Pie-eating contest

Two pizzerias--one new, one ancient--are legitimate contenders for Dallas' best

That's OK. There's not much service, but what there is, is friendly. If you want a slice of a type of pizza that's not under the lights, they'll make it up fresh--and gladly--even near closing time. And once the pizza comes, you won't feel depressed anymore, anyway.

You might even be glad if you're alone because you won't have to share. This is good pizza. The crust is puffed on the sides, flattened in the middle only by the weight of the cheese. The ingredients--sauce, cheese, toppings--are distributed in perfectly correct proportion to each other, the hallmark of good pizza. Those who try but don't understand overload their pizza with sauce or cheese or toppings, forgetting the Tao of pizza. The harmony of the three is what makes a pizza sublime.

Lovers serves pasta, too. (I've never tried it.) And stuff like salads. (Only if you're really desperate.) But Lovers' calzone is their secret weapon. (I don't know why they call it Lovers Pizza "and Pasta" when they serve this calzone.) Brown and barely curved, like some smooth-skinned croissant on steroids, its crust is split at the widest point before it's served, and the cheese flowing out of the wound is sprinkled with bright green parsley. The bread itself is crisp, hollowed over the river of cheese, yeasty but not doughy. The cheese is a gentle mix of mellow mozzarella and whitest ricotta, lovely in its bland subtlety, melting to cream. Alone, it's barely flavored; just the textures--crisp and creamy--and the delicately fermented aromas of cheese and yeast combine to make this comfort food of the highest order. But a dish of warm tangy marinara allows you to season your sandwich as wetly as you wish. It's a huge, ridiculous thing for one person to order, and I don't know any reheating tricks. This calzone is an ephemeral pleasure.

Location Info

Map

Lovers Pizza Pasta

5605 W. Lovers Lane
Dallas, TX 75209

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Park Cities

Al's Pizzeria is slightly more atmospheric than Lovers. There are hanging lamps made of that pizza-parlor Tiffany-style stained glass, there are lots more tables, set with brass bentwood-style chairs, and there are classical-style urns and busts cast from concrete. There are some hopeless ivy baskets and some soccer posters. It has at least the pretense of decor.

Pizza is best eaten in the glow of red neon; here it flashes "open." It's best eaten in the company of policemen, who appreciate bulky, comforting food; there are always a couple at Al's. Al's seems like a happier place than Lovers, mostly because Al's is often full of regulars, and Lovers hasn't been around long enough to have many of those.

This is not Al's first location, only its latest. The wall is covered with clips and articles starring Al's and its pizza. In fact, Al's is a byword in Dallas, a relic, a holdover from the days when the only other pizza in Dallas was built on a cracker crust in identical chain links. People over the age of 18 probably didn't eat much pizza then. The few who'd learned to love it elsewhere knew about Al's, and they probably still seek it out.

This is a pie worth pursuing. You order at a counter, again, but here you can have beer--draft or bottled--if you like, or a brimming glass of wine. Don't order a salad; get your minimum daily requirements elsewhere. This bowl of cold yellow leaves and sour dressing isn't worth even $1.75. Just sip, instead, and when your pizza's ready, it will find you. Make way.

At Al's, we liked a combination pie of pepperoni and black olives, with ricotta. The big bubbled crust is pale, even brown around the edges. It's bland, the most basic of doughs, no more than flour, yeast, and water--I don't even taste salt. It's blobbed with puddles of ricotta melted into flat pools as white as Elmer's glue, and spotted with red concave discs of pepperoni, punctuated all over with shiny black olive O's. The whole surface is richly glistening with golden oil. Under the cheese mantle, the crust is only barely brushed with tomato sauce, instead of it squeezing out in a toothpaste squelch of red when you take a bite (or bear down with a fork, as I prefer, even though this pizza comes on an aluminum pie plate and makes a horrible fingernail-blackboard scrape against a fork).

Again, the balance is perfect, the middle way attained. Wait till the pizza cools and the cheese congeals just slightly before you eat it, so the flavors meld together and the bread and cheese form a more lasting bond. Perfect pizza enlightenment.

There's no point in dessert, though cheesecake is available. And I have to admit I've never tried and am not likely to try the baked ziti. I suspect the pizza heroes are good, and I know the calzone is good, though not, in my opinion, the marvel that Lovers' calzone is.

The question is, do these places serve the best pizza in Dallas? The answer: could be, could be.

Al's Pizzeria, 159 Walnut Hill Village at Bachman Creek, 350-2171. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Friday 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday 10 a.m.-midnight. Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Lovers Pizza and Pasta, 5605 W. Lovers Lane, 353-0509. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. -11 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Lovers Pizza and Pasta:
Calzone
$3.95
Medium pizza
(one topping) $6.95

Al's Pizzeria:
Small calzone: $3.75
Medium pizza
(one topping) $8.50

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