Great Addition To Downtown
It has taken me awhile to do it, but I've finally gotten around to reviewing Aldo's Pizza Pies. I would have written about it earlier, but I wanted to take my time about it. I wanted to convey my thoughts about it and related issues in the right manner. Unlike most places, I feel that I'm a stakeholder in restaurants that are owned by Aldo Demartino because I visit them often. Two of my favorite bars in Memphis are Bardog Tavern and Slider Inn, known for serving great food and excellent customer service. Aside from a couple of annoying people (who I will discuss later), most of the patrons at both bars are people who I like associating with. They provide that intangible element that helps to define a bar's character as it relates to its social environment. This is why I like both of Aldo’s bars, because they are comfortable to hang out in. So when Aldo's Pizza Pies opened, my hopes and expectations were very high for a place that is a great addition to Downtown Memphis.
Before Aldo's officially opened this past summer, it held a "family and friends" party. The event was supposedly limited to a select number of people. Unfortunately, I wasn't invited despite knowing Aldo and most of the staff at his other bars. Still, like water off a duck's back, it didn't upset me in the least. Instead of crying about it, I went about my usual order of business that evening. First, I stopped at the Flying Saucer for a couple of beers, and then proceeded to Bardog for dinner. After looking over the daily specials listed on one of bar's chalkboards, I chose the Andouille sausage burrito. Loaded with sausage, rice, beans, salsa, cheese and other ingredients, it was huge enough to satisfy my appetite. As I expected, the burrito was spicy and tasted great. Along with a glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) served by the lovely Amanda "Panda," my dinner was almost perfect.
SIDE NOTE: While eating dinner at the bar, I had to put up with an annoying guy sitting next to me. While I don't mind engaging in conversation (especially with a Vietnam vet), there's a time and place for everything. That said, if I'm eating and a white person tries to talk to me about his coolness with black people will never win me over. To me, he is an annoyance that is distracting me from my meal. You understand?
After I finished dinner, I left Bardog and proceeded back to the Saucer. As usual, I used Main Street as my route. In doing so, I passed Aldo's where many of my friends were enjoying themselves. Two of them were Gary, the real "mayor" of the Flying Saucer with twenty "plates" (an award for drinking 200 different beers) and Joe, the bearded attorney seen in the Jimmy McElroy commercials. Those guys invited me over to their patio table. Initially, I resisted because I wasn't invited, but both guys insisted that I come in and join them. After I refused again, Gary assured me that it wasn't a big deal because no one was checking invitations. He even offered to give me his invitation in case anyone questioned my presence there. I refused his offer but proceeded to go inside Aldo's. I figured if it was meant to be, I would be in and welcomed by Aldo himself. After entering Aldo’s, I hung out with my friends for a bit before going to the bar. Once there, I ran into a few more friends and a certain lard ass loser who resented me being there.
SIDE NOTE: With many of the "friends and family" attendees not being people who I normally see at either Bardog or Slider Inn, I assumed that I wasn't the only uninvited guest. However, this particular individual seems to be obsessed about my whereabouts and anything that I post on the Internet. As much as he would like me to go away, I'm sticking around for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, I am not a "beer goddess" that he dislikes. Being one of them would mean taking crap from a “mayor” who is allowed to do whatever he wants with impunity. I hope he never becomes a Grizzly “regular.”
It took a while before I was able to afford a pizza at Aldo’s. As some of you know, my job at FedExForum is seasonal, so my spending power is diminished during the NBA offseason. Because of that, I can’t afford to buy an entire pizza during the summer. However, I always have a few dollars on me, which most of the time is enough for a slice. As in the Slice Of The Day (SOTD), a daily feature of one of Aldo’s pizzas that cost four dollars. The SOTD is a great way to explore Aldo’s pizza menu without breaking the bank. Occasionally, the pizza parlor will also introduce pizzas that aren’t on the menu, which can be a wonderful surprise. An example of that is the slice I had on November 23, 2012. I got two slices with white cheese, Italian sausage and pesto sauce toppings on it. The combination of toppings was extremely good. The cheese had a strong zest to it and the sausage was greasy and flavorful. The basil and Parmesan of the pesto sauce tied it all together for a pizza that I hope to see more often. For the most part, the SOTD can be hit or miss, depending on individual tastes. However, there’s always the potential to find a gem, and it won’t cost much.
Eventually, I got around to ordering a whole pizza. Not knowing what to get, I went on Urbanspoon to see what was popular. After reading a few reviews, I decided to get the Willie Cheech and Bob. The Jamaican-inspired pizza's primary toppings are jerk chicken, jalapeño peppers, red onions and mango chutney along with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The chutney and tomato sauce go great together, for they provided the fruity sweetness that is a key element of the pizza's flavor. This is balanced by the spiciness of the jalapeños and red onions. Actually, the onions were a bit much for me, so I removed them from the pizza. Despite removing the onions, the pizza was still very spicy. Borrowing a phrase Uncle Lou's, the pizza was "sweet spicy" and very good. I wanted to eat it with bruschetta (which is close to genuine Italian-style, something that’s hard to find in Memphis) but it never arrived. In spite of not getting it, the pizza was a very enjoyable and unique experience.
SIDE NOTE: If I order the Willie Cheech and Bob again, I won’t get a PBR as my beverage. The pilsner didn’t mesh well with the fruity flavor of the pizza. I believe that rye-flavored beers are better suited for the Willie Cheech and Bob. With Aldo’s offering sixty beers, I’m confident that I can find something suitable.
In addition to pizzas, Aldo's also has an array of sandwiches on its menu. On the night of my birthday (September 24, 2012), I got The Balboa. It’s a steak sandwich that I'm guessing was inspired by the meat punching scene from the movie Rocky. With a personality like the fighter, The Balboa is a no-frills sandwich consisting of slices of ribeye steak, onions and White American cheese, all within a hoagie bun. From what I can remember, the sandwich's taste comes mostly from its huge amount of ribeye steak. The meat seemed like it was seasoned with black pepper, resulting in a good flavor. The onions and cheese also contributed, but it's mostly a meaty sandwich. On a scale of five, I'll give it The Balboa a "3" for being a good (but not great) sandwich.
SIDE NOTE: A couple of days later, I gave myself a present in the form of a cheeseburger from Bleu. The “Build Your Own Sandwich” was delicious!
The Balboa came with sides of bow-tie pasta and kettle fried potato chips. It's not often that I say this, but one of my side items was better than the main course. The bow-tie pasta is mixed with pieces of salami cold cuts and marinated with vinegar (or vinaigrette). Unsurprisingly (given that it's from an Aldo Demartino-owned restaurant), the bow-tie pasta was great. In the future, I might order as a stand-alone dish. While I didn't get the same level of satisfaction from the potato chips, they weren’t bad. The lightly salted chips contributed well to my sandwich. It made eating The Balboa worthwhile.
SIDE NOTE: I want to thank everyone who celebrated my birthday with me. A special shout-out goes to Shawn Lilly for taking pictures of The Balboa and the bruschetta. It was a great night of food, beer and football at both the Flying Saucer and Aldo's. Even the crappy ending of the Packers-Seahawks game didn't ruin a good night with friends. I look forward to doing it again next year.
After several visits to Aldo’s Pizza Pies, I’ve concluded that it has a bright future. Overall, the quality of the food is great. The service, while not perfect, was good enough to meet my expectations. What I like best about Aldo’s is the atmosphere. Despite it being a family restaurant, I felt very comfortable there as a single guy. While not having the intimacy of Aldo’s other establishments, it is a relaxing place to hang out at. As far as the bar goes, my only gripe about it is that it isn’t big enough to handle a large group of people. However, I’m sure Aldo will counter by saying that it wasn’t meant to be just a bar. Given the layout of his place, it’s hard to argue against it. With Aldo’s catering to families, it seems that Demartino has most of Downtown Memphis covered, demographically speaking. I’m sure he will have a lot of success, which for him isn’t in short supply.