Free Up Pizza!

Does the old expression discuss going "from feast to famine" or "from famine to feast"? I'd always thought the former, especially while trying to find a decent pizza when I first moved down here from New York City a decade ago. But after experiencing Pizza Libre, the latter won't leave my mind, because feasting is not just possible but unavoidable at this originally Buenos Aires-based pizza palace, which opened in South Beach just a few months ago.

Indirect Italian influence, via the Argentine influx of the past few years, has dramatically increased pizza quality in Miami, but Pizza Libre ups the ante with amount. The concept here is pizza degustation: $11.99 per person buys all you can eat of about a dozen and a half varieties offered on the menu. Diners choose from trays offering several kinds of just-out-of-the-oven slices that are continually carried from table to table, sort of like Italian dim sum carts. Naturally more types of pizza arrive at one's table on busier nights, but no worries even if there are only a few people in the place. Libre's extremely accommodating servers will ask what sort of pies you'd like to try, and keep bringing around any number of choices till you cry uncle. (Though it's not mentioned on the menu, those not up to the challenge can order generous single slices, actually double-sized, for $3, or opt out entirely with one of six interesting salads, including ahi tuna/fennel and cobb.)

For fans of super-thin slices with those addictive little wood-oven burn-bubbles on the bottom (like those at Alton Road's Argentine import, Piola), quality won't seem quite as impressive as quantity. Crusts are thin, but more like in-between Italian and traditional American thickness. They're very flavorful and chewy, though, like good ciabatta or Italian peasant bread; even the sauceless, cheeseless ends were enjoyable to eat.


Pizza Libre

609 Washington Ave, Miami Beach

305-673-5300. Open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., Sunday 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

As for toppings, only the Margherita (mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil) was disappointing of the ten to twelve types my table tried, due to the use of dried basil instead of fresh -- an absolute atrocity on this most classic of pizzas. But pepperoni, anchovy, and onion slices were all good, generously loaded with the signature ingredient. Hearts of palm slivers were a tasty topping, too (though I missed the odd but appealing "golf sauce" -- a sort of Latino Russian dressing -- that Argentines often use on palm heart pizzas). I personally prefer prosciutto di Parma applied after baking, to retain the silky raw texture, but lots of fresh arugula made Pizza Libre's prosciutto pizza a winner despite its cooked ham; a prosciutto-free slice with arugula, not on the menu but custom-made on request, made my table's noncarnivore very happy. Gorgonzola and walnut, though almost totally lacking both ingredients on a first go-round, was terrific on a second tray.

And even the most traditionalist, designer pizza-resistant of my party loved the spinach and goat cheese model, with the chopped leaves barely cooked and still slightly crunchy.

The all-you-can-eat price includes unlimited beverages, though not those that most people prefer with pizza; offered are either soft drinks or pretty good lemonade. But beer and wine are available, at reasonable enough prices ($3 to $4 per brew, and roughly $20 to $30 per bottle of plonk) to encourage alcoholic pizzaholics to enjoy the SoHo-stylish space for unlimited hours.


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