Life of Pie: Slicing Up Orlando's Best Pizza



Is there a food more divisive than pizza? We wonder... Find any city's "best" and you'll find one dissenter who knows better. At least. A ranking is almost a no-win prospect, but we'll do it anyway. Orlando has its fair share of Italy and New York transplants who have brought their secrets along with. Case in point, Epcot's Italy Pavilion, where everyone from the gelato vendor to the shop cashiers is imported via Disney decree If you’re lucky enough to be here when that pizza craving hits, look no further than Via Napoli’s volcano-hot ovens.

That said, the City Beautiful is not without its neighborhood joints, among them the native New Yorker-owned Pizzeria Del-Dio. Francesco’s in Maitland has a decidedly more upscale feel (though it’s still casual and cozy), and its primary pizza-slinger hails from Palermo in Sicily. The founder of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza was born and raised in the Empire State, though this Florida-based chain was founded in Fort Lauderdale. It’s since migrated up to the northeast, but Sunshine Staters were the first to fall in love with the crisp, lightly charred crust that is the restaurant’s signature. And an undeniable star of this city's formidable-and-growing pizza scene includes Pizza Bruno, a locally lauded favorite in the Hourglass District.



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The locals love Brick & Fire â€" for Chef Mark's welcoming attitude, for 50-cent wing night, for regular wine specials, for Italian entrees, but most of all for the pizza. Like anyplace else, you're welcome to build your own but the house and specialty pies are a foodie's delight. From the Milano â€" with its Italian sausage, Portobello mushrooms and balsamic-roasted red onions to the Chicken Club with bacon and gruyere, bacon, tomato and baby greens, Brick & Fire delivers not only delicious pizzas but creative combinations. Gourmands can sample it with duck confit; true carnivores can do their best to take down a pie with eight different types of meat piled on. Game on.


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Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza is a Florida original, opening its first restaurant in Fort Lauderdale back in 2002. Since then, they've expanded across the state and into Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and founder Anthony Bruno's native New York. They've got a few other Italian specialties on the menu â€" along with coal-fired chicken wings that come topped with a pile of caramelized onions, as well â€" but it's pizza that packs the place regularly. The chain's slogan, "pizza well done" does double duty as something of a warning â€" a crisp, slightly charred crust is Anthony's signature â€" and an array of signature pies make for some unique, delicious topping combinations. Of course, pies are wholly customizable, as well.


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Armando's Cucina Italiana & Pizzeria


 

As laudable for its location and atmosphere as much as its crisp, oven-fired pies, Armando's makes for a jovial post-work pit-stop for a glass of wine � the No. 1 gateway drug to cheese. Here you can enjoy either in the cozy interior or if the weather's agreeable out back on the patio or people-watching beneath the sidewalk awning. No matter where the table, the pies...? Perfecto. Creamy cheese, fresh herbs, rich sauces, wonderfully browned salty meats. Oh yes. You know you want it. Pastas, meat-based entrees, salads (try the Caesar!) round out the menu but the pizza is really where it's at.


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Epcot ®


 

Visitors to EPCOT expect, rightfully, to get authentic cuisine in the various international pavilions around the park. Located in "Italy," Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria delivers the sauce for certain, but its thin-crust pizza, which bakes in record time in the gaping maws of ovens so hot they're named for the nation's most famous volcanoes â€" Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli â€" is a crispy, chewy, gooey delight for the taste buds. In fact, they take the art so seriously, Via Napoli brings in water sourced from a domestic spring similar to Italy's Campania region. With the crust well covered, diners are welcome to source the toppings themselves for an array of meats, cheese and vegetables.


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Francesco's has a decidedly more upscale atmosphere than your average grab-a-slice pizzeria to be sure, but stuffy it isn't. Its broad menu, often accented by a wonderful appetizer and entrée special, will not disappoint, and its pizza â€" gooey, hot from the oven and generously topped is really, really good. Try one of the house pies â€" Quattro Stagioni, with ham, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and roasted red peppers, is exceptional â€" or create your own. And it's always fun to check out the action in the eatery's open kitchen where the staffers seem to be enjoying themselves amid the fray. Reservations are recommended for busy weekend nights.


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On the go? Grab your necessaries - whether the fresh meats, cheeses or produce, the imported-grocery variety or the prepared dish of your choosing and head out the door. Feel like camping out? Buy a good bottle of wine before sitting down for lunch or dinner and your server will be happy to cork it for you (or enjoy it while you wait on more crowded visits). And while deli delights are many, the pizza options are divine, as well. From classic Bianca and Margherita to more exotic (and delicious!) offerings including a fig-gorgonzola-caramelized onion option, the wood-fired pizza here is decidedly on point.


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The Pie College Park


 

You don't have to have pizza at The Pie. They've got an array of pasta, sandwich choices and even wood-fired wings ready to go. But if you skip it, you'll be missing out. This Edgewater Drive outpost is the only place in town to try Roman-style pizza al taglio ("by the cut"). They don't quite serve it by true Roman standards, wherein you can simply hold your hands about as far apart as you want them to slice your serving, but the square pie and wonderful crust â€" such a lovely chew! â€" is almost better, since you're guaranteed four corner slices. Sure, you can take it out, but really â€" you want to taste this pie right out of the wood-fired oven for the optimal experience, especially if it's your first visit.


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Pizza Bruno


 

Try the octopus! Okay, so it's not the usual lead for a blurb about a local pizza joint, but we're local, so take our word. Chef Bruno's wine-glazed, wood-fired octopus is the stuff even your kids (well, assuming they're adventurous eaters) will scarf down. And before the pizza arrives, too. You likely won't have much time, Pizza Bruno's specialty is Neopolitan-style pies, which means roughly a minute or so inside a 900-degree oven and it's headed to your table, crisp, delicious and ready for consumption. If you're a toppings-focused gourmand, you might want to knife-and-fork it. Pizza Bruno isn't just known for it's pizza, though. The garlic knots are legendary among locals and it's brunch â€" they do breakfasty things alongside the regular menu â€" is exceedingly popular. Come get it.


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This local favorite, run by a Brooklyn native whose first endeavor served Canarsie for some two decades before heading south to Orlando, Pizzeria Del-Dio serves up Italian specialties â€" along with what some call the city's best pizza â€" using recipes garnered from family members. Like most pizzerias, the atmosphere is decidedly casual, infused with both garlic and happy regulars getting their fix. New York-style and Sicilian crust pies are available, whole or by the slice, and if you're looking for a pizza for that special someone, Del-Dio's will make you up a heart-shaped order for $9.95 â€" presumably for the purpose of courting a very serious foodie.


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The Wine Barn


 

Much in the way that parents dream of an in-Target margarita bar come school-supply shopping season, so, too, have wine enthusiasts fantasized of local shops wherein the bottles they covet might be opened, right there on the spot, and enjoyed alongside fine food. Sans fancy dress code and wine snobbery, of course. Orlando, it turns out, has given us just that in the form of the Wine Barn. Long a favorite among locals looking for good bottles at every price point, the addition of a wood-fired pizza oven has made it that much more beloved. Delicious, crisp pies, classic to creative, not to mention a host of other offerings from within the oven and without, make it the sort of place you may not have planned on camping out â€" but you're sure glad you did. Reservations recommended.


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Meet A.D. Thompson

Amy Drew has spent nearly three decades as a professional writer and roughly half her life as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.

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