20 years: Local pizza, then and now 

By Neil Charles

It is a testament to our love of all foods bread-based that in general the most successful and long-lived of restaurants tend to be those specializing in pizza, sandwiches, or variations thereof. While fine dining fashions ebb and flow, as this year's model becomes next year's museum piece, the engine of the food industry continues to be fueled by all things bread-related. Bread is, after all, the food of life, so why shouldn't it also be the most commercially reliable?

Had the editors of NUVO 20 years ago possessed a crystal ball, could even they have predicted that the first two restaurants reviewed, Some Guys and Bazbeaux, would still be in business today? Cast your mind back to 1990, a time when the city's blossoming culinary landscape would barely be recognizable in 2010. In this corner, on the cutting edge, you had Peter's, Fletcher's, and Tony Hanslitts at the Hilton. In the opposite corner were such burnished stalwarts as King Cole, The Keystone Grill and the Glass Chimney. These and a few others represented the apex of the Indianapolis fine dining scene at the time; all appeared to have legs, yet only one survives in town today, and that under new ownership.

Two decades ago, both Bazbeaux and Some Guys were considered pretty advanced for their time and location. Although Wolfgang Puck (himself a veteran of Indianapolis fine dining in the 70's) had pioneered "Gourmetâ � pizza at Spago, and was responsible for such delectable oddities as smoked salmon with sour cream and barbecue chicken pizza, you still had to go to the freezer section of your local specialty grocery store (if you could find one) to locate such items. Otherwise it was Domino's or bust.

While Bazbeaux and Some Guys have since comfortably become a part of the culinary mainstream, neither has lost sight of its origins. Both continue to turn out interesting, well thought-out food at reasonable prices in an unpretentious environment. Don't expect to find molecular gastronomy on a slice, but do expect something other than sausage and meatballs. Twenty years on, I still have to admit that Bazbeaux, now with three locations, has always been a personal favorite, and I can think of few more agreeable ways to pass a couple of hours on a summer's evening than sitting outside with a bucket o'Rocks and a Basilica pizza.

In the intervening twenty years since our first review, the Indianapolis gourmet pizza scene has, if not exactly exploded, then swelled considerably, more or less mirroring the growth of the city north and east, and catering to the needs of the harried soccer mum demographic. As a former inhabitant of the south of Washington no-delivery zone, I was always dismayed that, in order to secure a decent slice I would have to either drive downtown or put up with one of the Chicago-style slabs of dough that pass for the real thing in the city's southern regions.

The north side is far more fortunate, with a plethora of Puccini's Smiling Teeth, a very solid locally-owned chain that turns out consistent and fairly-priced food for all the family. While not as cutting edge as Some Guys or Bazbeaux, its intended demographic is obviously a bit less adventurous, so it clearly succeeds on its chosen level. I've always enjoyed the campfire, one of the better BBQ pizzas in town.

The most recent and most exciting addition to the growing canon of locally-grown Pizzerias was reviewed recently in these pages: Neal Brown's Pizzology. Brown, a fixture on the fine dining scene here for over a decade, was still banging pans together in his Chefwear romper suit when NUVO ran its first reviews. After several years exploring numerous culinary genres, he now seems to have found a solid footing, delivering top quality pizza from (whenever possible) locally-sourced ingredients to an increasingly discerning and demanding clientele.

Bearing in mind the fickle nature of the fine dining business, will these excellent eateries still be around in another twenty years, or will we by then be sucking down some post-space age swill from vacuum-sealed plastic bags, as predicted in so many futuristic movies? My bet is on the former: it takes more than a couple of decades to erase centuries of eating habits, especially when it involves something as tasty and satisfying as a perfectly cooked thin crust pizza, whatever you decide to put on top. And somehow I just can't imagine pizza in a bag.

The big question is, will we still be around to review them?


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