The Friendly Pizza Joint

Ah, September 2011…a time of epic floods, international travel, my 34th birthday, and a review I started but never finished. During a protracted bout of jet lag, which enveloped my birthday and was augmented by the flood-triggered melee at work, Big Hungries Melinda and Derek took me out to Amici for a very lovely dinner. I took pictures, made observations….then forgot to ever write it up. I’m usually hyper-organized, but last fall was a real doozy.

Luckily, Amici, the new(ish) pizza pub right next to NYSEG Stadium in Downtown Binghamton, isn’t going anywhere, and so I bought a certificate off Restaurants.com to eat there, and took Melinda a couple weeks ago for round two. The rosy remembrance I had continued, and I can’t wait for round three.

S-P-O pizza

Translating to “friends,” in English, Amici Pub & Pizzeria is a bit of an undiscovered gem. Each time I’ve been, it’s been bustling but not crowded, and surprisingly full of an older set of clientele. I guess that’s surprising due to the bar-dominated space, ESPN-showing TVs and high volume on the music dial – the vibe is downtown chic though not posh, and not what I would associate with Boomers. That said, the food is good enough that if I were a Binghamton resident, I’d be frequenting the place, too.

It even looks kind of enemic, doesn’t it?

The starters are fine, but they don’t really sing. You can tell the focus here is on the pizza. That said, we sampled the fried zucchini and caprese on our first visit, and the bruschetta this time. The caprese salad, in particular, was oddly disappointing. I mean, it’s hard to really mess up tomatoes and mozzarella, and this tasted fine, but the slices of plum tomato were peculiarly teensy, and I think chef felt like the mozz ought to match aesthetically. You see the puny picture below: Odd. Similarly, the bread for the bruschetta had cheese on it, but just a funny little dollop in the middle. Were I steering this bread boat, I would have shredded or torn up the fresh mozzarella and placed it evenly over the bread before broiling it. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and sufficiently garlicky, but the raw tomato sauce lacked oomph. For my money, Tony’s in Endicott is killing everyone else in the area right now for bruschetta. Don’t bother with it at Amici. It’s filler, and you don’t need filler, because excellent pie is about to hit your belly.

We tried two pizzas last fall: rustica and tutta guarnita, and two this time: Verona and S-P-O. Not one of them disappointed in any way. I almost don’t know where to begin in describing them to you. Each sports a thin crust, with a pleasing, not too crisp, crunch to it. You get a good chew from a well-developed, substantial amount of yeast in the dough, and it’s not too thick or dry. It really is a good platform for the high quality toppings being pressed into service.

The rustica was my favorite pizza during our first visit, which is weird, because I really, really love pepperoni on pizza and fully expected to prefer the tutta guarnita, with its pepperoni, portabella mushrooms and roasted red peppers:

But the rustica was a real beaut: pancetta and roasted red peppers with fresh mozzarella. The pancetta lent richness and saltiness, while the red peppers were earthy and a little bit concentrated from the pie’s time in the pizza oven. Both toppings were pretty finely diced, so you tasted all of the components in harmony, with crust, sauce, cheese, bacon and peppers dancing in a savory waltz of splendor.

So, like, rustic

Melinda and I were pretty evenly split on our second visit on whether the S-P-O or Verona was our favorite. I’m a sucker for fresh arugula wilting over a hot pie, and while I usually prefer red pizza to white, the Verona’s mix of prosciutto and fresh garlic was elevated by the shower of fresh, peppery, green leaves crowning it. The S-P-O sports thin-sliced, slightly spicy sausage plus red peppers and onions to break up the richness. It was delightfully salty and comforting. A solid, hearty pie.

Fair Verona, where we set our tale

I’ve not yet tried any of the pasta dishes, which are pretty straightforward, nor the sandwiches at Amici. Frankly, I’m stuck on the pizza and would really like to plow through every item on that section of the menu before I mess with the pastas. The pizzas are just more interesting to me; much more inventive flavor combinations than the rather traditional pasta offerings. We did sample dessert both times, and neither bowled me over. In September, the chocolate cake was just too rich for me to eat more than three bites of…after a full meal, it was too much. We had the crème brulee this time around, and while it was OK, the texture wasn’t nearly as silken as I like it, and the extra layer of loose sugar floating below the custard was a little strange as far as mouth-feel was concerned.

Now that I gaze at it, the raspberry sauce on top looks like blood splatter. Someone call CSI!

On the strength of the fantastic pie and casual, modern atmosphere, I’m giving Amici an eight on the BHS scale. Improved appetizers and desserts could easily bump this place to a nine, but I will warn you that we had some shenanigans with settling up our bill at the end – first we were charged for two desserts, then it turned out that our Restaurants.com coupon had a cash-only fine print edict that was a little obtuse to the casual user…and I didn’t have enough cash. We got it all settled, but Melinda also knew someone else who had trouble with a certificate there, so I think it might be better to just forgo the deals and pay cash for my pizza in the future. That’s OK, it’s good enough to justify, although a hassle-free check-paying process would be nice. The point is, despite the mediocre starters and desserts, and the slight bill aggravations; I still want to eat there, like, tomorrow. That’s a pretty telling attitude, isn’t it? Amici is warm, relaxed and inviting. They use cured pork products heavily. Sold. Plus, plentiful drinks + great pizza + sports on the TVS = any American’s dream spot, right? It’s essentially a sports bar that non-sporty folks will love.

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PS: Do you like the new logo? I hope so! Thanks to my buddy and graphic designer extraordinaire (you know who you are) for the pork-tastic look!
Amici on Urbanspoon

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