There seem to be 2 types of pizza endemic to Miami. Owing to the glam culture perhaps, there is the “gourmet” or artisan pizza; the one made with fresh handmade mozzarella on rustic focaccia bread, perhaps bejeweled with rosemary and topped with heirloom tomatoes and the finest charcuterie. Peeled out of wood fired ovens, they are brought to your table by waiters dressed in black and served with a fine prosecco or Peroni. These are all very nice and some can be quite satisfying.
Then there is the other pizza. The American one. The one kids, college students and regular people of all ages eat. The one you eat with friends, or when you are not trying to impress people and fool them into considering you a sophisticate. This is the pizza you get at Casola’s Pizzeria & Sub shop, 2437 SW 17th Ave. in Miami.
Perhaps due to its East Coast location, the type of pizza most common in Miami (outside of the stuff you get in the national chains) is the New York style pizza, large pie style slices cut from a very thin crust. The pizza if eaten without the aid of utensils usually must be doubled into a U-shape just to prevent the large thin slice from flopping over and the toppings sliding off. This is different than the midwestern style known to pizza academics as “Chicago style thin crust” pizza often party-cut (square or rectangular slices) on a puffier crust with more substantial toppings. Both of these styles are only distantly related to the “Chicago deep dish” pizza which is more like a pot-pie made from pizza ingredients, or lasagna with bread instead of noodles, than anything that should be called a pizza.
Casola’s serves a very good rendition of New York style pizza. Open from 10:30am at least until 1am (Sundays), until 2am on weekdays and until 5am on Fridays & Saturdays Casola’s is a popular late night spot for South siders headed home from Downtown or Miami Beach partying, or for locals out and about in Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Little Havanna or Coral Way. The establishment is set up for high volume. Counter style with 3 cashiers stations to take orders plus an additional station for ice cream (pizza & ice cream, anyone?) after placing your order and paying you receive a numbered receipt and wait for your number to be called. There always seems to be a high volume of both carry out and dine in orders. Casola’s also delivers to all of Downtown south of The Dolphin Expressway, Little Havanna out almost to Blue Lagoon, Coral Gables, The Roads, Coconut Grove and even Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.
The dining room is very spartan. There is a water cooler for those who opt for free self serve water over soda or beer (a thoughtful touch). The dining room (more like a galley) is lined with booths but the center is full of cafeteria style benches, something you would see in a summer camp lodge or a school cafeteria. This works though, as Casola’s is not trying to pretend to be some fancy highbrow eatery. There are also a few tables out front for those that want to dine outside. After receiving your pie, you are welcome to stop by a condiment station where a factory style powdered parmesan, oregano mix or crushed red pepper may be applied. It is not considered bad manners in Casola’s to walk over to another table and ask for a spice bottle as there are not enough for each table. It is just part of the atmosphere and the way things are done there.
On the first visit, I was entertaining a friend from out of town. Since I wasn’t that hungry, I naively thought I would “just have a slice” ($4.19 for pepperoni & cheese) along with a small order of chicken wings ($6.99 for 6 wings + $0.79 for sauce). My friend ordered a sausage stromboli ($6.99) and the idea was that we would create a little tapas platter and share between ourselves.
One Casola’s slice of pizza is larger than some entire pizzas! It would take 3 picnic style paper plates to hold one slice of Casola’s pizza. When you order a single slice, they cut it in half for you “for your convenience.” Otherwise you would not be able to hold it. It’s just too big. Even still due to its thin, more bready than crispy crust, it’s too unwieldy to try to hold in a traditional manner and you are forced to at least consider cutting it into smaller, more manageable pieces with the provided disposable plastic cutlery. The pizza was very good. It is impossible to please everyone with a single pizza. Some like crispy crusts, others like chewy crusts. Some like the pizza overloaded with toppings, others prefer a more spartan approach. Casola’s pizza is more chewy, rather than the crisp, cracker like crust some prefer. Over a thin layer of rather neutral sauce it is topped with a very good low moisture (pizza style) mozzarella. In fact, the cheese is probably the best component of a Casola’s pizza. The topping, pepperoni in my case was good but not remarkable one way or another.
The chicken wings were not the tiny things that you get at most sports bars. They were large, full 3 part wing sections of the type your grandmother would serve between paychecks; back when chicken wings were considered “poor food.” They are served fried, crunchy and crispy; dusted with what tastes like a flour / cornmeal blend giving the skin a pleasing grit and texture. A local periodical voted Casola’s wings as the “best in town.” They are a significant departure from the way wings are served in sports bars or wing chains. The wings come dry and are not accompanied by dipping sauce, though blue cheese dip is available. They are delicious. Served straight out the fryer, they are too hot to hold for the first few minutes after seating. Once you are able to pry one open an enticing bouquet of vapor steams out of the fissure. With their wings, Casola’s achieves the perfect balance of a crispy exterior and a moist succulent, fully cooked interior.
The Stromboli was a huge, family size monstrosity that looked almost as big as a football. Served sliced in half it was stuffed with onions, mushrooms, bell peppers and cheese. They are available in either chicken or sausage varieties. The ingredients were well balanced and the Italian sausage was well seasoned but not overly spicy. A child would be able to eat it with no problem of it being to spicy. It is a challenge to be able to cook something so big all the way through properly. Normally something of this size would either have to be slow baked or the outside would cook before the inside. Somehow Casola’s pulls it off. I don’t know if they pre-cook the Strombolis based on predicted demand or what, but they know what they are doing. Claiming to have been around (First in New York, then Boston, then Miami) since 1944, they have had time to perfect their craft. It shows.
In addition to pizza, strombolis, wings and ice cream, Casola’s also serves croissant sandwiches, subs, burgers, salads, pasta dinners, catering, desserts, gelatos and…Doritos? (I have no idea why). Catering platters can be ordered for large crowds and parties. Oddly, french fries are not available on weekends.
Casola’s may very well be unbeatable on both quality and quantity. New York style pizza is not my favorite type but Casola’s offers far and away the best New York style pizza that I have had, and the hands down the best pizza-joint style cuisine I have experienced so far in South Florida. What they have chosen to do they do very very well, and with the added bonus of offering an amazing value.