“Oh look, another pizza and beer joint is coming to Mass Ave.” That was the sign on the window of the empty building on the corner of Massachusetts Ave and East St. It was October and those words couldn’t have rang more true for some downtown Indianapolis regulars. Many in this city seem to think that Indy needs more Indian, Greek, and Korean fare downtown, as opposed to the growing amount of draft houses, pubs, and pizza joints that are currently popping up downtown. As someone who doesn’t care for Indian and Asian food, I found, “another pizza and beer joint” a no harm, no foul situation. I would be just fine if the only place on Mass Ave that specialized in pizza was Bazbeaux. Its not like you could much better specialty pizza than Bazbeaux’s anyway, right? I walked a little further past the empty building and saw another sign in the window that read, “Opening sometime in 2013, maybe.” Uh oh. One of the difficult things to do in this city is open up a brand new restaurant, downtown, with a liquor license.
Flash forward from that chilly October day to today and I’m walking into that once empty building and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. After months of delays and lots of speculation Pizzology was finally open; and only a few weeks into their run, the place was buzzing with people, booze, and of course, pizza. As usual, when eating alone, I bypass the hostess station (especially after I heard the hostess tell someone else the wait was about 40 minutes) and headed right for the bar. I walked right up to the only empty seat at the bar, sat down, and prepared myself for my first meal at Pizzology
One of the first things you notice when walking into Pizzology is how bright, open, and alive the place is. Bathed in mostly white walls with light accents, this restaurant is a far cry from the usually dark drab, and heavy decors of Mass Ave favorites The Rathskeller, Bazbeaux’s, Mass Ave Pub, and others. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong or off putting about that type of decor, but walking into Pizzology was a breath of fresh air and you instantly know that you aren’t going to be in for your typical Mass Ave dining experience. The openness of the restaurant helps create a relaxed atmosphere where diners might be more inclined to let their guard down and open themselves up to take in the environment around them.
The decor of the bar is painfully simple and a far cry from the usual pub bar that is cluttered with hundreds of liquor bottles and lights shining off said liquor bottles. What was chic and quaint yesterday is now today’s over themed and over stimulating visual noise. The bar at Pizzology however, is simply plastered with magazine pictures and articles that cover stories of local farmers producing local food for local consumers. This theme is what is at the heart of Pizzology. There is enough there to keep your interest but it is not so distracting you spend the entire time at the bar ignoring your girlfriend while you try and recall which bottles of alcohol that are on display that you have tried. The main themed wall in the restaurant is a long looping scroll excerpt from a magazine article that discusses local farming. Black ink on a white wall. Simple, easy to understand, and easy to take in.
In the main dining area, there is an open air pizza prep station where skilled workers toss pizza dough and throw pizzas into a brick oven. It is a little bit hokey but it is a nice view for kids and serves a practical, functional purpose for a restaurant that opted for more free space for its guests, as opposed to cramming tables together in a crowded dining area.
I walked into Pizzology around 6pm. The typical slacks and polo wearing after work Mass Ave crowd was humming around the bar watching the World Cup. If I recall, Japan was playing Greece and no one around seemed to be too into the game. Soft 90’s/00’s era singer/songwriter music played overhead. The music wasn’t too heavy and seemed like someone just plugged in their iPhone and hit shuffle. It was unlike some local places that feel the need to blast groups like Mumford and Sons (gag) or the Avid Brothers all evening while trying to reinforce their message of, “Look, we are cool and hip! We listen to the same music as you!” The music at Pizzology was fitting, comfortable, and relaxing. It didn’t seem forced and there was no agenda behind it; just chill and simple.
Beer Selection: B
A solid selection of choice beers at Pizzology. Now, I’m not going to try to pretend like I am some beer aficionado. My history with brew consist of Bud Light and Landshark, if I am feeling brave. I know, it’s watered down, mass produced, over hyped piss water. But, it’s my over hyped piss water Hey, if you can like Mumford and Sons, then I can like Landshark (and Dave Matthews Band).
That being said, I usually don’t pass up the chance to try a locally manufactured beer. When my bartender, John, asked me what I would like, I told him to give me his best lager. John admitted that the lager selection wasn’t exactly thriving today and he handed me a sample of Tax Man’s La Maison; a light aromatic full flavored beer that has tastes of honey, citrus, and grapefruit. I was more than happy with the flavor and after only a few sips, I gave Johnny the thumbs up to give me a pour ($5.25).
Other selections on tap were more local selections from all around Central Indiana. A beer lover would have no trouble at all finding a great selection at Pizzology.
Starter and Pizza: A+
The starters menu was flooded with a healthy selection of specialty salads accented with herb yogurt dressing, fresh mozzarella, panchetta, and more light fresh options. I am rarely in the mood for a salad and I am never in the mood for the other selections on the menu like Italian Mussels, and risotto. But there was one thing on the starter menu that did catch my eye; a cup of San Marzano Tomato Soup ($3). I took the option to add fresh mozzarella to the soup ($2). After a short wait and a few minutes of me pretending to be genuinely interested in the Japan/Greece World Cup game, my soup arrived.
The soup was everything I hoped a $5 tomato soup to be. Simple, rich, and full of flavor. I’m glad I took the option to add the mozzarella to the soup. As much as I would like to go on for another paragraph about the soup, it was just tomato soup; it had a great taste and was the perfect warm up for my pizza.
The pizza selection at Pizzology featured 11 or 12 specialty pizzas but now a days at pizza restaurants, tiered a la carte ordering is the latest trend. This group of topping for this much, and this other group of toppings for this much. This is usually what I go for. Most of the time, I will load up my pizza with as much cheese, meat, and snow peas as possible, but for this pizza, I decided to take a different approach. I only allowed myself to select two toppings. This approach would allow me to better taste the sauce and crust of the pizza, two features that I often overlook in my never ending quest to stuff my face with as many toppings as possible. Guests at Pizzology can select between two types of sauces, a rossa (red) or bianca (white). I opted for the rossa and then searched for my two toppings.
After passing on toppings like artichokes and roasted figs, I landed on something old and something new; fennel sausage ($3), and farm fresh egg ($2). A la carte pizzas only come in one size and are $13 before your toppings; sauce and mozzarella are your bases.
When my pizza first arrived to me at the bar my first thought was “wow!”. The pizza was vibrant and rich. The deep red from the rossa sauce stood in stark contrast of the generous portions of mozzarella cheese. After that, my second thought was, “……Gross!”. But it was my mistake. I saw a pool of yellow liquid at the center of the pizza. “Are you kidding me?!” “This thing is swimming in grease!” But after closer examination, I remembered that I ordered egg on my pizza. That pooling mass of yellow liquid at the center of my pizza was fresh farm egg flavorful yoke goodness!
It was just my luck that the pizza tasted as good as it looked. Creamy cheese with fresh sausage and egg on a light crust that was easy to work through and didn’t involve a tug of war between me and the pizza to cut through the pizza. Most of the food served at Pizzology is grown on farms that are within 200 miles of the city. Yeah, remember that whole locally grown, farm to table, fresh food theme from earlier? It is here where it all comes together and pays off. A great pizza with great ingredients that left me full but craving more at the end.
Granted, I am an easy guest to please. I just want to come in, order my drink, food, and be left alone, for the most part. My bartender Johnny was completely in sync with my needs. He made a great suggestion on the beer, and didn’t push when I opted out of a second. He answered my questions with enthusiasm and made sure I was taken care of during my visit.
The wait for my pizza ran about 20 minutes, which for me is acceptable when factoring in the quality of the pizza and the amount of guests in the restaurant at the time. My beer and soup was enough to hold me over until the pizza arrived.
When my final bill came, I was pleasantly surprised. Soup, pizza, and a craft beer for only $28. Now yes, I could go to a chain pizza joint and get a pizza for only $10, but this is Mass Ave. When you factor in the atmosphere, location, service, and quality of ingredients, $28 is a great value. Next to the quality of the food, that kind of pricing is the best way to ensure repeat customers.
Is Pizzology the best restaurant on Mass Ave? Maybe, but it is too soon to tell. Pizzology needs to continue to focus on fresh ingredients, simple menus, while balancing just the right amount of exotic ingredients with established flavors for the less adventurous palates. Barely a month into their run, they are thriving and the buzz around the city is overwhelmingly positive. Pizzology already has a well established location in Carmel, and after taking some time to talk to owner Neal Brown, he seems to think the Mass Ave location will do well and is excited for his brand of farm to table, fresh pizza to reach a new group of people in downtown Indianapolis.
Pizzology proved that it is not just “another pizza and beer joint on Mass Ave.” It has done what many others on Mass Ave have struggled to do in the past; offer diners a unique dining experience with fresh local food, without beating them over the head with themeing and gimmicks. It’s just simple, fresh, and tastey.