Giotto Pizza Is a Fresh Find

Giotto Pizza opened on West Avenue in South Beach about a year ago, but I just made it in for the first time this past weekend. The storefront is bookended between a Starbucks to the left and the kosher West Avenue Café to the right. Outdoor tables of the three venues line up side by side, those of each restaurant identifiable by the color of umbrellas that shade the seats.

Giotto looks as though it could be part of a chain, but it is not. The cleanly decorated space is owned by Antonio Polzella and Renato Viola, who, if we are to believe the menu, are "two of Italy's most famous and talented pizza chefs."

Whatever. Fact is, the pizza here is notably fresh and tasty, and Giotto turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

The first appealing thing is that diners are offered a small margherita pizza for $5 (the 13-inch version is $9.95). I was riding by on my bicycle and in the mood for pizza -- at most non-slice joints I would have had to order a regular-size pie, eat a couple of slices, and balance a cardboard box of leftovers on the handlebar for the ride home.

The $5 portion was perfect, and it's a delectable little pie -- the crust, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil all fresh, light, and flavorful. They let the dough sit for 72 hours so it can rise through "natural levitation." It sounds as though they may employ a yogi rather than a maestro to handle that, but that's not really our business.

Regular pies come in some two dozen varieties. All but the Hawaiana Erika Moon -- with pineapple, ham, and basil -- sound sanely alluring. That means the toppings run more along the lines of fresh fior di latte cheese, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and traditional garnishing meats such as bacon, sausage, and pepperoni. There is no barbecue chicken pizza on the menu, which is refreshing.

The most interesting concoction is a star-shaped pie, with the points of the star stuffed like calzone and the exposed center of the pie garnished with pepperoni, ricotta, and mozzarella ($15.50). For dessert you can get pizza dough smeared with Nutella ($13).

I returned the next day for a lunch special: a 13-inch round of focaccia topped with thin, delicate slices of Italian mortadella (much finer than what you get at deli counters around town) sprinkled with fresh rosemary and drizzled with fruity olive oil. A bottled beer of your choice comes with the open-faced sandwich, all for $13.95 (the focaccia/mortadella by itself is $13). I selected a Menabrea beer from Italy; Heineken is another choice.

The only other item on the menu is a salad. You can get a base of romaine lettuce for $5 and then add vegetables for 50 cents each and more involved additions (chicken, tuna, fresh mozzarella, assorted Italian cold cuts) for $2.50 to $2.99 apiece.

Giotto might look like a chain, but it operates like a more personal pizzeria. The pies are baked per order, and the various foods looked as though they were being assembled with care. The freshness and quality of ingredients are impressive, the prices register as fair, and there's take-out and delivery -- so next time you're considering Domino's, you might want to go with Giotto instead.

Giotto Pizza
959 West Ave., Miami Beach

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