The RN&R staff weighs in on local pizza joints
Black Rock Pizza Co.
Sparks Mercantile Center,
McCarran Boulevard and Pyramid Way
My initial impression of Black Rock Pizza was not favorable. The restaurant has picked up on a dirty habit that became popular among restaurant managements a decade or so ago and fortunately mostly died out—when serving a soda, the waiters tear part of the wrapping from around a drink straw and stick it into the soda with part of the torn wrapping still wrapped around the top of the straw.
There was nowhere to go from there but up, and it did. The setting is comfortable and has a family feel. The mushroom pizza, which was my choice, was very tasty and served very hot. Black Rock does not serve a pizza that is taken over by a bulky crust. That’s how I like it. As pizza in the Truckee Meadows goes, Black Rock is difficult to beat.
Black Rock has something else going for it. It is not part of a chain. It is not shipping local capital out of the valley every day, as chains do.
Blind Onion Pizza
3605 Kings Row, 747-7744
6405 S. Virginia St., 284-8900
Although not native to Reno, Blind Onion is definitely a local favorite. Each time I go in to the location on North McCarran Boulevard, the place is packed—and for good reason. Once you try a Blind Onion pizza, you’ll never settle for anything less.
I dragged my best friend Coby out of his video game cave with the promise of pizza and headed to Blind Onion. It was around 8 o’clock at night when we finally got around to eating, and I was starving, so I had called in our orders ahead of time. The pizzas, a personal (8-inch) Pesto and Broccoli with chicken ($8.76) for me, and a personal Carnivore ($9.25) for Coby were piping hot and ready to go when we got there about 20 minutes later. Just the sight of my pizza made my mouth water. The chicken looked perfectly grilled, the broccoli looked steamed and tender and the whole thing was surrounded by a perfectly browned, fluffy, braided crust––yum. Coby’s wasn’t furnished as delicately as mine; in short it looked like a mountain of steaming meat, which is precisely what he ordered.
I wasn’t the least bit disappointed by the pizza’s flavor, either. The combination of broccoli, pesto-alfredo sauce and sundried tomatoes was the perfect blend of tangy and creamy, although the chicken really didn’t have any flavor. I’m not the biggest fan of covering pizza in meat; I like to taste each flavor as I eat it, but I must admit that Coby’s pizza was every meat lover’s dream. I could almost taste each of the five types of meat distinctly, and the combination wasn’t overpowering.
My favorite part of eating any Blind Onion pizza is getting to the crust. Made of braided strips of dough and baked to perfection, the crust is crunchy on the outside and warm, soft and moist on the inside. Each piece of pizza is like its own meal—a salty, cheesy dinner finished off with a delectably sweet crust dunked in honey for dessert.
Though it’s too expensive for my taste ($22-$25 for a large), the Blind Onion is hands down my favorite pizza in town.
Blue Moon Gourmet Pizza
190 California Ave.,
Back in the day, Reno was a difficult place to get a great pizza. The local joints, like JJ’s, made fine, working-stiff pies, but the idea of gourmet pizza didn’t truly come to town until Blue Moon opened its doors in 1993. Fresh ingredients, unusual combinations, lightly sauced with a crust crisped to perfection—for a while, Blue Moon was the hippest, most talked about restaurant in town. The buzz has subsided, but the quality of the food has not slacked off in the intervening years.
These days—remember the Lakeside Drive store?—the restaurant resides in a brightly lit, cheery space with huge windows next door to the Biggest Little City Club, which can make for an excellent combo night: a Have A Heart (prosciutto ham, artichoke hearts, sprinkled with fresh garlic) and a couple of beers from next door, and lucky diners will leave on a food high. In addition to the signature pizzas, the Blue Moon offers calzones, a limited appetizer menu and salads that are as detail-oriented as the pies. The prices are about average for Reno with most of the pizzas costing 8-inch $6.50; 10-inch, $14.25; 13-inch, $19.73; 16-inch, $22.98.
1076 N. Rock Blvd., Sparks
Boulevard Pizza is a popular Sparks haunt, but from the outside it doesn’t look like anything special. I’m not even sure I would have seen the former Shakey’s if my stepdad, a Sparks native, hadn’t pointed it out. The interior hasn’t changed much from the old Shakey’s days. Orange carpet, wood paneled walls and picnic tables give Boulevard Pizza a run of the mill, greasy food joint vibe.
The six of us sat down at a table, the youngest ran off to the arcade, and the adults went to get some booze from the bar. At happy hour, my mom’s glass of Chardonnay was about $2, and a half pitcher of beer was only $3.50. Turns out, the pizzas aren’t as cheap as the drinks. Each of our pizzas, one large pepperoni and sausage and one large pepperoni and mushroom, were about $18 a piece.
The place was packed, and it took at least a half an hour for the pizzas to be ready. As soon as I saw the pepperoni, I knew that I was going to have to refill my drink. They were covered in grease. I took a piece of each pizza and, after dabbing off the grease with a napkin (go ahead, call me a lightweight), I went at it. Both pizzas were more salty than average, but they each had a good flavor. There was a generous amount of mozzarella on each, and that combined with the spicy tomato sauce gave them a good, basic pizza taste. The mushrooms were really my favorite part. They were fresh and gave the mushroom pizza some flair.
Boulevard’s pizza is above average, but it’s far from spectacular. Locals come for a family friendly place to hang out, and they stay for the happy hour.
Casale’s Halfway Club
2501 E. Fourth St.
There are many people who have never had a pizza. Oh, they’ve been sold something called that, but it often bears no resemblance to the Italian dish that came to these shores.
It has “evolved” and been laden with ingredients like pineapple, pistachios and ranch dressing. It’s unfortunate that when this process began a different name was not given to these mutations—pizza-ettes or pizza tarts or something so that real pizza retained its cachet.
Casale’s Halfway Club was founded in 1937 and in the decades since, the tides of pizza evolution have flowed around the little Lady and the Tramp-type place between Reno and Sparks. It has made some adjustments, but in the end, its pizzas are closer to the original Italian than anywhere in the valley. This means a basic, Spartan pizza that may dismay some—it certainly did me when I first had one. But I have been going to Casale’s long enough and tried its pizzas enough that I became hooked on them.
If what you’re into is exotic cheeses, artichoke hearts and other such upscale pretensions, Casale’s is not the place for you. If you are prepared for a pizza in which flavor and tradition are the sole consideration, Casale’s is outstanding.
3950 Mayberry Drive
Eclipse Pizza is hidden in plain sight. It’s in the shopping center on Mayberry Drive and McCarran Boulevard, but if you don’t know exactly where it is, you may drive around the lot for a while. But it’s so totally worth it. The staff is friendly, the décor bright and fun, the atmosphere frenetic at times. There is plenty of seating even in the busiest times, as the second floor is a dining area, and there are outdoor tables around much of the building—just pick your view.
This is one of the finer pizzas in Reno. Anything that could be fresh appears to be fresh. (Who on the planet has time for fresh artichoke hearts?) The regular menu has the specialty pizza selections, often standards with a twist, but there’s a hidden menu, available on the website, with more unusual selections and specials, like the The Luca$h Delight with pesto sauce, light mozzarella, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, pinenuts, sausage, jalapeño and fresh basil. The standard pizzas are priced from $7 on the low end for a small, and $20 on the high end for a large. The restaurant also offers a couple stuffed pizzas, a substantial salad menu and calzones.
JJ’s Pie Co.
555 W Fifth St.
You really can’t beat JJ’s Pie Co. for upbeat ambience. The walls are covered floor to ceiling with outdated sports calendars and vintage beer ads featuring scantily clad babes with frizzed-out ’80s hair. Little Leaguers run around hyped up on soda, and their college-aged counterparts sit hyped up on beer and argue with the umpires piped into the jumbo TV in the corner. It’s a real salt-of-the-Earth joint, a pizza party seven days a week.
The chicken wings and other appetizers are excellent, and the pizza is perfect MOR fare—the kind of introductory 101 slices you serve to a child if you want him to be a pizza-eater for life. The pies are thin, with toppings piled high, but the outer crusts are rolled thick, and served with dipping honey. The Hawaiian (from $11.35 for a 10-incher up to $22.60 for a 16-incher), pineapple and Canadian bacon, is a simple, standard pie, but at JJ’s, they really nail it. Great place with a nostalgic vibe—even if you stop in for lunch in December, it feels like you’re getting dinner in August after a day spent playing soccer or baseball.
Pub N Sub
1000 Ralston St.
I’m fortunate enough to live within a five-minute walk from Pub N Sub, which is great because it’s kind of the ultimate neighborhood hangout. The pizzas are terrific—the sauce especially deserves a shout-out—and the subs are almost as good. The fact that both the pizzas and sandwiches are good makes this place a great draw for big groups who can’t agree where to go for lunch. Plus, the relaxed backyard beer garden is a nice spot to split a couple of pitchers with your buddies.
The clientele is heavily and proudly collegiate—it’s also quick walking distance from many of the University of Nevada, Reno’s frat and sorority houses. Various Wolf Pack logos adorn much of the place—even the sign outside features a ravenous canine lupus about to wolf down a beer. The place opened in 1974 and has remained perpetually 21 years old ever since.
I met someone recently who claimed to be a UNR graduate but said that they had never been to Pub N Sub. I was, and remain, incredulous. Not to be a snob, but if you attended UNR anytime in the last 35 years and somehow have never been to Pub N Sub, you are not a true alumnus.
4380 Neil Road, Reno
I generally prefer experimental pizzas with unconventional combinations of ingredients or flavors, but something about the atmosphere at Semenza’s evokes a nostalgia for regular ol’ pepperoni. I chose to go all out for an essential American pizza experience—and I’m glad I did, because they get traditional pizza right.
I’d heard a lot about this place, which oddly enough seems to be known for their foods other than pizza, including garlic knots and chicken wings. I ordered both to split with my boyfriend, and we pretty much inhaled them. I could have eaten just that but the pizza was worth the overstuffed feeling I experienced afterward, a sign that I’ve consumed way too much bread. I loved the garlic with the pepperoni, a flavor combo that is unfortunately missing from too many pizzas. The crust was chewy but not too thick, and the amount of sauce and cheese was just enough for me. Those who prefer cheesier and saucier pizzas may want to request more or some on the side.
This place isn’t as sleek as others, but it’s clean, and completely unpretentious, which I appreciated. Luckily, it’s right down the street from my gym, so I won’t feel too bad when I return to gorge on more garlic knots.
3600 Warren Way
I’m not a vegan, but I can’t always handle the abundance of gluten-laden bread and ingredients that make pizza such a satisfying treat. While Reno has a few vegan gems, it can be hard to find a quick meal on the go. I try my best to support local establishments as much as possible, and ZPizza is a chain, but its many alternative options are hard to resist.
Their service leaves something to be desired, but generally the staff is pleasant. The décor is colorful, modern and open, although there always seem to be boxes or shipping materials around, which makes the food feel imported. I guess that’s to be expected from a chain. However, I was surprised at the freshness of the ingredients, and I love exotic pizza combinations, such as their Greek or Thai pizzas (both of which can come with vegan crust and meat alternatives upon request). They offer a build-your-own option, which is fun with their array of veggies and crust options, but it can get expensive if you aren’t paying attention to how many you select. They offer a two-slice and a drink special and the place is usually sparse around lunchtime, so it works well as a fast meal option without the fast food guilt.
Hopefully, other Reno pizza places will implement more vegan or gluten-free items into their menus, but for now ZPizza is a good quick stop.