When people debate matters of culinary style, instead of choosing a side, I normally say give me both. If two things are tasty, why be dogmatic and deprive myself of something good? Theo's Neighborhood Pizza, recently opened by three high school buddies from Arkansas, sidesteps this debate altogether and adds a different style of pizza to the ever-growing options in New Orleans.
Theo's crust sets its pizzas apart. The thin, unleavened dough is crisp as a saltine cracker. A crimped edge creates a rim that can hold an ample amount of toppings. Even when loaded down, the crust keeps its crunch. Baking the thin crust takes time, and the menu warns diners to expect a 25-minute wait. If your boss only allows half an hour for lunch, be sure to call ahead.
The crust resembles the kind found on pizzas in St. Louis, where the large Italian population developed a pizza rarely seen outside of Missouri. I should disclose that I'm not entirely neutral in my pizza preference. I went to school in St. Louis and have a sentimental attachment to that style. Personally, though, I prefer Theo's over the authentic pizzas of St. Louis, where they always use an odd processed cheese, called Provel, and cut the pies into tile-like squares instead of wedges.
Theo's makes its pizzas with either traditional marinara or a simple olive oil. The olive oil pizzas, with toppings that range from the expected to the exotic, are by far the best. The Spicy Mexican Chicken has mozzarella, feta, cheddar cheese, onion, Anaheim peppers, chicken, spicy tomatoes and chili powder over olive oil. Although it sounds overloaded, each topping is judiciously distributed across the pie. I could distinctly taste every ingredient between the thin crust and the unobtrusive olive oil, and each bite offered a slightly different combination of toppings. The Arti-Garlic, another olive oil-based pizza with purple onions, artichokes, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, managed a similar balance of tastes because no thick crust or assertive tomato sauce overwhelmed the artichokes and pungent roasted garlic.
The tomato sauce at Theo's lacks much spice or tanginess, but it provides a quiet background for the high-quality toppings. A basic pizza of pepperoni and mushroom received positive marks from my friends one night. The thick slices of Canadian bacon on a classic Hawaiian pizza put Theo's version well ahead of the average.
I was only disappointed by the pizzas piled too thick with toppings. On the Marilyn's POTA Supreme, the sausage, hamburger, pepperoni, onion, green pepper, mushrooms and mozzarella over red sauce blurred together and lost their individual identities. The Eccentric also contained too many toppings, including chicken, spinach and yellow squash, and suffered from the wateriness that commonly afflicts vegetable-heavy pizzas. Although the crust never became soggy on either of these, there was a point -- roughly when the toppings were twice as thick as the crust--at which all the ingredients overwhelmed the crispiness. Keep the toppings under control, and you'll enjoy the pizzas at Theo's.
Theo's interior feels like a loft apartment in the Warehouse District; the walls are painted in several tasteful and contemporary shades, and the floors are polished concrete. A heavy beam of grey wood and faded paint running along the ceiling reminds you that this space is a renovation and not a new construction. On the walls hang a print of Howard Stern, a signed Talking Heads poster and a James Brown sweat towel -- decorations that a bachelor might salvage from his dorm room but that a future wife would certainly relegate to the attic. Perhaps Theo's owners -- Greg Dietz, Ted Neikirk and Jammer Orintas -- opened Theo's partially so that they could drag their rock 'n' roll memorabilia out of storage. The atmosphere is right for a restaurant specializing in pizza, the ultimate bachelor food.
The rest of the menu fits the tastes of a bachelor as well, with appetizers limited to hot wings and bread sticks stuffed with cheese and jalapeno peppers. A good sub sandwich, one of several sandwiches on the menu, was served on a toasted wheat hoagie still steaming at the table. A salad, covered with a thick layer of shredded mozzarella, looked like a snow-covered mountaintop. Digging past the cheese, I discovered black olives and a generous amount of shrimp. It seemed like a salad made by a guy who isn't that fond of lettuce. Hollywood recently borrowed Theo's Neighborhood Pizza for the set of a new movie about two feuding pizzerias, but it's hard to imagine Theo's picking a fight with Magazine Street's Reginelli's or Rocky's. The owners decided that no pizza in New Orleans completely satisfied them. They profess no allegiance to the pizza styles of New York, Chicago or even St. Louis. They just created a pizza that satisfied their tastes. Luckily, their tastes in pizza are pretty good.