Local Joint Lights Up

One of the world's less-pleasant sounds is the dismissive grunt of a New Yorker as he or she proclaims the pizza in some part of America to be an inedible parody of the real thing that they, thank God, are privy to in their great city. It's not that this is untrue -- after all, any metropolis that boasts 2750 pizzerias is bound to put out some awesome pies. But must they harangue us about how inferior our pizza is just as we're trying to enjoy a slice? I mean good barbecue isn't exactly ubiquitous in New York, but do that city's citizens have to put up with complaints from visiting Texans? Well, yes, I suppose they do, but that's only because Texans are as arrogant as New Yorkers. Fact is, if you look hard enough you can find commendable barbecue in New York, and praiseworthy pizza in Miami. On the Beach you need look no further than the new World Pie on Nineteenth Street and Collins Avenue.

As I was told that during the summer people line up for pizza at World Pie's original Bridgehampton branch (opened "just before the turn of the century"--1998), I expected to find a pizzeria on Collins. Instead I walked into a rather spacious Italian restaurant. A self-contained publike atmosphere streaks up the left side of the room along a lengthy hardwood bar with television sets dangling above it. A 150-seat outdoor lounge boasts another bar, more TV, and private, curtained booths (drinks are served until 4:00 a.m.).

The 200-seat indoor room is an eclectic mix of knicks and knacks, framed posters sharing wall space with Wolfie's old pink neon "Celebrity Corner" sign, hammered zinc-copper walls framing the pizza oven in back, and a fuschia-and-gold checkerboard floor commanding attention during the day but subdued by soft evening lights. The sum of the space is greater than its parts, and with a friendly staff adds up to a comfortable, neighborhood-hangout feel.


World Pie

1906 Collins Ave, Miami Beach

305-695-8869. Open daily 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Bar open till 4:00 a.m.

World Pie also makes a good pizza. The "classic" is as satisfying as any, with subtle tomato sauce properly proportioned with the mozzarella cheese, strips of fresh basil, and a thin, crisp crust lacking only the bubbly blisters created by intensely high heat. There are 18 other types of pies, including one with Canadian bacon, roast pork, pineapple, mozzarella, and tomato, as well as 32 additional toppings available for those who enjoy concocting their own personal monstrosities. For instance you can compose a pie with calamari, mango chutney, salami, and cheddar cheese. Or not.

I make a habit of avoiding complicated pizzas, but I did try the "Mr. Tang," with shreds of duck, crumbles of goat cheese, scallions, cilantro, and hoisin sauce. This "Bridgehampton Favorite" was sweetly flavorful and stimulating in small doses -- it would be apt as a shared appetizer.

The waitstaff works in the laid-back style of a neighborhood restaurant -- a neighborhood filled with unobservant people, that is. No one ever offered water, nor did anyone come by to see if we wanted more beer and wine; we would have said yes if they'd asked. Even more disturbing was having main courses arrive at the table while we were still nibbling on a mezze platter appetizer, and still picking at our fried calamari. There are few worse things a restaurant can do to mess up the dining experience than unnecessarily hurrying diners through their meal.

In truth we were probably finished with the calamari anyway. Crusting the mollusk with graham crackers is certainly creative, and the somewhat sweet crumbs paired with tomato-sauce dip better than I'd expected, but the rings (plus a couple of tentacles) were not nearly crunchy enough. Still we could've taken a few more pita swipes of smooth hummus and baba ghannouj -- luckily the olives, stuffed grape leaves, and delectable artichoke falafel balls were long gone by the time our plates were prematurely plucked.

As you might infer from the mezze, World Pie's menu reaches beyond Italian fare, its global dishes ranging from shrimp nachos to tandoori chicken.

But my favorite items remain the pizzas and pastas. I particularly enjoyed wide strips of chewy pappardelle tossed with mushrooms (not "wild" as the menu promised), juicy morsels of roast chicken, and a dark, robustly rosemaried chicken jus. Penne arrabiata, the red pepper-flecked pasta standard, gets a welcome twist via smoked mozzarella and a bit of bitter arugula. If you wish to mop up your red sauce with bread, you'll have to fork over four bucks for half a dozen mini garlic sticks. I wonder what New Yorkers would say about the lack of bread in a neighborhood Italian restaurant.

Maybe that's how World Pie keeps its costs down and prices modest -- pastas run $13 to $16, other entrées $16 to $19. Nonpasta courses include grilled salmon or tuna with Mediterranean fixings, chicken in the style of Tuscany (rosemary jus) or Sorrentino (with mushrooms, prosciutto, and Marsala wine), and veal with mustard tarragon vinaigrette or lemon caper sauce. We tried the latter piccata treatment, a trio of meaty medallions atop gently sautéed spinach, a few knobby gnocchi on the side.

It's unusual, homey sorts of ingredients like preserved lemons that often lead me to order a particular dish. World Pie's warm salmon salad was to comprise "an olive tapenade-brushed piecrust, preserved lemons, goat cheese, cucumbers & mesclun." The salmon was fresh and tender enough, the smattering of goat cheese and cucumbers a pleasant foil to the fish and field greens. Regular lemon wedges were a real letdown though, as was the pie crust, a chewy, pizzaish flatbread that was nearly impossible to tear or cut into pieces, relegating the bread to the role of rustic show plate. A flaky, buttery dough and preserved lemons would have lent this dish the type of unique appeal that the menu promised. Instead, it was ordinary.

A smaller salad of chilled, roasted beets, with Ricotta Salata, watercress, pecan pieces, and a splash of "white balsamic vinaigrette" (which turned out to be mustard vinaigrette), was a refreshing and tasty composition. Unfortunately it was difficult to eat more than one component at once, as beets, hard cubes of cheese, and nuts have a difficult time sharing a fork ride together, one or more always jumping off before arriving at the mouth.

Certain culinary quibbles (and stumbling service) notwithstanding, World Pie is a highly recommendable spot for pizza, Italian food, or just hanging at the bar. "We strive to be a local joint," it says on the wordy menu. They succeed.

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