beautiful concentric stripes – are sliced in 4″ rounds, making a pretty presentation on the plate for the Braised Beet Salad. Along with red and golden beets, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and kale sliced in wide, tagliatelle-like ribbons, this is one stunning salad. Known for their wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, San Marzano tomato is the base for the red pizzas. This is a prized ingredient, but like anything, can overwhelm if too much is used. Thankfully, a deft hand is applied for the margherita pizza – appreciated, so the wonderful flavors of mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and basil can shine. The porchetta sandwich on housemade bread is a pork lover’s dream and was a highlight. Sided with au jus for dipping, this is a not-to-be-missed dish.
The meatballs get their own paragraph. The size of baseballs – and we all know there’s nothing more disappointing than a too-small meatball – the flavor was outstanding, but it was the marinara that stood out. As an Italian, I have three criteria I go by to determine the legit status of an Italian place: house red wine [you should be proud of the red wine you put the house’s name on and a watery red just won’t do], bread [I could write a book on the importance of good bread] and the marinara sauce. Pizza Republica’s marinara is not the typical red, but rather a deep burnt sienna. Just by looking at it, I knew something special was going on, and then I tasted it. Amazing. It took me a while to try and guess the secret ingredient, when George finally shared it. Cinnamon! Such a warmth and depth of flavor this adds and also explains the color. I’m already craving more.
Desserts came to the table in a triumvirate of delight. Tiramisu, chocolate ravioli [!] and lemon cheesecake with pistachio crust [there is a God]. Too many tiramisus are laden with alcohol, which interrupts the balanced flavors and makes them unpleasantly soggy. The cream can also easily go wrong and I’ve tasted many a bland cream or too-sweet cream, which are equal food crimes. Pizza Republica’s is perfectly balanced in all its flavors and the heavy sprinkling of cinnamon on top made me smile – having now gotten it in both a savory and sweet application. I think the two words – chocolate ravioli – speak for themselves. Just get some. And the lemon cheesecake was light and airy – with a subtle lemon flavor and creative crust that makes is seriously special.
I also appreciate their generous hours, since I’m often looking for a great meal mid-afternoon, only to find most places closed between 2-5p. An extended lunch from 11a – 3:30p, and early dinner service beginning at 3:30p, make this the perfect choice anytime.
I’m a raving fan and my admitted Italian bias has nothing to do with it. Pizza Republica stands soundly on its own.