Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pizza Schmizza

Pizza Schmizza
2384 N. Old Mill Loop
Coeur d'Alene

Pining for a nice hot pizza pie? Let your fingers do the walking through the most recent edition of the local yellow pages and you’ll find well over two dozen pizza joints in this little town, which begs the question: do we really need any more pizza joints in this little town? Probably not, but I’m always willing to give a new place a whirl, especially if they offer something the others don’t. I’ve always held more of a fondness for the pizza made by locally-owned restaurants rather than the predictable product offered by the national chains. Franchises typically don’t offer the same level of freshness or make use of exotic ingredients, instead focusing on trendy novelties like cheese-stuffed garlic bread sticks and chocolate cookie dessert pizza. Who needs it? Just give me a mouthwatering old-fashioned pizza pie, fresh from the oven and handmade with love. If done well, it’s one of the most perfect foods on earth.

When I learned that Pizza Schmizza had opened recently next to the Regal Cinemas in Coeur d’Alene’s Riverstone zone, my immediate reaction was disdain for the name. It seemed as though they were dismissively mocking the very product they were supposed to be promoting, an irony which I would not fully understand until after I had dined there. I realize whoever founded the fast-growing national franchise probably thought it was a real cutesy idea, but would you really want to eat at a place called Burger Schmurger? Maybe Pho Schmo? Sarcastic rhyme schemes are not necessarily great for stimulating the appetite.

I was glad when I heard the place sold pizza by the slice, which is an unfortunately rare practice in North Idaho. I’m single and not exactly wealthy so I’m not going to order an entire pizza on my lunch break or for a quickie dinner. It’s always nice to find a place where I can just get a piece or two. I decided to wander in one evening after finding a long cardboard circular attached to my front door featuring a “buy one slice, get one slice free” coupon amongst the smirking real estate agents and ads for discount oil changes.

Their website describes the atmosphere of the typical Pizza Schmizza store as “wacky” and they’ve certainly gone out of their way to create this kind of vibe. Every wall is splashed with a different color, colors you thought died out for good in the mid-70’s: avocado green, neon orange, eggplant. Covering these walls is a floor-to-ceiling claustrophobia of framed movie posters and kids’ coloring projects. Signs are hung upside down; a bulletin board touts itself as the “Wall of Shame” and features news articles with headlines like “Baboon Adopts Chicken at Lithuanian Zoo”; a miniature replica of the fishnet-clad leg lamp from “the Christmas Story” decorates a corner. This kind of forced wackiness offers little appeal. With no rhyme or reason to anything, it feels like the place was decorated by your out-of-touch uncle, the one who always tries too hard to be hip and comes across as just dorky instead.

The fake corporate nuttiness carries over onto the menu as well. Some of Pizza Schmizza’s creative visions definitely hold promise, but I found the final products to be ultimately unsatisfactory, even inedible. I sidled up to the plexiglass barrier between the kitchen and the dining area and gazed in at the half-dozen or so pizzas being offered by the slice. Among the more intriguing options were the “Don Ho” (Canadian bacon, pineapple), the “Popeye and Olive Oil” (fresh spinach leaves, alfredo sauce, roma tomatoes, garlic, feta cheese), and the “Spicy Thai” (Garlic chicken, roasted red peppers, cilantro, peanut sauce).

One pizza variety that I often order from my favorite locally-owned place is a combo of artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and feta cheese. Here at Pizza Schimizza, they call it the “Foo Foo” and I decided to try a slice despite the slight embarrassment of speaking those words in public. Apparently, someone decided these toppings are somehow fancy enough to make fun of. The pizza slices looked fairly large, but I was famished so I used my two-for-one coupon for a second piece. Never one to shy away from the bizarre and macabre, I decided to be brave and try something I never thought I’d taste: alligator meat. Yes, some wise guy down south somewhere decided it’d be a great idea to grind up some of these carnivorous green swamp-dwellers and make sausage links. Also on the “Alligator Pie” were red peppers, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, and very oddly, spaghetti noodles.

I did find it strange that these pizza pies were just sitting out in the open, without the assistance of heat lamps or insulated covers to keep them hot and ready to serve. They had obviously been sitting around awhile, as the cheese had visibly re-congealed and there wasn’t the pleasant hot pizza smell one would expect. I hoped maybe these half-eaten pies were either display-only or that my order would be run through the oven again before landing on my plate. As I stood at the register and paid, I noticed the rather unpalatable state of affairs behind the counter. Bits of food and trash, including scary used rubber gloves, lay scattered on the concrete floor. Further back, an explosion of empty boxes, clothing, and random food products in various states of use were strewn hither and yon. Gross. “We’ll bring it out to you” said the camouflage-clad cashier, leading me to believe that there was some actual work yet to be done on my pizza slices.

I was wrong. My pizza slices were pulled right from the display window and served without the much-needed benefit of a reheat. I was a little stunned by this, but I wasn’t in the mood to issue a complaint, just hungry enough to dig into my room-temperature piece of “Foo Foo.” It might have been good when it was fresh from the oven, but at this late stage in its life it was very so-so. Toppings were notably sparse, with only a vague sprinkling of feta and thin leaves of artichoke rather than chunky bits of meaty heart. It’s really not a good sign when the doughy outer crust is the highlight of the pizza.

I was unable to make it even that far into my slice of “Alligator Pie.” Whoever decided that bland, air-hardened pasta belonged on a pizza should be kicked. I picked one of two scant pieces of the alligator sausage off the inedible slice just to say I tried it. It tasted gamey and rubbery – I chewed and chewed and had to force myself to swallow, nearly gagging in the process. I chugged my soda but continued to taste the foul reptile in my mouth as I quickly got up and fled Pizza Schmizza for good, racing home for antacids and mouthwash. But hey, I guess it’s not everyday that I could say I needed to floss the alligator out from between my teeth. From now on, I’m sticking with the local pizza guys.


Phil said...

Your review is about in line with our experience at Pizza Schmizza. They were trying really hard when they first opened, but I think the owners have grown complacent.

Have you tried Nick & Willy's Pizza yet? Sadly, not available by the slice, but you can either do take and bake or have them cook it for you. Our "Earth Borne" pizza was fresh and delicious. Next time we'll try one with meat on it. I'm always hopeful that these new places will remain attentive to the quality of their menus. I'm tired of being disappointed by one restaurant after another.

raymond pert said...

Of the many, many sentences of yours I have enjoyed and that have given me a good laugh, this is my favorite:

"But hey, I guess it’s not every day that I could say I needed to floss the alligator out from between my teeth."

Katrina said...

This review pretty much reflects my experience there, too, although I wasn't quite the adventurer that you were when it came to choosing a pizza! I also had a Greek salad, which could have been really good if it weren't so skimpy. I was still hungry when I left.

Phil said...

Hey OTV, I get a lot of books, CDs and other products for review. Just do what I do: Don't review it if you don't like it. Yeah, it's the easy way out. Frankly, I don't have time to review everything, so I only write about the good stuff.

OrangeTV said...

Comments on this thread from Huckleberries Online:

Well, I was excited to see that Pizza Schmizza was in town, because we ate at one on the coast and really liked it...I don't look at it as mocking...
Posted by JeanneH | 12 Nov 9:52 AM

Wowee Zowee. I just got off the phone with Dina, the owner of Pizza Schmizza and boy was she hot (unlike her pizza). She yelled at me for a good twenty minutes before I even had a chance to speak.

I must be losing my edge because she broke me down to the point where I offered to print some kind of retraction or something. She said it was too late, the damage was done. All in all, we reached an agreement to disagree. I pretty much told her she needed to develop a thinker skin if she was going to be a successful restaurateur - not everyone is going to love the place. So far, I've only heard from folks that have also had bad experiences there, but I really want to hear about some GOOD, POSITIVE Pizza Schmizza experiences so that I can at least put them on my blog as a sort of point-counterpoint kind of thing. Anyone?
Posted by OrangeTV | 12 Nov 6:52 PM

Posted by OrangeTV | 12 Nov 6:52 PM

Did Dina refute anything you wrote or did she just yell about the damage your review might do?

Did she say "your pizza was too warm"?

Did she say "we do too put the heart of the artichoke on our pizza"?

Did she say, "our decor is not jarring to the eye"?

Or did she just yell about you having the gall to write a negative review?
Posted by raymond pert | 12 Nov 7:05 PM

Well, Raymond, she said all of the above and much, much more. The kitchen was NOT disgusting. The pizza WAS heated in the oven. The walls are NOT neon orange. The amount of clutter on the walls is NOT claustrophobic. She kept saying that she did NOT order artichokes by the leaf. She kept demanding that I SPECIFICALLY DESCRIBE the trash and random food packages and clothing I SUPPOSEDLY saw everywhere, accusing me of looking into the kitchen "on purpose" (it's an open kitchen). She told me all their regular customers are all in SHOCK that I would write such UNTRUTHS. Fair enough, it must have been that extra hit of LSD I had before wandering in. (Kidding.)

Seriously though, I did sympathize with her and told her I'd me mad as hell too. I said Imust have come in "on an off night." I don't like giving mean reviews, I just call it like I see it. She acted like I had some kind of personal vendetta against her, which is just silly. I do sincerely want to get some POSITIVE feedback about the place though. Anyone?
Posted by OrangeTV | 12 Nov 7:31 PM

I do sincerely want to get some POSITIVE feedback about the place though

It's not any worse than Godfather's Pizza.
Posted by green libertarian | 12 Nov 7:47 PM

I found the staff there, including Dina, to be some of the friendliest folks I've ever dealt with. I wish they wouldn't ring that damn bell and cheer every time someone drops in a tip, but it is otherwise great customer service. The pizza itself is soso - not the best I've ever had, but certainly not bad.

Although I don't think it's her place to tell Ray what is and isn't claustrophobic... if someone feels enclosed, they feel enclosed, and who is she to tell them they don't... I didn't think the artwork was claustrophobic, just cluttery and silly.
Posted by Transplanted Texan | 12 Nov 7:52 PM

I have had decent pizza and fine service the couple of times I have been there. I am in no way a regular, having only the chance to eat there when I am down at one of the job sites. I found it reminiscent of some of the establishments that I used to visit in SF or Berkeley. Funky and fun.

Ironically, I order the "foo, foo pizza" when I am there and they were truly artichoke hearts on my pizza. Truthfully, one of the things I really like about Pizza Schmizza is that I get to order things that no body else in my family eats (feta, garlic, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes).

Is it a 'great' pizza joint, no. But it is a good place for fun food and food fun.
Posted by Christine | 12 Nov 8:12 PM

OTV, your credibility is all you've got. If you start offering or issuing retractions nobody will take you seriously. Man up. You're the reviewer not her.
Posted by Bob | 12 Nov 9:03 PM

Bob: I know, huh. But man oh man, you should have heard her go off. She was good and I just kinda had to tell her something to lay off me for a minute. Ultimately, we settled our issues fairly pleasantly without the actual need to run any kind of retraction. She actually ended up inviting me to join her there for lunch this week so that she can "help me understand" what Pizza Schmizza is "really all about." I might do it, but they're still not getting a follow up - at least in print, maybe on the blog if things turn out well. However, I do plan on posting all the positive reactions to the place I can gather, just as a point-counterpoint kind of thing...
Posted by OrangeTV | 12 Nov 9:41 PM

Orange, I'm with Bob. How can you retract an opinion? Did the owner change your mind about what you experienced?
Pshaw. A review is an opinion. Own it.
As far as getting a guided tour at a specific time on a specific date from the owners is useless. That's why your reviews have credibility, you go into a restaurant randomly with no advance notice so your experience will be just like the average customer.
Posted by Jane Q. Citizen | 12 Nov 9:48 PM

She wanted a retraction about all the things I supposedly wrote about that weren't true, but when pressed by myself and my editor, she couldn't actually come up with any factual errors, so the point was moot anyway. I fully stand by my original written word, but I would rather make friends than enemies in any situation, if possible.
Posted by OrangeTV | 12 Nov 9:59 PM

OrangeTV; you're facing a tough test for a writer -- raw, emotional criticism that will cripple you as a frank critic if you aren't careful. You made a call. Stand by it. If the Pizza Schmizza owner doesn't like your review, you should inform her that she has a right to write a letter to the editor criticizing you. Or she can call your boss, if she likes. But stand by your work. I read your reviews b/c you're honest. If you ever get to the point that you're pulling your punches too much, you'll dilute your value -- and compromise your integrity. It isn't fun to get ripped. I've had a half dozen people jump me for what I've written in the last week or for what I've allowed on here. When someone tries to pressure me to be something other that what I am, I tell them that I don't write for them or compile this blog for them. I do it for myself. I'm not always right. But I'm right a lot most of the time re: what I cover, what I write, and how I do things here. Do you want to be liked? Or respected?
Posted by DFO | 12 Nov 10:10 PM

The grizzled news veteran laying down some sound advice for the talented new food critic. Really great stuff, almost brings a tear to the eye.
Posted by horace van del | 12 Nov 10:15 PM

As usual, DFO, you've given me a lot to think about. I don't really want to compromise my integrity by polishing the bruises of those who can't handle my punches. Or something like that.
Posted by OrangeTV | 12 Nov 10:16 PM

OTV; it ain't easy to be the target of ridicule or anger on the part of a reader whose eyes have rolled back in her head, like one of those bulls charging a matador's cape. As thick as my skin is, it still isn't easy taking the first blast of such a critic. Once in a great while, I'll return tit for tat. But I almost always regret it. Basically, I let the attacker (in boxing terms) punch herself out. And then invite her to write a letter -- or in the case of this blog post a comment or two -- telling everyone what a jerk I can be. I don't have much of a reaction to written criticism. It gets more people reading your stuff. The more people who are discussing your columns, the better. I figured you'd catch it with the Pizza Schmizza review. I also figured you'd gain more readers b/c few reviewers in this side of a market have the guts to say anything nasty about any eatery.
Posted by DFO | 12 Nov 10:45 PM

Sorry Orange, I wish I could give you a great review to post. It is not the worse pizza in town is about the best I can do. I have gone three times. First cold. Second time, dining area needed to be cleaned--no one in the restaurant and all the tables were sticky or down right dirty. Third time, it was dirty and cold pizza. I won't be going back for a fourth time.
Posted by Sparky | 12 Nov 10:57 PM

Amanda said...

My husband and I have eaten at Pizza Schmizza several times and never once have we had a bad experience. We have always found the pizza to be hot, fresh and delicious, the staff to be friendly and inviting and we rather enjoy the fun and eclectic approach the decor takes. I found the experience you wrote about to be shocking because it's never been anything but wonderful everytime we've been there.

SpokaneMama said...

Don't lie about your opinion! There are food critics in lots of cities. If you own a restaurant, you should expect that someone will be talking about your food. You want them to say good things, but if they aren't then you need to take a second look at what you're doing and maybe check on it!

We've had a lot of trouble finding places to eat that we consider good! Our luck has been better in CDA than in Spokane though.

We have noticed a definite correlation between the service and cleanliness of a place and whether the owner or manager are actually working in the establishment.

Anonymous said...

My name is John Watson and I have been playing Huckelberries, Borders Book Stores, Etc.. here in Spokane. I would like to migrate to Idaho with my show. I am a finger stylist and play classicle guitars.
My Email is
Response has been Scary Amazing!! No Kidding! I do alot of originals. 95% of my sets.
Thank You for any consideration.
John Watson
(509) 922-6588 Spo. Valley.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all of those positive posts, Dinah was my mom and she was the backbone of that company. She had to manage the restaurant, go to court because we were robbed (the restaurant), design the shirts, make pizzas, clean, decorate and me and my five other siblings were always running around the restaurant being loud and making messes.although she does come across as short tempered, just remember she was under mountains of stress. Thank you so much, my mom still has to wrangle us rambunctious kids :)