Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lopsided Pizza

Tonight I visited a pizza joint I have known about since July, but never patronized until now. I had high expectations of Talayna's, based on a taste of their pie furnished by a friend who swore by its quality.

In a city overrun by Italian eateries owned and operated by Italian-Americans, Talayna's is the odd pizza-and-pasta-place where the staff and the clientele alike come from a broad cultural spectrum. Its location is a little odd, too. Two blocks north of Forest Park Parkway on DeBaliviere - the street, two lights east of Skinker Road, that runs right past the St. Louis Art Museum in the park itself - it's not the easiest place to get to or even, for some longtime citizens, to visualize.

But it's there, believe me. It's there in all the earthiness of a battered wooden podium, walls painted in dark greens and reds, antique Italian posters, and one disconcertingly beautiful stained-glass window. It has a huge dining room - event planners take note - and its menu boasts the largest servings of pasta in the metro area, capable of feeding 2 to 4 people. There's even a 20-inch New York style pizza on the menu which, if one person can eat it in under an hour, comes with a $30 gift certificate.

I went in for a "small" New York style pizza, with pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. I have a nice burn on my lip to show for it. The crust was thin but not too thin, and certainly not crispy. The flavor was nice and peppery: nothing fancy, but imminently edible. It came with a bowl of parmesan cheese that I didn't use, and a couple of delicious rolls hot out of the oven. The rolls and the pizza shared a characteristic I haven't found in many Italian restaurants: their random shape.

The pizza was neither rectangular nor round. The rolls took the same lumpy irregularlity into a third dimension. Whoever cooked them wasted no time forming them into precise circles, squares, or ovoids. Oddly, I found this comforting. It brought the whole "handmade from scratch" concept to center stage.

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