2384 N. Old Mill Loop
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.