Southwest Virginia has no shortage of Italian restaurants.
Whether you’re in the mood for a casual sub and pizza shack or a sit-down dinner with candles and chicken Marsala, it can easily be found here. I feel as if I am always reporting news of a new Italian restaurant (Mirko Pasta, Leonore’s) or editing a review of an Italian restaurant (Toscano’s in Radford last week, Luigi’s in Roanoke this week).
Sometimes readers suggest that there might be too many Italian restaurants around. When my colleague Amanda Codispoti reported in late June that Leonore’s would soon open in downtown Roanoke, reader Tass wrote “Pastas … Pizzas … Subs … Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..” and reader P. Jenkins wrote “Just what Roanoke needs…another pizza joint.”
Still, I don’t see an inordinate number of Italian restaurants closing, so there must be a demand for this cuisine. Some folks are apparently on a mission to find the BEST Italian restaurant in Southwest Virginia. Consider an email I received from reader Ray McKee a while back:
“A friend and I find ourselves on a mission to see if there may be a PIZZA in Roanoke, or its surrounding areas, worthy of being considered the ‘Holy Grail.’ Neither he nor I are from this area, but from places where Pizza Hut’s, Papa Johns’, Domino’s and the like really don’t exist…and if they do, there rarely survive the pridefully owned mom and pop joints,” McKee wrote. “Does such a place exist? Is one to be found in a back alley, or some obscure street that one would never think of traveling?”
To McKee’s question, I am frequently asked who has the best pizza in Southwest Virginia. And my answer is usually the same: “It depends.” Yes, that’s a pretty squishy answer, but allow me to explain my theory on this: Pizza is an incredibly personal food. Everybody likes it, but everybody seems to have his or her own criteria when it comes to the best. Some like thick crust (Chicago- style), some like thin (New York-style). Some like sweet sauce, some prefer it savory. Some like a chunky sauce, others a smooth sauce. And I haven’t even started on the cheese and toppings, not to mention the fact that pizza is just ONE factor in the quality of an Italian restaurant. What about the cheese steaks? The subs? The entrees? Oh my!
I was brainstorming last night and thought, “Hey, perhaps we could apply an equation to this problem.” This is rare, you guys. I never, ever voluntarily consider doing math. But maybe to determine the best Italian restaurant, we’ll have to be math nerds. For example, what if this is the equation:
Sauce (20 points) + crust (20 points) + pizza toppings (10 points) + calzones (10 points) + subs (10 points) + bread (10 points) + entrees (10 points) + service/ambiance (10 points) = 100 possible points.
Aha! Before we proceed to test this equation on our favorite Italian restaurants, I’d like some feedback on how I broke it down. How would you change the point system? Is there a factor I did not include?
Italian food, and pizza in particular, is a very serious food subject. Very serious. And do you know that I’ve never actually started a debate about pizza in the 5 years I have been covering food? Gasp! Now is the time! Let’s get this pizza party started.