On a recent Wednesday around 4:30 p.m., I stopped by Piola for a pizza on my way home from the office. It was kind of a weird time to eat, but I was famished, I needed calories fast, and I've always liked the thin-crusted and Neapolitan-style pizzas at this upscale Italian-bred chain, which I reviewed favorably not long after it opened in November 2010.
When the bill came, I was shocked: they had only charged me $7 for my 12-inch Portici pizza, with its puffy Neapolitan lip and simple toppings of fior di latte mozzarella (the freshly made cow-milk variety), cherry tomatoes and basil. It was listed for $13 on Piola's menu, where the 47 different 12-inch pizza permutations normally cost between $9.50 and $16.
I had unwittingly stumbled into Piola's Pizza Hour, a blessed interval between 3 and 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday only, when all the pizzas are offered at a deep discount. This ingenious promotion is kind of like a sliding-scale Groupon without tears: from 3 p.m.—4 p.m. all pizzas are six bucks; from 4 p.m.—5 p.m., when I got there, they go up to seven bucks: and from 5 p.m.—6 p.m. they cost $8 each, still a bargain for the fancier pies.
How civilized is that? As a notorious pizza fiend, I'll take Pizza Hour over Happy Hour any day, but Piola also cuts down the prices of all beer ($3), wines by the glass ($4), their excellent Caipirinha cocktails ($5), during the 4 p.m.—7 p.m. interval Mondays through Fridays, so if you hit the restaurant right, you can save a bundle on both food and drink. I think I'm going to be eating pizza in late afternoon more often from now on.
And why not? I'd eat pizza for breakfast if i could, and occasionally I do.
At Piola, I really like the Como pizza with its thin, scorch-bottomed crust bearing a bit of tomato sauce, mozzarella, sautéed porcini mushrooms and uncooked slices of thinly shaved prosciutto. Or the puffier-crowned, Neapolitan-style Regina Margherita, with soft, pully blobs of fior di latte islanding a tomato sea, with sails in the form of whole basil leaves skimming the surface.
I like the summery Miami Beach pizza, too, with its peppery uncooked arugula leaves and crushed cherry tomatoes on a layer of fior di latte. My Portici pizza last week would have been better if the cherry tomatoes involved had been salted and marinated a bit, but I applied salt and some vinegar from the condiments bar and scarfed the whole pie down with considerable enjoyment — enjoyment that roughly tripled when I got that expectedly low tab.
Funny how that works.
This may not be pizza for the ages, or for the best-ever memory books, but it's well-made stuff out of a serious brick oven that gets a nice char on the admirably crisp pizza bottoms; I even think the Neapolitan-style crusts, with their higher, chewier crown, are respectable.
I did mourn the disappearance from the menu of two of my former favorites, the bacon-spiked carbonara pie and the Argentine-inspired sautéed-onion-and-oregano pie, both from the White Pizza section of the menu. I guess I'm one of the only people who ordered them, dammit.
Funny how that works, too.
But the pizza menu's still fun with its wide variety and its South American touches (Piola made its name in pizza-mad Rio and Buenos Aires), and the room is always festive with its brilliantly hued pendant lights and contemporary Italian look.
I wouldn't venture to consume my bargain pizza out on the colorful patio at 4:30 p.m. for a month or two, but fall is coming, and I'm hoping Pizza Hour at Piola will stick around.
Piola: 3201 Louisiana, 713-524-8222.
Pizza Hour: 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Monday—Thursday