Miami’s yummy pizza memories

Every neighborhood has a favorite pizza joint. They are usually homey, “mom and pop” places like the one your dad took you to after a ball game or the one your family would visit on a Sunday eve to spare Mom of kitchen duty.

Good pizza joints are more than the sauce, mozzarella and the crust that comprise the pies — they are about celebrations and good times. I can’t think of a more celebratory food than pizza. And though not necessarily fast, pizza has become America’s “fun food.”

In the homogenous maelstrom of pizza franchises, the independently owned restaurants have a tough time keeping up with the multimillion dollar advertising blitzes of the pizza giants. Amazingly, many of the deeply rooted, neighborhood joints have managed to stay afloat — some have even prospered due to their authenticity and customer loyalty.

And while pizza is not something that immediately comes to mind when one thinks about South Florida, we certainly have our share of distinct, neighborhood haunts. Though I have lived in Miami for a great part of my life and pizza is my favorite meal, I have not been (try as I may) to every great pizza locale in South Florida. I will detail some of the pizza places I’ve enjoyed over the years, and I encourage you to write in with your favorites.

Born-and-bred Floridians are quick to complain (mostly in good fun) about the large number of Northeastern transplants that reside in South Florida — the guy who wears the oversized Jets jersey to Dolphins’ stadium or the impatient, boisterous customer at the movie theater who is rushing the ticket taker — we’ve suffered them all. However, when it comes to pizza, South Florida has greatly benefited from the influx of Northeasterners.

I grew up south of the Dade-Broward line. In the working-class Miami where I was reared, pizza was a mainstay of my family’s weekends. It became a staple in my family for many of the same reasons it evolved into a big hit throughout the Northeast (later on, nationally) in the post-war era — it was cheap, the kids liked it and it was convenient.

Pizza stories are similar to fish tales — overflowing with exaggeration — all recalling better times. I associate Casolas’s Pizza in Miami with great times shared with friends after spending a muggy day on the beach. I can remember many times standing on the side of the front counter letting the air conditioning soothe my sunburned skin while nibbling on complimentary samples of cheese pizza as I waited for my order.

The secret to Casola’s has always been the cheese — and they load mounds of it on a pie. Their cheese tastes tangier than most. It also helps that their slices are Godzilla-sized portions.

Perhaps the most unheralded of my favorite local pizza joints is East Side Pizza on 79th Street. Like many good joints, East Side isn’t big on fancy décor; however, their pepperoni slice is as high end as anyone’s in town.

My second favorite pizza parlor is in North Miami, Steve’s Pizza. The taste of their sweet tomato sauce and their delicious sausage is unparalleled.

I recently ran into an old college roommate at Steve’s. We sat and reminisced for hours. As time rolled on and our stories grew more inaccurate, the pizza seemed to have gotten tastier — as if all the flavors had settled and melded into perfection.

Great pizza maintains its great taste overnight. And no South Florida pizza is better tasting the next day, cold out of the fridge, than a slice from my favorite Miami pizzeria, Frankie’s Pizza on Bird Road where for 58 years (and counting) the Pasquarella family has been making their award winning, light and flavorful, square pies.

I had a slice at Frankie’s with my Mom before I went away to college. At one point in the conversation she said, “This will always be home, no matter how far away you go.” I’ve traveled long and far, and Frankie’s is still there, making great pizza and preserving my memories.

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