Lulu's Fine Pizza 

Lulu's Fine Pizza represents, along with Casanova's, Front Door and Tony's Pizzeria Teatro, the new wave of pizzerias. What separates these from the proud old guard—pretty much Flying Pie and Guido's—isn't necessarily quality, but more the immense chip the newcomers have on their collective shoulders. From service to decor and music, to lineups of house-concocted pies with balls-to-the-wall gourmet ingredient combinations (California figs and Maytag blue cheese, anyone?), these new joints leave no doubt: They're trying to raise the bar. You can get a lunchtime slice at Lulu's, but you might also get a lecture about why you shouldn't put extra Parmesan cheese on it. You can get a beer in a plastic cup, but you can also get a glass of house wine and a dessert. You can order out, but you can also have an epic meal with jazz in the background, and be left wondering, "Was I supposed to leave a tip?"

When I went third-wheeling with the Marrieds at Lulu's one toasty evening, the salads were immense and fresh. That description will have to suffice, because I want to talk about the pizza—and in particular, a lusty little number by the name of the Napa Valley Pie. I say "lusty" not only because my enjoyment of this pie reached almost carnal proportions, but also because the toppings—balsamic-carmelized onions, blue cheese, bacon and roasted portabella mushrooms—are all so intensely sweet, sharp, salty and musty individually, they could only be envisioned in combination by someone in search of the ultimate sensory thrill ... through pizza. The Dolce Vita, which combined sauteed spinach, dried figs, wonderfully stinky blue cheese and prosciutto atop a smattering of tomato sauce was similarly exhausting—by which I mean good.

The service at my first Lulu's dinner—yes, service at a pizzeria—was so rampant, generous and zealous, I feared I had been spotted as a critic. So, I returned for dinner two days later in disguise as a diner that nobody would be excited to see come in—a sullen Goth, complete with eyeliner and powder. My cover was blown as soon as I heard "Back for more, huh?"—d'oh! While the service this time around was thankfully not quite as slobbery, the pizza was just as drool-worthy, as I sampled an outlandish concoction called the Lulu. This pie mixed sweet marinated Fresca tomatoes, sharp goat cheese, sauteed spinach and the soft crunch of a few toasted pine nuts, with additional salad greens added post-cooking to the middle of the pie. I didn't mind this unique addition until the accompanying balsamic vinegar dressing began to seep into the pizza proper, making it soggy and drippy. And as for the crust—the last place where the old guard and the new compete on equal footing—Lulu's was masterfully chewy and delicate. On its own merits, I'd take it against almost any in town. So—is the bar raised? Do a headcount of the new guard in two years and ask me again. Until then, there's plenty of my gut-lust to go around.

—Nicholas Collias' gut lusts then busts.

Lulu's Fine Pizza, 2594 N. Bogus Basin Rd., 387-4992; Mon.-Fri.: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun.: noon-9 p.m.
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