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pizza

Margherita pizza from Coalition Pizza in Pineslopes

The Best Margherita Pizza in Joburg (or maybe the world)

UPDATE (May 2019): The Coalition Pineslopes location has closed. You can still eat Coalition’s delicious Margherita pizza at their location on Bolton Road in Rosebank, and they will soon be offering their “Kitchen Table” experience again at a new location in Sandton. Follow them on Facebook for updates.

A million years ago, I remember reading Eat, Pray, Love and getting to the part when Elizabeth Gilbert has a religious experience while eating a Margherita pizza in Naples. And I thought: Someday I too will go to Naples and eat a pizza like that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to go to Naples. But now that I’ve eaten a Margherita from Coalition Pizza in Joburg, the pressure is off.

I’m sure I’ll get lots of comments from people who have eaten pizza in Naples, disputing the title of this post. And I realize I don’t know what I’m talking about. But seriously, people: Have you been to Coalition and ordered the Margherita? If not, go do it now and then we’ll have a conversation.

Tables at Coalition Pizza in Pineslopes
Coalition Pizza in the Pineslopes Boulevard shopping centre in Fourways.

I’ve been eating at Coalition since it opened in Rosebank a couple of years ago (although inexplicably I never blogged about it other than a brief mention in a post I wrote about cocktails). I loved Coalition’s pizza from day one but it never occurred to me to order the Margherita. Why get a pizza with only tomatoes, basil, and cheese when there are so many other toppings to choose from?

Then a couple of months ago I received an invite to try out Coalition’s new “Kitchen Table” experience at their second location in Fourways. The experience is a three-course meal and wine-pairing, during which you watch Coalition chefs make mozzarella cheese and Margherita pizza from scratch.

I’ll never see Margherita pizza the same way again.

A Margherita Pizza Experience

After sipping a Negroni and watching the sun set over “Tuscany” (i.e. Montecasino) on the Coalition terrace, my friend Fiver and I and a few other foodies sat at the long bar facing the restaurant’s open kitchen. We spent the evening chatting with Shayne, one of Coalition’s owners, and Levis, Coalition’s rock star pizza chef, drinking delicious wine and eating the food Levis and Shayne prepared.

Shane Holt opening a bottle of wine at Coalition Pizza.
Shayne opens our first bottle of wine. The pizza oven is behind him.
Stellenrust Brut spumante, or "South African prosecco", served at Coalition Pizza.
A bubbly Chenin Blanc from Stellenrust. It’s called “Brut Spumante”, which is the South African version of Prosecco.
Mozzarella appetizer from Coalition Pizza.
The handmade mozzarella starter, accompanied by fresh peas and prosciutto. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of Levis making the mozzarella because I was too busy taking video clips for my Instagram story.
Margherita pizza going into the oven at Coalition.
Ready to go in the oven.
Margherita pizza from Coalition Pizza in Pineslopes
My finished pizza, accompanied by an orange-hued Chenin Blanc from Testalonga called “Stay Brave”.

It’s hard to explain what made this pizza taste so good. Maybe it was the crust, perfectly crispy and chewy at the same time. Maybe it was the fresh mozzarella, created in front of me moments earlier. Maybe it was the Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand right before they were spread onto the crust.

Or maybe it was just the whole vibe of the evening, which was perfect in every way. Worth the trek to Fourways for sure.

Coalition Pizza has locations at 2 Bolton Road, Parkwood (in the Park Corner complex near Rosebank) and Shop GF22 in the Pineslopes Boulevard shopping centre near Fourways. Book the Kitchen Table experience at Pineslopes for R380 ($26) per person (minimum four people, maximum six people).

My Kitchen Table experience was complimentary. Opinions expressed are my own.

Pizza from Ben's Pizza in Marshalltown

August Restaurant of the Month: Ben’s Pizza in Marshalltown

There’s a brick oven pizza restaurant in downtown Joburg and it’s open on Saturdays. It’s called Ben’s Pizza and it’s delicious.

Entrance to Ben's Pizza in MarshalltownBen’s Pizza.

Really, this is all you need to know. It’s not easy to find decent restaurants in the Joburg CBD. And Ben’s is more than a decent restaurant. It feels almost exactly like a New York City pizzeria, right down to the red-and-white checked tablecloths.

Ben's Pizza counterThe sign off to the side reads: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy pizza and that’s kind of the same thing.” Although it’s not visible in the photo, Ben’s has a brick pizza oven behind the counter.

I went to Ben’s on a Saturday evening with my friend Koketso. We split the Brigadier pizza, which has bacon, spicy chicken, and salami, and paired it with bottles of a Belgian cherry beer called Liefman’s. It was perfect. (Ben’s also serves pasta, burgers, calzones, and some other dishes. But I can’t imagine going there and not having pizza.)

While we were eating, Ben himself walked in wearing an Old Navy t-shirt with an American flag on it. There couldn’t be a more quintessential New York pizzeria owner. Don’t ask me why I didn’t take his picture.

Pizza from Ben's Pizza in MarshalltownPerfect dinner at Ben’s.

I love the location of this restaurant — Marshalltown one of my favorite parts of downtown Joburg. Ben’s is on Loveday Street, right near the little Joburg turret, Gandhi Square, and the pedestrianized section of Main Street.

If you’re still nervous to venture into the CBD, please check out this part of town. It’s safe, clean, and delightful. Street parking is freely available on weekends, although parking can be tricky during the week.

Ben’s is open Monday through Thursday until 7:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 8:00 p.m. This is meaningful because lots of restaurants in this area are are only open during the day on weekdays. Ben’s is closed on Sundays.

Ben’s Pizza is at 21 Loveday Street, Marshalltown. Call +27-11-492-0313.

Read the rest of my 2018 Restaurant of the Month series.

Jozi Pizza Wars: Episode 3

Most of you probably know about the JoziPizzaWars by now but if you don’t, read here. The war rages on.

Today’s post includes reviews of four diverse pizzerias. My co-conspirator Tim reviewed most of these places in his first JoziPizzaWars post, so check that out if you’d like to compare our opinions.

Here we go:

86 Public
The Grove, Melle and Juta Streets, Braamfontein

86 Public is, as far as I know, the only legit pizza place in trendy Braamfontein. It’s in a good location, off a courtyard in a popular student square called the Grove. 86 Public offers crazy topping combinations — bacon, dark chocolate, feta, and pear is just one example — sized medium or large, ranging in price from R60 ($5.00) to R100 ($8.50). The prices are comparatively high but you’re paying for the nice location and atmosphere.

86 Public’s pizza crust is light and crispy and I love the variety of toppings. But I think the sauce could use a few more herbs and spices. The veggie pizza I ordered was a bit bland, especially later on when eaten cold.

On a positive note, 86 Public has good, free wifi and plays great music.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 4
Flavor/sauce: 2.5
Cold factor: 3
Atmosphere/service: 5

Overall rating: 14.5/20

86 Public

I really dig the vibe at 86 Public. The pizza is good but not great, in my opinion.

Picola Pizza and Pasta
Linden Square Shopping Centre, Linden

Picola is a locals-only joint and I only know about it because my boyfriend used to live in Linden. Picola’s pizza is, in my opinion, among the very best in Joburg. The crust is the perfect thickness and consistency, the cheese is plentiful, the sauce is well seasoned, and the toppings are fresh and generously distributed. Picola also has good service.

However, Picola’s atmosphere is a major problem — cramped, smokey, and just not conducive to eating. So I can only recommend Picola for take-away. The good news is that take-aways are prepared amazingly fast at Picola, usually within 5-10 minutes of placing the order.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 5
Flavor/sauce: 5
Cold factor: 4.5
Atmosphere/service: 1

Overall rating: 15.5/20

Picola pizza closeup

The cheese is the best thing about Picola’s pizza. It’s perfect pizza cheese.

Picola outside

Picola’s location leaves a bit to be desired.

Toni’s Fully Furnished Pizza Co.
101 Lancaster Ave, Craighall Park

Toni’s Pizza is a Pretoria institution that opened a location in Joburg two years ago. The greatest thing about Toni’s in my opinion, is that they offer small, 15-centimeter-wide pizzas that cost less than half the price (usually between R30 and R40) of their full-size pizzas. The adorable 15-centimeter pizzas are perfect for one person. I can easily eat a whole one without feeling like I pigged out, and walk out of the restaurant spending less than R50 (about $4.25).

Toni’s pizza is also delicious. My only complaints are: 1) The pizzas need more sauce (a common problem with South African pizza); and 2) You have to pay extra for chiles. (WTF?)

Ratings:
Base/crust: 4.5
Flavor/sauce: 3.0
Cold factor: 4.5
Atmosphere/service: 4.5

Overall rating: 16.5/20

Toni's

My adorable little pizza from Toni’s. I wish I’d put something next to it for scale.

Andiccio24
Multiple locations

Tim and I made an exception to our rules in reviewing Andiccio, as it’s a chain with several locations around Gauteng province. (I guess Toni’s is technically a chain too, as it has three locations in Pretoria.) We decided to review Andiccio because: 1) It’s a relatively small chain, nothing like the big national/international brands; 2) We’d heard good things about their pizza (actually Tim had already tried it); and 3) Andiccio asked us to review them and we are easily flattered.

Andiccio is very different from most other Joburg pizza places in that its menu does not offer any set topping combinations. Instead, the customer chooses from a dizzyingly wide array of bases, cheeses, and toppings, creating his or her own unique pizza.

I chose the intriguing chakalaka base (chakalaka is a South African spicy tomato relish) with cheese, avocado, and brinjals (eggplant). I liked my pizza, especially the spicy base, but I was overwhelmed by all the choices — I would rather have at least a few set combinations to choose from. Also the open-ended topping selection process can jack up the price of your pizza very quickly if you’re not careful.

Tim and I ate at Andiccios’ Greenside location, which is pleasant enough albeit a bit fast-food-like. Andiccio offers free delivery and is open 24 hours a day — two perks that are relatively rare in Joburg.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 4.5
Flavor/sauce: 3.5
Cold factor: 4.5
Atmosphere/service: 2.5

Overall rating: 15.0/20

AndiccioPizza2

My Andiccio creation was very tasty, but I second-guessed my ingredient choices afterward.

End of round three. Here’s where we stand so far:

1) The Ant Café: 17.5/20
2) Chalkboard: 17/20
3) Modo Mio: 17/20
4) Toni’s Fully Furnished Pizza Co.: 16.5/20
5) YOLO: 16/20
6) Nonna Mia’s Kitchen: 16/20
7) Picola Pizza and Pasta: 15.5/20
8) Picobella: 15/20
9) Andiccio24: 15/20
10) 86 Public: 14.5/20
11) Gema Trattoria: 13.5/20

Click here to read all of my JoziPizzaWars posts. You can also follow the war on Twitter at #JoziPizzaWars.

Jozi Pizza Wars: Episode 2

Just before Christmas, my food-blogger friend Tim and I started a blog series called Jozi Pizza Wars. Our goal is to try as many of Joburg’s independently owned pizza places (no big franchises) as possible and rate them on a variety of factors. Eventually we’ll compile our scores and come up with a list of the ten best pizzas in Jozi.

I reviewed five pizza places in Episode 1, but for Episode 2 I’ve managed only two reviews. A girl can only eat so much pizza, you know? But the two places I’m reviewing today are important, as I’ve eaten at both of them countless times and they are popular spots in their respective neighborhoods.

Café Picobella Trattoria
66 4th Avenue, Melville

Picobella was a must-review for me because I eat there so often; it’s within walking distance of my house. Picobella is great to have in the neighborhood because of its opening hours — breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 356 days a year (including Christmas!). Along with the Ant and YOLO, which I reviewed previously, Picobella has some of the most popular pizza (as well as pasta and other dishes) in Melville.

Picobella outside

Picobella happens to be on Melville’s prettiest street corner, and has the prettiest aloe tree in town.

I always order the same thing at Picobella: The Veg Due pizza with baby tomatoes, melanzane (eggplant), pesto, halloumi, and rocket (arugula). I love this pizza and I have never found anything like it anywhere else.

But here’s the thing. The Veg Due is fantastic due to its unique combination of ingredients and flavors, but Picobella’s other pizzas don’t always measure up. On our most recent visit, my boyfriend ordered the Regina (ham and mushroom) and found it lacking in flavor. There wasn’t enough sauce or cheese and the ingredients weren’t well distributed. My Veg Due was fantastic as usual.

Picobella’s crust is pleasantly crispy and holds up well in the fridge. I also love the atmosphere at Picobella, especially outside on the deck.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 3.5
Flavor/sauce: 2.5
Cold factor: 4.0
Atmosphere/service: 5.0

Overall rating: 15/20

Picobella Veg Due

The Veg Due, one of my favorite pizzas in Joburg. (And Ray, my favorite person in Joburg.)

Chalkboard
286 Fox Street, Maboneng

Chalkboard, a pizza and craft beer joint in Maboneng, adjoins the popular Bioscope Theatre. I think Chalkboard was one of the first restaurants (“restaurant” is a bit of an overstatement — it’s more of a counter with a few picnic tables) to open in Maboneng, and if you’re a Maboneng regular then you’ve probably been to Chalkboard at least once.

I had been to Chalkboard many times — usually before or after an inner-city Instawalk — but had never paid close attention to the pizza until I went there this weekend specifically to review it for the blog.

Chalkboard veg pizza

A veggie pizza from Chalkboard.

Chalkboard’s pizza is great, in my opinion. The crust is thicker than average compared to most Joburg pizzas and the cheese is more plentiful, stretching away from the plate when you pick up a slice. My two friends and I shared two pizzas — one veggie and one with meat — and we all loved both of them. Be sure to ask for chiles on the side.

I can’t really comment on Chalkboard pizza’s “cold factor” because I’ve never walked away from Chalkboard with leftovers. (I’ll have to guess on that rating.) But I suppose this means that the pizza is good.

Chalkboard’s atmosphere isn’t much to speak of, especially right now because the chalkboards lining the walls are wiped clean. (Please bring back the colorful chalk graffiti, Chalkboard.) But the vibe outside is nice thanks to the great people-watching on Fox Street.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 5.0
Flavor/sauce: 5.0
Cold factor: 4.0
Atmosphere/service: 3.0

Overall rating: 17/20

Chalkboard cheese

Cheesy pizza from Chalkboard.

That’s the end of Jozi Pizza Wars episode 2. Here’s a recap of my ratings so far:

1) The Ant Café: 17.5/20
2) Chalkboard: 17/20
3) Modo Mio: 17/20
4) YOLO: 16/20
5) Nonna Mia’s Kitchen: 16/20
6) Picobella: 15/20
7) Gema Trattoria: 13.5/20

Tim also also posted another Jozi Pizza Wars episode today so check out his blog too. Tim has a very different approach to evaluating pizzas than I do, so it should be interesting when we combine our scores in the end.

If you have any suggestions for pizza places to include in the Jozi Pizza Wars, please send them along.

Jozi Pizza Wars: Episode 1

I used to believed that America had the best pizza in the world and I wouldn’t find good pizza in South Africa. That was nonsense. Johannesburg is a legit pizza town and the world should know this.

I’ve come to love pizza more in South Africa than I did in America. South African pizza is less about the crust, which is usually ultra-thin, and more about the toppings, which are fresher, more plentiful, and more diverse than those on the average American pizza. South African pizza always comes with ramekins of grated parmesan, garlic, and chiles — so much better than those powdered cheese and dried red pepper shakers in America.

YOLO pizza and toppings

 Avocado is a common pizza topping here. See the ramekins of garlic and chile in the background? American pizzerias need those.

I’ve been meaning to write about Jozi pizza for a while (my last pizza post was almost four years ago), but I’ve been caught up in the enormity of the task. There are so many good pizza places around Joburg. I don’t know how to choose which restaurants to write about or how to assess them objectively. Plus, one person can only eat so much pizza.

I decided that finding the best pizza in Joburg was too big a challenge to undertake alone. I almost scrapped the idea. But then my foodie friend Tim, who writes a blog called all-TIM-ate, mused in a recent post that there should be a list of Joburg’s top 10 pizzas. I immediately tweeted Tim and said I’ve been thinking the same thing. So we hatched a plan for the Jozi Pizza Wars.

Tim and I formulated a preliminary list of what we think are the top Jozi pizza places. (I’m sure this list will grow as we go along.) We will visit each restaurant and rate the pizza on several criteria, on a scale of 1 to 5:

1) Base/crust
2) Flavor/sauce (I’ll include toppings in this criteria)
3) Cold factor (how good the leftovers are the next day)
4) Atmosphere/service
5) Overall rating (total of all four criteria)

Tim and I won’t visit all the restaurants together or in the same order, but we will both review them all. Once we’ve eaten a critical number of pizzas, we will compile our scores and determine the 10 best pizzas in Joburg.

For my first installment I’ve rated five pizza places: Modo Mio, Gema Trattoria, YOLO, Nonna Mia’s Kitchen, and the Ant Café. I’ll rate more in future posts.

Modo Mio
335-339 Jan Smuts Avenue, Shepherd Market, Craighall

Tim and I met at Modo Mio to hatch our Jozi Pizza Wars plan. I had been there once before but hadn’t tried the pizza until I went with Tim. The pizzas we had were fantastic. Tim’s had porcini mushrooms and truffle oil, which I’d never had on pizza before, and mine had an interesting combination of chorizo, peppadews (tangy peppers), caramelized onions, and thyme. I wish they had a smaller option for their pizzas, as the one-size-fits-all pizzas are a bit large and expensive. But I love the atmosphere at Modo Mio, which is in a strange little parking lot just off Jan Smuts Avenue.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 3.5
Flavor/sauce: 5
Cold factor: 4
Atmosphere/service: 4.5

Overall rating: 17/20

Modo Mio outside

Modo Mio is a little hut built on a hidden square just across the road from Hyde Park Shopping Centre. 

Modo Mio

My pizza, called “spagnolo e peppadew”.

Gema Trattoria
Queens Road, Opposite Queens Place, Kensington

I went to Gema with friends who live near Kensington; Gema is their favorite dinner spot. Gema’s best selling point is that it’s a locals-only kind of joint — an old-fashioned Italian restaurant owned by an old-fashioned Italian family. I like that vibe. The pizzas are solidly good, with more basic ingredient combinations than many other Jozi pizza places. I enjoyed my spinach-bacon-feta pizza (feta is a popular South African pizza ingredient), but I didn’t fall in love with it as much as I wanted to. I also wasn’t blown away by the service. Gema is definitely good enough to go back to though.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 4
Flavor/sauce: 3
Cold factor: 3.5
Atmosphere/service: 3

Overall rating: 13.5/20

Gema pizza

My boyfriend’s pizza: Rocket (arugula) and parmesan. He found it slightly dry.

YOLO
3 7th Street, Melville

YOLO, which is right in my neighborhood, took a while to grow on me. Despite the glowing reviews I’d heard, I was underwhelmed the first time I went. But I like YOLO more each time I go, and the last time I absolutely loved it. There are so many interesting topping combinations and YOLO is one of the only pizzerias in Joburg where you can choose between different crusts and bases. I usually stick with the plain crust and tomato base, but the peppadew base is also delicious. The pizzas come in two sizes, which is great. My only complaint with YOLO is the atmosphere — I think the ambiance and service are a bit lackluster.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 4.5
Flavor/sauce: 5
Cold factor: 4
Atmosphere/service: 2.5

UPDATE: Sadly, YOLO closed its doors in late 2015. Another great Melville restaurant, come and gone. Sniff.

Overall rating: 16/20

YOLO pizza

The Percy special — bacon, salami, red and green peppers, onions, mushrooms, chili, avocado, and garlic — with the traditional crust and Napoletana sauce. (Percy is YOLO’s owner and a legendary Joburg pizza chef.) 

Nonna Mia’s Kitchen
Corner Grant Ave. and Henrietta Rd., Norwood

Tim’s October review of Nonna Mia’s sparked the Jozi Pizza Wars project in the first place. Nonna Mia’s is a new spot in Norwood, on the site of an old Cappello’s chain restaurant. I had lunch in the casual downstairs section (there’s a formal dining room upstairs) and liked the boisterous atmosphere. I also loved my square pizza, which felt authentically Italian. Nonna Mia’s pizza crust is thicker than most Jozi crusts, which means it holds up well in the fridge, and the pomodoro sauce is flavorful. I’d like to see a few more creative topping combinations on the menu though. Nonna Mia’s pizzas are available in three sizes and the smallest size is perfect for one.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 4
Flavor/sauce: 3.5
Cold factor: 4.5
Atmosphere/service: 4

Overall rating: 16/20

Nonna Mia

Nonna Mia’s, packed at lunch on a December public holiday.

Nonna Mia pizza

My square pizza with chicken, peppers, and mushrooms.

The Ant Café
11 7th Street, Melville

My love for the Ant, Melville’s oldest pizzeria, is totally biased. The Ant is the first place where I ate pizza in South Africa and I have many fond memories there. I love the dark, wood-smokey, grungy-yet-romantic interior, which has a ton of character. I even love the apathetic service. (I’ve given a high rating for atmosphere/service even though the service is slow. Just part of the Ant experience.) I love the paper-thin pizza crust — invented by the mercurial Ronnie van Der Walt, the Ant’s original owner — even though it doesn’t do well in the fridge. The leftover issue isn’t a problem for me because I usually eat the whole pizza. I love the tried-and-true topping combinations: My favorites are the bacon-avo-feta pizza and the Italian pizza. Quirks aside, the Ant is my favorite and it probably always will be.

Ratings:
Base/crust: 5.0
Flavor/sauce: 4.5
Cold factor: 3.5
Atmosphere/service: 4.5

Overall rating: 17.5/20

The ant server

I love the Ant’s pizza boards. (Photo: Jon Hrusa)

Roy at Ant

This photo of my friend Roy is inappropriate and has nothing to do with pizza. But it’s my favorite picture from the Ant.

That’s the end of Jozi Pizza Wars Episode 1. Winner of this episode: The Ant! (Note that the Ant also won the first round on all-TIME-ate, and Tim is not biased like I am.)

The series will run concurrently on all-TIM-ate so please follow along there as well. You can track our progress on Instagram and Twitter by following the #JoziPizzaWars hashtag.

PS: This is my last Jozi post of the year. Tomorrow I am off to a faraway place for the holidays.

Melville Pizza: Think Thin

South Africa is not known for pizza, and you certainly won’t find authentic New York- or Chicago-style pies here. (I recently saw a Facebook photo of someone eating Ray’s Pizza in New York. It looked so delicious — I nearly wept.)

But there is pretty decent pizza to be had in Melville. I’ve become a fan of two restaurants, both of which serve pizza of the ultra-thin-crust variety. The atmosphere of both places will give even the coolest New York pizzeria a run for its money.

My top pick is the Ant, which I described briefly in a previous post. I didn’t get back with my camera until today though, and the essence of the Ant is best conveyed through pictures.

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