Slice of a Neighborhood

On the first day, Mark Soyka declared: "I am opening News Café on Ocean Drive, and a thriving beachside boulevard shall spring up around it." And that came to pass. Soyka next declared: "I am opening Van Dyke Café on Lincoln Road, and a thriving pedestrian mall shall spring up around it." And that too came to pass. Soyka then declared: "I shall open an eponymous restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard and 56th Street, and a thriving neighborhood shall spring up around it." And then Soyka declared: "Apparently you didn't hear me -- I said a thriving neighborhood shall spring up around my eponymous restaurant." And then Soyka declared: "I don't want to have to repeat myself again -- a thriving neighborhood shall spring up on Biscayne and 56th, goddammit!"

And lo, though it's taken awhile, that too appears to be coming to pass. A shiny new pocket of neighborhood-building businesses has settled next door to Soyka's, including a petite courtyard containing Idol's gym, Feinkost take-out foods, the Mercury Theatre (one of Miami's only showcases for alternative cinema), and some art galleries. Still, as a native of Brooklyn, I've been brought up to believe that a neighborhood isn't really a neighborhood until it has a pizza place. When Andiamo pizza opened across the street a couple of months ago, it not only satisfied this personal requirement but also added depth to the block and made it look like more than just a small row of storefronts.

Housed in the remodeled front end of Leo's Car Wash, Andiamo is a tall, almost triangular glass structure with hanging industrial lights and bright white tiles glowing through the windowed walls. The cluster of outdoor tables, often filled to capacity, along with a steady stream of locals shuffling in empty-handed and out with flat cardboard boxes, has together given the area an active, slice-of-life feeling. The sense of community is further realized at night, when a uniformed security guard putters by in a golf cart.


Andiamo Brick Oven Pizza

5600 Biscayne Blvd.

305-762-5751. Open Sunday through Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to midnight. Take-out and delivery.

Andiamo is undeniably a pleasant place to kick back for a relaxing snack, but that's not the only reason it has been an instant hit: The pizza happens to be among the best in Miami. Though brick-oven baked, the crusts are not as thin or brittle as that cooking method usually implies; the dough has a puffy pliability to it. The simple charm of a pizza is most readily appreciated through the basic Margherita pie (here called Andiamo) of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil, though for just a dollar or two more, I'd recommend the New Yorker -- same pie made with fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil. Then again just about any designer topping you might desire can probably be found among the twenty choices offered, the mostly Mediterranean-inspired combinations including pancetta with caramelized onions; hot and sweet sausage with broccoli rabe; barbecue chicken with smoked Gouda; and portobello mushrooms with truffle oil and goat cheese.

I have never developed a taste for Gorgonzola pizza and probably never will, but one of my dinner companions insisted on ordering the Genovese with just that cheese on top. The pie also contained crunchy nuggets of fried pancetta, caramelized onion, lightly browned slices of cooked potato, and snippets of fresh rosemary. I have to admit that even with the potent blue cheese dominating matters, this medley made for a very tasty pizza. Pies are available in three sizes: ten-inch ($6.95-$8.95), thirteen-inch ($8.95-$11.95), and sixteen-inch ($10.95-$14.95).

Seven types of panini sandwiches come neatly pressed on freshly baked focaccia for either $5.95 or $6.95 each. Three of the more compelling combos are Tuscan tuna with capers, Kalamata olives, arugula, tomatoes, and lemon mayo; a Latina of roast pork, ham, Provolone cheese, pickles, mustard, and spicy chipotle onion relish; and juicy, just-cooked chicken breast with arugula, roasted peppers, and rosemary aioli. Rounding out the menu are two salads: an antipasto plate of cold cuts, roasted peppers, anchovies and pepperoncini; and mixed greens with tomatoes, red onions, sliced mushrooms, chickpeas, and Kalamata olives. The greens were lethargic from too little dressing, but an extra order of garlic-Parmesan vinaigrette brought them back to life.

Beverages include a sprightly selection of sodas, three imported beers, two wines by the glass (pinot grigio and Montepulciano), and Segafredo espressos, cappuccinos, moccaccinos, and so on. Dessert choices are limited to a chilly twosome: Häagen-Dazs ice cream and prepackaged Italian ices -- lemon, cherry, or watermelon. For the sake of improved flavor and authenticity, Andiamo should consider switching to the traditional brown-cardboard cylindrical containers of ices and scooping them per order into flimsy white paper cups.

I don't have any other culinary criticisms to offer (people who eat in glass houses shouldn't throw stones), though the system by which one orders and receives pies needs tuning up. The way it works now is that you go inside, place your order, and then take a seat outside and wait for the goods to be delivered. The two counter workers who aren't making pizzas take orders, work the cash register, run to the back prep area to make salads, answer the phone to take more orders, and also deliver pies to the tables. That might work when the place isn't crowded, but on one busy visit the pies were flying from the oven toward the overwhelmed workers, who were left looking like Lucy and Ethel trying to catch chocolates on a conveyor belt.

To their credit, even when confusion reigned they never lost their cool -- matter of fact, one evening, when we waited without complaint for about twenty minutes, they offered beer, wine, or whatever beverage we wanted to compensate for the delay. I can't remember the last time an expensive restaurant treated a minor dining pause with the same generosity. Maybe that's why some of those restaurants are hurting right now, and Andiamo has locals lining up for their slice of the neighborhood pie.


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