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 V.14 No.8 | February 24 - March 2, 2005 

Restaurant Review

Venezia's New York Style Pizzeria

Rio Rancho transplant brings the flavah of Noo Yoyk to the Duke City

Mmm...hot steamy pie
Singeli Agnew
Mmm...hot steamy pie

My New York “expat” friends have long been making pilgrimages to Venezia's Pizzeria in Rio Rancho for their New York style pizza fix. I'm happy to report that brothers Renato and Aldo Venturino have opened a sister store in the near Northeast Heights, so we don't have to commute as far for a pie.

The new digs are a former fast food place, so you can drive through and get a quick slice without leaving your car. If you go inside, you'll find decor is functional but nothing fancy. You know the drill, utilitarian bench booths, bright lights, posters, and a game of skill where players pluck stuffed animals from the pile with a crane. Kids seem to love it, and there are lots of kids among the age-diverse crowd. After ordering at the counter you can serve yourself a beverage, get your plasticware and wait for your food to come up. This is decidedly not a date place, but it doesn't matter to me.

So what, exactly, is New York style pizza, you may ask? I'm a Big Apple transplant and I remember it as a thin crusted, lightly tomato-sauced pie, with not too much (but real) mozzarella, and appreciative grunting sounds that accompany the last bite of delicious crust. I wouldn't say Venezia's is as good as Lombardi's or John's in Manhattan, but it comes closer than many places I've tried in the Duke City.

Take that, alien flying food product!
Singeli Agnew
Take that, alien flying food product!

Really, it's all about the crust. A slice of pizza, no matter what its style, should stand on its own without the help of heaps of toppings. Venezia's New York style slice ($2) does just that, right down to the last bit of carbohydrate crunch. You can add lots of the usual toppings (30 cents each) and some better-than-usual ones, like fresh garlic, fresh tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Thick crusted, deep dish Sicilian style pizza is available in one size 12 inch by 16 inch ($12).

What makes this pizza so good? Renato Venturino says, “We take time to do it right”. To keep quality consistent, only the same three people are allowed to make the daily dough, the brothers themselves and a trusted manager. The dough recipe is secret, so don't ask. It comes from Baron, his uncle's pizzeria back in Carmel, N.Y. The brothers have adjusted it for altitude and added some special seasonings.

Renato's mother Maria hails from Spigno, Italy, a suburb of Rome. As Rio Rancho is to Albuquerque so Spigno is to Rome, though the comparison ends there. She lives here now and is on hand to help her sons at the new store. Signora Venturino makes her famous marinara sauce, delicious, smooth textured meat balls, chicken and eggplant Parmesan for heroes, and pasta dishes like meat lasagna and baked ziti.

Specialty combination pies are called Extreme Pizzas on this menu and offer a nice price break on toppings; they're also offered in thin crusted or Sicilian style and range in price from $10.25 for a small Hawaiian (pineapple and Canadian bacon) to $17 for the Park Avenue Sicilian. Two unusual nonred sauce pies are offered, too. The Bianca comes with a brushing of olive oil, ricotta, mozzarella, and grated Parmesan and a scattering of spices. There's also a pesto pizza with classic basil pesto Genovese

My first visit to Venezia's was on a very busy Saturday evening. I was with a mixed crowd—and I mean that in the nicest way—so we ordered a large pizza, half veggie, half Italian Stallion. In an incredibly speedy eight-and-a-half minutes, our pie was ready, but the bottom crust was still slightly doughy in the center. It can be tricky achieving the aforementioned ideal thin crust when using a conveyor belted convection oven (as they do here), as opposed to a wood-fired brick oven.

Then, after a few bites of her first slice, my wife, who is firmly ensconced in the vegetarian camp, let out a loud, “Ew...! There's meat on the veggie side!” Speed but not accuracy was the priority that busy Saturday night and there was lots of meat scattered under the veggies and melted cheese. Not the end of the world, of course, we transferred the meat with surgical precision from the veggie side and everyone moved on. On consecutive visits the crust was always cooked through and was very tasty.

Venezia's also serves hot or cold eight-inch submarine sandwiches. The eggplant Parmesan sandwich I tried was delicious, well seasoned and hearty. There are also giant calzones and more than a few of the usual suspects when it comes to starters and salads, but take my tip, pal, skip the salad and starters and go right for the pizza or pasta dishes. Go ahead and fill up on pizza, because none of the desserts is made here and they're largely forgettable.

Home delivery is free if you order $10 worth of food. Call to see if you're in their delivery area.

Venezia's New York Style Pizzeria; 3908 San Mateo NE; (505) 883-6000; Open Su-Th 11a.m. to 10 p.m. and F-Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Price Range: Inexpensive

Major Credit cards and personal checks accepted

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