Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
While there’s something to be said for a slice of plain-as-paint pepperoni, or even a wedge of good old cheese pizza, our champagne taste means that we’ve always been a fan of going straight to the top of the list.
“Supreme” is one of those big, scary words — built around the same stuff as “superior” — that’s meant to strike fear into the hearts of rivals. If you’ve got the guts to call a pizza you make “The Supreme,” you’d better have the stuff to back it up.
With that in mind, we decided to go in search of Little Rock’s supremist supreme. Checkbook: Open. Size: Large. Toppings: Whatever ain’t nailed down or plumbed to the wall back in the kitchen.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s the tale of the tape.
923 W. Seventh St.
They Call It: “Vino’s Special”
Diameter: 16 inches
Weight: 4 lbs, 6.5 oz.
Cost: $16.75 (28 cents per ounce)
Toppings: Extra cheese (as compared to their standard pies), pepperoni, mushrooms, Italian sausage, onions, meatballs, green peppers, green and black olives.
Sauce: Especially tasty — thick and dark red; very herb-y, with maybe a hint of basil and rosemary.
Crust: Vino’s definitely features one of the better crusts we sampled on this odyssey: a thick, buttery foundation with just a hint of beery flavor and a slight, welcome crispness. Beyond tasting great right from the oven, Vino’s crust handily fulfilled the secondary goals of pizza crust since the beginning of time: Keep the sauce from seeping through the pizza box and staining my car seat on the way home, and don’t go all leathery on me in the refrigerator.
Verdict: God bless Vino’s, haunt of our storied youth. If we could only tell you how many times we downed a slice of their Special during a night on the town … well, we would, but the truth is we don’t quite remember a good many of those. Fond memory bonus points aside, Vino’s Special is still top notch — a big, hearty, soak-up-the-brew pie. On top are scads of nicely minced goodies, loads of cheese, and one of our favorite pizza toppings: green olives (you’d be surprised how a sprinkling of green olives will wake up an ordinary pizza). The Vino’s Special could have used a few more onions, but — then again — who knows how many late-night hookups have been saved by their restraint when it comes to the laying on of the breath-bombs? Pair this pie with one of Vino’s in-house microbrews, and you’ve got a lovely way to say “I love you” to your beer belly.
201 E. Markham St.
(between Scott and Cumberland)
They Call It: “Sweep the Floor”
Diameter: 16 inches
Weight: 4 pounds, 4 oz.
Cost: $15.15 (22 cents per ounce)
Toppings: Cheese, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives
Sauce: Sweeter than most, though not overpoweringly so.
Crust: Though we’ve found that Iriana’s crust is a little too robust for their simpler pies (pepperoni and cheese, for example), when you load it to the gills and give it something to riff on, it becomes something close to the perfect pizza foundation. Chewy in the middle, more crispy as you head toward the ample rim, Iriana’s crust has a subtle, beery flavor to it. Hot from the oven, it’s almost puffy. Box it up to take home — giving everything a little soak time — and it drinks in all the juicy goodness of the toppings and sauce, creating a little slice of heaven.
Verdict: If you don’t turn up your nose to a thicker, more al dente crust (we’re talking to you, U.S. Pizza fans), Iriana’s Sweep the Floor very well could be the finest expression of the loaded pizza in town. Heavy on the cheese, with a sweet melody of toppings (the shredded onions are a nice refrain) and a price that won’t break your wallet, it was neck and neck with Damgoode’s Supreme as this writer’s favorite of the bunch when it came to pure flavor. Add to that a high weight-to-bucks ratio and a mucho-convenient location if you’re a River Market-area office troll like us, and you’ve got yourself a fine dinner with enough left over for an equally fine breakfast in the morning.
313 President Clinton Ave.
They Call It: “Chicago-style
Diameter: 14 inches
Weight: 6.68 pounds
Cost: $18.95 (18 cents an ounce)
Toppings: Cheese, green peppers, pepperoni, Italian sausage, hamburger, onions, mushrooms
Sauce: A chunky, basil-flavored red sauce, with dime-sized bits of tomato. And there’s about a gallon of it.
Crust: There’s a crust?
Verdict: With the sauce ladled on top, the Gusano’s Chicago-style supreme might be the ugliest thing called a pizza since you and your college roomie tried to make one out of whole wheat tortillas, Velveeta and turkey jerky. Don’t judge a book by the ol’ cover, though. There’s a soul under all that goop: lots of cheese, ample toppings, and man-sized hunks of flavorful Italian sausage. Still, it’s pretty much a pizza casserole in a dish made of bread. (Gusano’s offers this pie in a cheaper thin crust, but we called up and asked for the large supreme, and this is what we got.) Fully two inches thick, it tops out as the heftiest pizza on our list — even though it’s one of the more petite competitors diameter-wise — and was so heavy that we had to break out the big, big scale to weight it. Eating the thing isn’t the standard fold-and-stuff maneuver, either. Plate and fork are not only suggested, they’re pretty much required. Optional but recommended is the Lil’ Abner/Jethro Bodine napkin in the shirt collar, which — if you’re a sloppy eater — could keep you from leaving the table looking like an extra from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
6706 Cantrell Road
They Call It: “The Supreme”
Diameter: 14 inches
Weight: 4 lbs., 7 oz.
Cost: $17.90 (25 cents an ounce)
Toppings: Cheese, pepperoni, Italian sausage, ground beef, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives, onions
Sauce: Though they offer eight (count ’em!) different sauces for their pies, we stuck with the tried and true red sauce — a chunky, tongue-tingling-spicy concoction with just a hint of sweetness.
Crust: Carrying on their theme of having it your way, Damgoode offers three different crusts: thin, hand-tossed, and cheese-stuffed. While their thin crust is one of our faves when we’re in the mood for that sort of thing, we went with the hand-tossed. Nice and fluffy, obviously made by human hands, Damgoode’s crust has a great buttery flavor and a texture that’s just about perfect. As a bonus, they baste the outside rim with garlic/basil butter, so the edge is as tasty as any breadstick.
The Verdict: While we weren’t quite blown away by Damgoode’s pies when we first visited their original shop up in Hillcrest, we must admit that their Supreme has grown on us quite a bit over the years. With loads of cheese, a nice crust, a really good mix of toppings and enough of that fine red sauce to marry everything up with a nice zing, it’s a real winner. As I’ve said in these pages before: If there’s a Little Rock pie that could rival this writer’s love for the Godfather over at Rod’s Pizza Cellar in Hot Springs (sadly disqualified here for being an out-of-towner), Damgoode’s Supreme might be it. Since then, of course, I’ve tried the Iriana’s Sweep the Floor, resulting in the most serious love triangle I’ve been involved in since Whole Hog Barbecue came to town and challenged for the greasy little spot I had made for Sims Barbecue at the center of my pork-loving heart. One man, torn between two beautiful Italian lovers. Oh, the drama!
2814 Kavanaugh Blvd.
They Call It: “The Supreme”
Diameter: 13 inches
Weight: 2 lbs., 7 oz.
Cost: $13.95 (36 cents an ounce)
Toppings: Cheese, pepperoni, onions, green peppers, beef, sausage and mushrooms
Sauce: Nicely-spiced and complicated flavorwise; doesn’t tend to overpower the rest of the ingredients the way the sauce can at other pizza joints.
Crust: Finally a nod to those of you who think thin is in. The standard crust at U.S. Pizza has long been our favorite when we find ourselves craving more crisp dough — a thin (but not cracker-like) foundation with a good bit of tooth to it. Don’t let its waifishness fool you, though. As far as taste goes, the crust at U.S. can hang with the fat boys.
Verdict: Though this writer usually goes for something more hefty when it comes to pizza, we can see why the four U.S. locations in Little Rock (including their new location on Baseline in SWLR, opened in ’06) are always packed any time we drive by. Their take on the supreme might be small, but it’s mighty. The thin crust is well appointed, with coarsely chopped toppings (though a little heavy on the mushrooms) and a fine blend of interesting cheeses. It all adds up to a great, no-nonsense pie that still has surprises in store after spending a night in the fridge. For ambiance points, add the fact that the Hillcrest incarnation of U.S. — an ex-filling station, complete with tiny outdoor bathrooms in the back — is one of our favorite summertime sit-a-spell spots in town, with views of foot traffic outside along picturesque Kavanaugh. Get yourself one of their fine pies, some interesting dinner companions, and a cold beer, and you’ve got what we call: “Cheap Entertainment.”