In Pursuit of the Perfect Pizza

The parameters that guide the making of a perfect pizza are pretty clear. A pie must have a good crust, whether it be thick or thin; vibrant sauce, whether it be red or white; and tasty toppings, whether they be traditional (pepperoni) or neo (chili peppers). In that respect, Pizza Rustica succeeds. The gourmet, Roman-style pizza is hand-stretched and boasts top-quality ingredients ranging from bufala mozzarella to porcini mushrooms. You can choose a country-style square slice from the assortment of prebaked pizzas in the window, perhaps one topped with arugula-asiago salad or sautéed shrimp and eggplant, which gets an extra-crisp crust from being reheated. Or you can customize your own version on a medium (fourteen-inch) or large (eighteen-inch) thin-crust round pie from the 35 or so toppings that are available.

Indeed the Pizza Rustica recipe has proved so popular that the original location on Washington Avenue spawned a second one a few blocks north, followed by two other Rusticas in Fort Lauderdale and Delray Beach. Back in Miami-Dade, the fifth Rustica recently debuted on Lincoln Road, to the delight of the baby-carriage trade and club kids alike -- the place is closed for only five hours per day, between 6:00 and 11:00 a.m. A quickly produced, generous slice of Margherita is just the thing to soothe the sudden appetite.

As a pizzeria, though, the Lincoln Road site falls a bit short of Nirvana. For one thing, the glass cases that house the pizzas are too tall to see over, requiring customers to look through them at the cashier taking the order; they also block sound, foiling attempts by softer-voiced clientele to request items efficiently. If you want pizzas delivered, a poorly trained staff will pile small boxes on top of larger ones, causing a cave-in of the bigger box -- a primo mistake in the current Domino's-dominated industry. If you want to take pizzas to go, well, good luck in finding a parking spot. The middle-of-the-block location isn't conducive to carry-out. And finally, the Lincoln Road Pizza Rustica doesn't take credit or debit cards. Fortunately for the cash-bereft, and likely by design, there's an ATM in the corner that charges an outrageous terminal fee of $3.50.


Pizza Rustica

667 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach

Open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Call 305-674-8244 (additional locations: 863 Washington Ave and 1447 Washington Ave, Miami Beach).

No doubt Rustica enthusiasts find the quirks irksome but worth running the gamut. After all, the prize could be a precisely patterned pizza con patate, where the thinly sliced potatoes have been properly roasted beforehand and the fresh rosemary that flavors them is fragrant but not overpowering. It could be the spinach-and-blue cheese version, robust and creamy, tangy with chunks of tomatoes. It could be a chicken Parmesan pie that features strips of real (as opposed to processed) chicken breast, breaded and fried to a golden hue before adorning the mozzarella cheese along with mild red onions and roasted tomatoes.

The blue ribbon just might be the only sweet option on the menu -- a doubled thin-crust pie filled with imported hazelnut chocolate. It's Nutella meets Napolitano, and it's terrific. Plus the price is reasonable -- $9 for a medium -- as it is for most of the other pies. On the face of it, surely a parking ticket from the Miami Beach meter monitors or an additional ATM fee from your bank is a small price to pay.

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