Trail Mix: Howie’s Artisan Pizza

Oct. 22, 2010, 12:44 a.m.

Trail Mix: Howie's Artisan Pizza
Pizza-maker Victor Hernandez spins pizza dough in preparation for an order at Howie's Artisan Pizzas in Palo Alto. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

Trail Mix: Howie's Artisan Pizza“Pizza” can mean very different things to different people. From the ultra-thin slices of New York-style pizza to the heart-clogging donut with cheese that Chicagoans call pizza, it is not always clear what you are going to get when you walk into an independent pizza operator. Perhaps the confusion stems from the fact that the history of the plate is uncertain. The dish has roots that appear to span at least ancient Greek, Roman, Babylonian and Egyptian cultures, although at least in name it might be most closely associated with the Romans, who contributed the word “picea,” meaning “the blackening of bread in an oven.” Fortunately for visitors to Howie’s Artisan Pizza, you can be fairly certain that you will find something to enjoy. In general, expect a dough roughly on par with something New York-style and a light approach to cheese and sauce that lets the other toppings shine through well.

Howie’s has a casual sit-down vibe. The venue could function well for lunch or dinner with friends. The décor gives off a bit of a sense of “chain restaurant,” but it fits overall with the Town & Country Village air.

Many of the pizzas at Howie’s were excellent. The “Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto & Scallion” pizza was absolutely fantastic. The sun-dried tomato pesto was perfectly sweet, and the dish was refreshingly light. “The Works” was interesting as well. The pizza was a great mix of sweet (red onion and sweet peppers) and savory (pepperoni, sausage and salami) that balances an otherwise motley crew of ingredients. The same wonderful balance was achieved with the “Cherry Tomato, Smoked Mozz’, Salami” pizza. The plate also effused a particularly pleasing aroma that is difficult to forget.

Other pizzas were good but not great. The “Broccoli Raab & Bagna Cauda” pizza was extremely heavy on the garlic, which is wonderful for those that love garlic (like myself) but made it difficult to eat alongside other dishes or pizzas. The “Baked Potato Pizza” had an amazing rosemary flavor to it; however, the potato and bacon made the dish a bit heavy, and the starchiness of the potato made it difficult to really appreciate the gruyere underneath. The “Sausage & Roasted Red Onion” pizza was solid, with the pepper in the sausage coming through at just the right strength; the onion, however, was not as sweet as it could have been, and this pizza paled in comparison to the sweet and savory mix that “The Works” provided. The “Pizza Margherita” was crisp, light and flavorful with a beautiful aroma, but it was a bit lacking in basil content. While it was very good, its allure is probably overshadowed by the “Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto & Scallion” pizza for those looking for a vegetarian option.

The only disappointment was the “Pepperoni” pizza. The dish was incredibly mundane. Nothing made it standout from any other pepperoni pizza and is likely only on the menu to please those who were dragged into coming to an “artisanal” pizza restaurant.

Pizza is not the most complicated dish. When looking for pizza, what’s needed is a restaurant committed to fresh ingredients with interesting combinations of toppings, and Howie’s generally succeeds on those dimensions. There is certainly still room for other pizza places in the rolodex, but Howie’s is “definitely worth trying.”

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