Thursday, March 25, 2004
Ten years ago I announced to my man that my last meal, should I be in a position to choose it, would be pesto pizza from Pizza My Heart in Santa Cruz. He was surprised that I chose such plebeian cuisine when faced with the ultimate dining dilemma. But the truth is, cheesy, creamy, bready foods were my most forbidden indulgences.
That was then. Pizza My Heart (PMH) recently opened in Monterey’s Del Monte Shopping Center and I’ve decided not to wait until death is imminent to enjoy it.
I worked in Santa Cruz in the early ‘90s and occasionally talked with PMH founder/owner Keith Holtaway. Keith purchased his pizza recipe from friends he worked with in New Jersey and Provincetown, and opened PMH in Capitola in 1981. It quickly became popular with surfers and locals.
Keith opened a second location in downtown Santa Cruz in 1982, and in 1997 sold them both to Chuck Hammers, an entrepreneur from Santa Clara County who has expanded to nine PMH locations.
I was disappointed our own PMH didn’t open on Alvarado Street where good, fast slices and pies would do double duty, fueling the scene in the early hours and also helping to bring the late night crowd to a simmer. The shopping center would have been too mainstream for the original PMH, but these are practical times—a large parking lot and easy access to Highway 1 literally pave the way for a high-volume operation with take out. I admit, it’s more convenient.
PMH is for purists. They sell pizza, four salads, soda, milk, iced tea and water. Some people say pizza is about the crust, others say it’s the sauce. The truth is, it’s about everything—ingredients, methods, and skill.
I use two pizza barometer basics to evaluate a new joint. One is a sausage-and-onion pie and the other, my favorite, is a garlic-onion-mushroom-bell pepper pie. I know, I know, but pepperoni doesn’t do it for me. I grew up with sausage-stuffing, pizza-making Italians—I used to stuff casings myself—and sausage remains my salumi (the Italians have one word for “cured meats”) of choice.
At PMH, crust is New York-style thin unless you request Sicilian-style thick. I prefer thin crust, where the seasonings have a fighting chance. Every red-blooded American child can taste the difference between the flavors of a tomato sauce that goes on pizza and a tomato sauce that goes on pasta. It’s primarily about oregano and basil. PMH offers a delicious classic sauce that puts oregano front and center. And there are shakers filled with oregano, basil, parmesan and hot pepper for you to add. They use whole milk mozzarella cheese and they don’t gum up the pizza with it unless you want it that way.
Pizza by the slice is one of the best reasons to go to PMH. The turnover is quick so the pizza is fresh, the slices are large, and you can sample several “flayvahs,” as my daughter calls them. Reasonable prices are another reason—most slices cost $2.75 or $3. A whole cheese pie runs from $10 for a 12-inch to $17.50 for an 18-inch. Large pies cost $21 to $24.50 for house creations, or build your own. Sicilian style is $1 more.
The pesto still rules. Trite, but true: It’s simply the best. If you’ve priced fresh pesto lately, you’ll appreciate the slathering of this precious resource.
My second favorite used to be Clam & Garlic with extra garlic, so I test-drove it at the new store. There wasn’t a bald spot on the surface—it was obscured by these health-enhancing fruits of the sea and soil. It was very good, but not recommended for a first date.
I didn’t care for the Super Veggie, but I’m not a fan of generic “veggie” pizza. Someone in my family wanted it, so I tried it. The industry-standard canned olives and artichokes from a jar prevail here and they cast a shadow over the fresh ingredients. For a vegetarian pizza, I recommend the fantastic foursome mentioned above of garlic-onion-mushroom-bell pepper. Or consider some of the house specials with spinach, ricotta or fresh basil.
It took a few visits to try everything, but the sausage-and-onion pie also passed the test. My mature taste buds can guarantee that Pizza My Heart has not yet sold its soul to a fast-growing corporate devil. The more people that get to enjoy PMH, the better.
A surf theme leavens all of the stores with fun, and it’s surprising this motif hasn’t been so overused that it would be too superfluous to repeat. It works. Black-and-white photography sets a retro mood, ‘70s surf posters from Monterey-area cinemas are cool, and just the right amount of paraphernalia adds tasteful, beachy funk.
There isn’t much point in discussing the menu’s non-pizza items. But, if you must have your greens, the Seasonal Green takes its mission seriously with broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, bell pepper, tomatoes, and mixed greens.
Pizza My Heart
630 Del Monte Shopping Center, Monterey
Open daily 11am to 9pm,
Fri-Sat until 10pm