Let’s face it, many of us have become pizza snobs in this day and age of Rossovivo. The way Rossovivo’s Bufalina makes your nostrils flutter with pleasure as you bring a slice up to your face, the vibrant tomato sauce and creamy buffalo mozzarella sliding about your tongue, the tender flavour-laden crust making you emit all sorts of sounds that should never be emitted in public – the whole experience is intoxicating. So much so that I’m shocked it’s not illegal. Having seen that side of Neapolitan authenticity, I admittedly feel very cheap and guilty about enjoying the Indo-Pak fusion style of topping mishmash that I've witnessed at Pizza Pub. But enjoy it I do.
Against my strongest wishes to not fall prey to a pizza that many would shun as ‘fast food,’ I find myself staring back at an empty pizza plate – one that just fifteen minutes ago, had held a slender herb-peppered disc fertile with briny Kalamata olives, salty feta, slivers of ginger, fresh tomatoes, wrinkled-up sundried tomatoes and garlic somewhere underground, invisible to the view but obvious to the tasting. That well-seasoned disc of a Sarina Pizza – number 7 on a menu crammed with 76 pizza variations that might have pizza makers in Italy rise up in revolt – is snug in my stomach.
Despite matting their pizzas with a glossy bubbly swathe of mediocre quality mozzarella cheese, Pizza Pub redeems its crust with generous handfuls of herbs, garlic and a controversial addition – salt. Not just a dot, but a nice hefty drizzle. For those who love their salty za’atar and akkawi cheese on a manousheh or the salty Kraft cream cheese and honey feteer (one that usually wins out on my food tours, even in the face of sophisticated dishes like dessert truffles.), you will understand why the salt shower is not a bad thing. No matter that the health freaks cry foul, salt enhances accompanying flavours and well-salted pizzas deserve to be recognized on a separate sodium podium of their own.
Their pizzas might be anything, but what they are not is under seasoned. For 22 dirhams of a small, surprisingly fulfilling pizza, you may not have cherry tomatoes just plucked off the vine, but you get the flavour you pay for – and maybe a few fantasy toppings that pizza purists would dare not speak publicly about. Like maybe throwing a bunch of cilantro on a Spicy Thai-inspired pizza and smearing it ever so slightly with a sweet peanut sauce that, just as you overlook it for the crunchy smattering of sprouts and peanuts, delivers the cockiest after-burn. This pizza was a Vietnamese banh-mi in its previous life. And it’s the pizza you’d never want to admit you enjoyed, but damn you if you didn’t steal the last slice.
With more alliteration than ale to its name, Pizza Pub is an unlicensed pizza haunt in an unassuming nook of Satwa. My strategy with them is to cull through their hideously long menu 45 minutes before I walk in to the restaurant, give myself 10 minutes of vacillation where the BBQ chicken might unexpectedly win over the Sarina pizza in a leap of faith, walk to the car, and then place my order 25 minutes before I reach. No takeout, yes dine in please. The kitchen is anything BUT a lean, mean pizza-pumping machine, and pre-ordering the way I typically do ensures instant gratification minutes after you sink into the screechy chairs by the cashier.
The BBQ Delight pizza (pictured above) has won in those moments of vacillation in the past, simply because it indulges my love for sweet-smoky sauce, the kind that makes even cardboard taste good - and Pizza Pub's pizzas are thankfully not of the cardboard variety that might be found in less worthy pizza haunts around the city. Red onions, chicken, beef bacon bits, fistfuls of mozzarella and yolk-like smears of cheddar are knitted together across a crust that breaks out into fat dough pimples around the edges, giving you a result that is quite distant from the ideal of purist pizza refinement. But this pizza, and something about the Tuscany Tenderloin with its sauced-up meaty bits tucked under buckets of oregano-flecked cheese, something about these pies remind me of the homemade ones I ate growing up in an Indian family. Except that at home, we never used tenderloin on a pizza, or definitely not tenderloin that resembled razor-thin, air-dried slices of beef jerky. Serves me right for supposing I can get Tenderloin in 22 dirhams.
But snooty judgments aside, Pizza Pub has been baking up its pies for the last nine years and seems to be one of those quiet places that has its fixed set of patrons and delivery orders. It’s one of those neighbourhood places you don’t call a destination, but one that will more than rescue you when a craving for comfort food hits in Old Dubai.
The Chicken Cajun with capsicum and peri peri sauce has been been my least favourite, mostly because the sauce was some distant cousin of an Indian chicken curry puff, one of those rare baked items that I’ve never fancied. Capsicum on a pizza has also never called out to me, I’d much rather shove them off for plump juicy slivers of roasted eggplant – like the kind I tried with salty feta, caramelized onions and golden pine nuts on the Moroccan pie (pictured below). What gave this pie claim to Morocco is still a mystery, I’d be willing to wager that it was not the salty basil pesto hiding beneath the cheese. But national mysteries aside, I’d be lying if I were to say that I wouldn’t order this pizza again.
In addition to the laundry list of pizzas, Pizza Pub throws you into an increasingly convoluted carb quandary with its pasta options \. I’d only read dismal reviews about the pasta, so quite naturally…we had to order one. Thanks to Potson who gets full credit for both introducing me to Pizza Pub and ordering a wildcard pasta dish, I find a wide bowl of Penne Pesto Caprino land on the table. The white sauce is the sort of comforting cream that laps about the bowl, coating the skins of well-cooked penne and only occasionally interrupted with a healthy green lurking behind a slab of potato.
There is no hint of the promised goat cheese in the sauce, which might be a good thing else we’d have been creamed-out two spoonfuls into the dish. And again, for the price we paid, we were not expecting imported chèvre. My only suggestion to the chef – kill the potatoes. A fresh burst of cherry tomatoes would have livened the pasta game up so much more than what is bound to become a stodgy cream sauce affair a quarter portion through the bowl.
I would love to tell you about the Chocolate Pizza or the Log Cabin Waffle, which Potson read with the smooth, tempting flourish that is often reserved for TV chocolate ads: ‘Homemade and Heavenly Waffle. Topped with caramel syrup, served with ice cream.’ But tantalizing menu readings aside, I’ve yet to convince someone to split a portion of either dessert with me.
It’s up to you to decide if you want a slice of Pizza Pub. If you’re willing to give it a shot, try to temporarily archive the image of a Neapolitan pizza in some hidden folder of your mind. Simply tag the dish as ‘toppings on bread’ – an easier and more inclusive notion of a concept that has probably sprouted up in multiple places around the Old World whether or not it was called pizza, and whether or not a committee was appointed to dictate its dimensions. Try not to be offended with the salt, and don’t baulk at the tomato sauce served aside the pizza – many Indians and Pakistans love a good splash of the bottled gloop. Know that any pizza listed with 'habnaro' comes with its own terribly misspelled but appropriately spicy habanero kick, and that you should drop the Chanel shades so you can look past the tenderloin and chèvre and focus on ingredients that make sense in a 22-dirham pizza.
But most importantly, don’t sit at the long six-chaired table by the window, the chairs tend to screech like chalk on a whiteboard.
Post note: Marcus (in the comments below) made a very valid point that I hadn't elaborated on the crust. Point well-taken Marcus, and I'm reinserting the bits of my post that I'd edited out for brevity. In a nutshell, the crust is not a strip of cardboard nor a soggy spineless mess, but it's definitely not in the league of artisanal pies.
Pizza Pub puts out a crust that does not have the hand-tossed, cratered and depressed, chewy and crusty quality that a top-notch pizza should have, nor does it boast the char of a wood-fired oven. Every wheel of pizza has a plain Jane, flat pan, monotonously uniform surface area that has often made me question whether the crust is store-bought - though it definitely tastes far better than the cardboard you'd buy off the shelves. The server confirmed that the crust was made in-house, likely passed through rollers and perforated with a dough docker. Even asking for additional char on the crust didn't lead to anything wildly different, the dough is simply what it is and doesn't aspire to be anything more. What I like about the crust is that it is a sturdy enough mount for the barrage of toppings, not one of those wishywashy rags that just flimsily flops all over the plate, nor over-baked to the point where you'd rather take a bite out of a hockey puck. And most importantly, it does taste fresh.
In essence, not a crust that would win any competition, let alone qualifying to enter. But definitely not a crust that offends.
Al Mina Road, Al Hudaiba Building M3 Shop #7, Satwa
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