I've always felt that pizza is one of those dishes that is easy to make at a half-decent level, but difficult to do exceptionally well. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that the standards for judging pizza are wildly divergent; is it all about interesting and inventive toppings, or is it about getting the most perfect wood-fired base? Rarely do the two come together in the one pizza, as progressives like Little Caesar's tend to make incredible toppings on largely unremarkable bases, while in their attempts to not mess with the formula, conservative wood fire traditionalists tend to rely on age-old classic combinations rather than dare to try new things.
Its for this reason I rarely am in the mood for pizza, meaning that many pizza places that we've been recommended have fallen done the queue somewhat. Neighborhood Pizza for example was recommended to us months ago but fell by the wayside as other eateries to priority. Located in an unremarkable looking building on Anvil Lane just off the main strip of Mount Hawthorn, Neighborhood Pizza is not the kind of place you'd just stumble upon. The handwritten scrawl above the door that serves as signage is invisible during their night time opening hours, following the hipster-baiting marketing trend that word of mouth and being in the know is paradoxically better for business than clear signage would be.
And this place wears its rock & roll hipster trendiness on its sleeve - mismatched chair are tucked in behind long share tables, while hand stencilled AC/DC lyrics feature against the back wall.
Mismatched as it is, colour coordination cleverly ties everything together with red, black and wood tones creating a common colour scheme.
The nudge that finally pushed us to checking this place out was the 31st birthday of our friend Jarrad Marshall, seen here with his partner Lexi Rollins.
Alissa and I arrived early, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the party was to be held in a functions room located at the rear of the venue...
... filled with inviting areas to lounge while trying out the establishment's pizzas.
But of course hipster style can only take you so far - at the end of the day its the quality that matters. Perusing the menu boards upon walking in showed a lot of consideration had gone into the flavour combinations on offer, such as a refined spicy Hawaiian in the form of Speck, Pineapple, Fresh Tomato, Jalapeno with a Red Base (back left) and fashionable Kale being the star of the Kale, Spicy Salami, Bocconcini, Pecorino, Drizzle of Chilli Oil with a Bianca Base (forward right).
With so many hungry guests I didn't get to try the first two pizzas, however I managed to snag a slice of the Fennel Sausage, Roasted Tomato, Parmesan, Fresh Rocket, Pine Nuts with a Red Base. Taking a bite of the pizza, the first thing I noticed was how impressive the base was - nice and fluffy, super soft and airy inside, while having enough crispness to maintain structural integrity, along with the kind of tasty crust that is worth eating. A rookie mistake when trying to make a pizza more tasty is to simple overload it with ingredients, but their was a considered restraint here that showed the skill and confidence in the kitchen. The red sauce base had a lovely freshness and ripe tomato flavour to it, containing all the reliably acidic umami flavour of tomatoes without resorting to the overly thick concentrate of generic pizza sauce. Lighter sauce meant a lower level of cheese was needed, and the ratio of Bread:Sauce:Cheese was spot on for a less artery-clogging but unquestionably delicious style of pizza. What we initially thought was a mild chorizo ended up being fennel sausage - a better, more mildly complex flavour that was nicely complemented by the butteriness of the pine nuts and the fresh peppery quality of the rocket. This was not pizza as junk food, but rather something altogether more refined, made by people who really know what they're doing.
Next up was the Margherita. Being a fairly simple classic, it has never been a pizza I've been particularly excited about but it does serve as a good way to benchmark how a pizza place deals with the bare minimum of toppings. Neighborhood Pizza's version was exemplary; the based was again perfectly cooked, the restrained ratio of tomato sauce and cheese were spot on, with the freshness of the basil tying it all together. With more exciting combinations on offer its hardly the best pizza on the menu, but for traditionalists looking for a good version of this classic, Neighborhood's definitely delivered.
I love hot and spicy pizzas, so sampling the Hot Chorizo, Chilli, Bocconcini with a Red Base was high on my priorities list. As with previous examples, the base, sauce and cheese levels were perfect. For the restrained style, the heat of the Chilli and Hot Chorizo would be hot enough for most people, however as the kind of person who enjoys the masochistic pleasure of habaneros and the Extra Extra Hot Sauce at Nando's, I could have personally done with even more heat such as a sprinkling of chilli flakes for that added kick. Still, I guess one has to make these more accessible for larger audience and the result was a likeable, up market take on a Pepperoni Pizza.
But two of the best pizzas were yet to come, one being the Sweet Potato, Potatoes. Rosemary, Feta, Maple Syrup on a Bianca Base.
This was one of the most popular pizzas of the night, and was so good I can imagine people saying 'oh, you just have to try that Sweet Potato Pizza at Neighborhood Pizza'. With the high heat of a pizza oven, root vegetables need to be quite heavily pre-cooked before beings used in topping to avoid raw, hard interiors. This pizza cleverly utilised a work around by slicing the sweet potato and potato thinly, similar to the way Jock Zonfrillo of Adelaide's Orana cooked pumpkin while he was a guest on Masterchef. With such thin slices, a red sauce would have overwhelmed the more subtle flavour of the root vegetables, so the use of a simpler garlic and herbs Bianca Base was most welcome, with the sweetness of the Maple Syrup drizzled on top bolstering the sweetness of the Sweet Potato, and the Rosemary predictably pairing well with its old friend potato. To round it off feta provided a fluffy, salty hit. This is a definitely must-order pizza, although for me the next was even better.
While I had every intention of grabbing a slice of the Kale Pizza when another came around, the sight of the Pumpkin, Feta, Chilli, Almonds, Fresh Mint, Balsamic Glaze on a Bianca Base quickly diverted my attention, and ended up being my favourite pizza of the evening.
Similar in some ways to the Sweet Potato and Potato Pizza that preceded it and made to the same quality as all the other pizzas we had already tried, the combination of toppings on this pizza were very clever and highly complementary. The chilli used was a very tasty Italian style of chilli that I've had before jarred with olive oil, and the combination of sweet pumpkin, briny feta and the sweet/acidic stickiness of the balsamic glaze were all in perfect balance, even with a higher than average number of ingredients. To top it off, the slivered almond provided an nice nutty crunch, while the mint imparted a lovely freshness. For me this was the masterpiece of the evening, and would be my strongest recommendation as a pizza you just have to order.
To finish, Alissa and I sampled one the rotating specials - Coppa, Chorizo, Mushrooms, Bocconcini, Rocket on a Red Base. As a child Capricciosa was my favourite pizza combination, so the combination of Mushrooms and Chorizo really did it for me. A younger version of myself would probably have loved this pizza the most, and for less adventurous eaters this would be an excellent, somewhat classic choice.
The Verdict: Excellent
Given its hipster trappings, I was a bit worried that Neighborhood Pizza would be all style and no substance. Thankfully, there was plenty of substance on display; these guys really understand how to make a good pizza, and have the confidence to know that more interesting but less overloaded pizzas on a delicious base results in a superior product. Granted, topping combinations were not exactly avant-garde, but theirs was the kind of traditional that could be aptly described as 'artisanal' and 'craft' rather than 'pedestrian' or 'staid'. For me this was a preferable experience to the pizzas at Little Caesar's, which can be wholeheartedly avant-garde but fall short in the fundamentals of the base.. As someone who has not been excited about going out for pizza in a long, long time, I think it says it all that I can't wait to visit Neighborhood Pizza again.