POP UP Surprise
The question has to be asked so we’ll get it out of the way up front: Is Pop Up Pizza as good as Settebello or Due Forni?
The answer is no, but it’s in the same league, and so far above the Grimaldi’s and Radio Citys of the world, that it would be pretty crumby to compare the two.
Of course, it suffers from being in a casino (quelle horreur!) and it has no cache beyond that of pizza chef/owner Michael Vakneen and his troops slaving away at their ovens, putting out superlative pies that reminded me of really good, NYC street pizza. He gets a nice, puffy/crispy crust from his dough that’s more than worth the bread you’ll pay for it.
Those are pretty stale puns I know, but the yeast you can do is laugh and admit I got a rise out of you.
Seriously, though, Vakneen, like Due Forni, takes seriously the mantra that “ingredients matter,” and you can taste the care he puts into his pizzas in the tangy/cheesy mozz/provolone blend he sprinkles on them right down to the fresh and sweet plum and cherry tomato sauce he judiciously drapes them with.
He even makes a vegan pizza (ugh!) from something called vegan mozzarella — a fake cheese-like product (made from tapioca?) that was plenty runny but lacked the lactic larrup of the real thing. But for that, the rest of the pie was a vegetarians delight: roasted ‘shrooms, artichokes and peppers mixed with sauteed spinach and that superlative sauce. Vakneen told me it’s a huge hit with the Millennials, who apparently can’t stand the thought of an actual milk product defiling the bodies they hold so dear.
Vakneen’s white pizza is also a thing of beauty: a thin sprinkling of Parmesan on the dough gives it depth, while the mozz, ricotta, spinach and roasted garlic provide complexity. It’s the sort of pizza you can happily take an extra slice of without guilt, and without fear you’ll pop a button on the way home.
As good as every pizza was (easier to do when you make the crust count), it was the thick-cut pepperoni that got our attention. One bite of this peppery treat will have you swearing off generic versions forever.
The trouble with writing about pizza — any pizza — is there is only so much you can say about the good versus the bad stuff. Mediocre-to-bad pizza can be had on every corner of our humble burg, but we’ve had a renaissance over the past five years that has brought increased awareness of what a quality pie is all about. The hoi polloi will always be fooled by the Grimaldi’s and the Radio Citys of the world — because you can smother anything in red sauce and cheap ass cheese and the world will beat a path to your door– but the cognoscenti is growing in numbers, and debates about fermentation time, crust formation, and ingredient provenance are now part of the conversation.
Pop Up Pizza is keeping that conversation going. Once you advance to its good stuff, it is well nigh impossible to retreat to mediocrity (much like with wine). Forget the challenging location (and the five (5) f*cking bucks they charge you to park – redeemable but still a pain in the ass) and go see what all the shouting is about. Be forewarned however, this place will ruin you for (almost) any other pie in town.
POP UP PIZZA
In the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino
1 South Main Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101