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I’ve been exploring Neapolitan pizzas in NYC, but I haven’t had a better one than I did yesterday at Citizen Pie, a new addition to the Cleveland food scene, in a once gritty neighborhood directly across from Beachland Ballroom, one of the most cutting-edge/eclectic music venues in the state. Chef Vytauras Sasnauskas, Chef V, a native of Lithuania who arrived here in … No, stop …

That was how I intended to begin this post, until now, having returned home from my second consecutive meal there.

You see, on this night (last night) I’d brought my 16 y.o. son, James, and his friend there on the pretext that they would eat the best pizza they’d ever had. These boys like their pizza so much that they once actually bought a pizza at Brothers pizza on Coventry in Cleveland Heights, then walked to Chipotle and created their own pizza burrito (to the consternation of the Chipotle staff). Which is to say, these boys think for themselves and, yeah, right, best pizza ever? Sure, Dad.

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But Chef V was waiting for us with a deli of his starter. T-shirt, jeans. “Not chef,” he said when I greeted the classically trained chef. “The pizza guy now,” he said. And then he gave us the starter to smell, spoke of the flour (from Italy), the fundamental challenge of perfecting three simple ingredients, water, salt, flour, into an extraordinary creation. The living nature of the dough—how they have to account for a faster rise as service heads into full gear and the oven and bodies heat the place up, the difference between .25% starter with a three-day rise and 2% starter with a one-day rise. He took the lads to the oven, 900˚F on the floor, 1000˚F on the roof, a little too hot, he said, but will cool as they cooked, and then the pizza. They put their hands in and jumped back immediately.

My son’s friend, Joe, wanted to start with a traditional margherita and he and Chef V discussed the Naples history of it. As Bonn and his fellow cook, Jamie, worked the pizzas, Bonn, stretching the dough and making the simple margherita, V talked to the boys about his love of pizza. Bonn peeled it deep into the oven, watched it, turned it, watched turned, and then, 75 seconds later, pulled it from the oven.

Jamie sliced it and brought it to the counter where we sat, and we all ate. Joe above all appeared to be poleaxed. “This is, this is,” and then more unintelligible sounds came out of his mouth. Chewing long enough to regain his senses, he said, “You can taste the dough. You can taste the dough.” He chewed off a piece of darkly blistered crust and shook his head.

I told him he couldn’t have said anything that would have honored Chef V more.

Chef V leaned on the counter beside us, unsmiliing; you’d have thought he only spoke Lithuanian. I said, “Did you hear that?”

He nodded, once, and stared at Bonn, stretching more dough.

Then, then, we got into the pizzas for real (everyone especially impressed by “The Americano,” with V’s ingenius pistachio cream).

I have so much more to say about the variations but well, I’ve had too much pizza. Claudia’s comment about how both the dough and the oven are alive. How Chef V said he’s made maybe three doughs (pizzas) that were perfect, but it was only by accident, the humidity was just right for the acidity in the dough, etc …. “Because you can never make it perfect, never,” Chef V said.

More to come, but till now, some pix from my pick for one of the best pizzerias in America. I’m biased, yes. So come taste for yourself (or ask Joe). Three ingredients, flour water salt, on the bottom, three on top, cheese tomato basil, for one of the worlds great culinary treasures.

As we rolled off Waterloo Road in North Collinwood, Ohio, I said, “Pizza guy.”

Joe said, “Pizza god.”

Blissed out hyperbole perhaps, but the man is pretty damned impressive.

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© 2016 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2016 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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22 Wonderful responses to “A Near Perfect Pizza”

  • Kevin Scheuring

    I don’t know that I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a more thoughtful and analytical chef. It’s no surprise to me that his pizza is as excellent as it is.

    And the place is within walking distance of my house.

  • Mary Manno Sweeney

    Chef V’s pizza is better than much of the pizza we had in Naples, let alone NYC.

  • Susie Sharp

    Oh the Calzone! the magical Calzone! It’s as if Calzone never existed before Citizen Pie’s. Pillows of sexy soft gourmet ricotta, fresh basil and awesome meat. Not. To. Be. Missed! Don’t get one figuring to share… because you won’t.

  • wickethewok

    How does it compare to Vero in Cleveland Heights? I haven’t been to Citizen Pie yet.

  • Loren Winans

    Loved eating V’s pizzas at Americano. Citizen Pie is on Waterloo Road in Cleveland (North Collinwood). Please correct your info.

  • Dave Stuart

    This maybe the first time this has been uttered but, I kinda want to go to Cleveland now…

  • Robert

    The gang misses your Wednesday night pizza on the patio at the old Americano. We will be sure to visit you.

  • bert

    Just leaving Cleveland! Oh no! Will make a point to stop by next time in town!

  • Dave Polak

    I have been there twice so far and will be back many more times. It it easily the best pizza I’ve had anywhere, Italy included. I’ve had the Spinach (Mozzarella, Walnut Pesto, Bacon, Cherry Tomato, Red Onion) and the Diavalo (Hot Soppressata, Calabrian Chile, Green Chile, Oil Cured Olives, Garlic, Basil.) Both were perfect. In response to the comment above regarding Vero, I’d rate Citizen Pie higher. Not by much, but I prefer Citizen Pie.

  • LFC

    I now have a reason to go to Cleveland. I am obsessed with this style of pizza. We’ve got some pretty good Neapolitan here in Seattle but chef V sounds like he’s got it going on

  • Jacques gauvin

    I’ve really been wanting to get there!
    Is it as good as Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT? That has been my benchmark since I had it a few years ago.
    I haven’t found a place in NY or anywhere else that has come close. I do like the pizza at Flour in Moreland Hills…
    Now I really need to get to the east side and check this place out.

  • E. Young

    I love the name Citizen Pie, love the whole design of the place, but mostly love the food. The calzone. is a meal. The very best I ever ate . The 2nd time I went I had a pizza with sausage that was just perfect . No sharing for me !!!
    Fun to watch it being made from start to finish.
    Citizen Pie also has the tastiest most delicious Ricotta Cheesecake. A real treat.

  • Melanie

    Citizen Pie has been an WONDERFUL addition to the Waterloo Arts District! They don’t have vegan cheese, but they let me replace dairy or meat items with more veggies and spices! The guys make me amazing veggie pizzas that are SO TASTY, I don’t miss the cheese at all! They have Mexican/high fructose corn syrup-free Coke there, too! I LOVE this place!

  • Blayne

    The man is a pizza scientist. Even when it’s as close to perfection as is humanly possible, he will continue to experiment to make it better.
    And everything about the place, from the name to the decor, to Claudia’s cheesecake, is a delight.
    The only thing this place is missing is the perfect pizza cocktail. I’m thinking something with root beer bitters. Paulius?

  • Jerry Norman

    Good pie is my favorite food ever. I’m on my way to Chicago from LA but what is 500 miles to get a great pie? I have family in Detroit so it’s almost on the way!

  • Allen

    I liked his cookie ice cream bowl better, James might try to improve the turkey stuffed with a duck, chicken, Cornish game hen recipe.
    Not yet tried Citizen Pie, Lombardi’s in little Italy had my favorite Neopolitan vote, as for the best – Spartas Lynnwood, WA

  • Shashi at RunninSrilankan

    I stumbled on here today and now I wanna go book me a trip to Cleveland to eat that tasty dough made by the “Pizza God”! What a fantastic review! Till my trip, I guess I will contend myself with a pizza burrito – which is a pretty genius creation in itself!

  • Joel

    I can’t wait to try his pizza, but I wonder if you’ve had the chance to try a Neapolitan pizza from an unassuming little place called Crostatas in Richmond Hts. They make a buffalo mozzarella margherita pizza that is better than any I’ve ever had.

  • Maureen @Raising The Capable Student

    That crust looks perfect. I grew up with a dad from Brooklyn who could never eat a pizza without waxing poetic about the pizza crusts of his youth in Brooklyn. I often wish he could see the pizza of today. I think he would approve.

  • may bom truc roi thuan phat

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  • Allen

    Still thinking of a burrito wrapped pizza.
    Purrito.
    Bitzza.
    I think it might be good with pot munchies, but not for a regular meal. Although I might have a different opinion if I actually tried it

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