Make mine a steaming hot pocket of golden-brown dough with hand-crimped edges, crispy exterior and yielding interior, well-layered meat, vegetables and cheese, and a light swipe of sauce.
That’s my idea of a perfect calzone.
I went on a mini-tour in the summer and found three worth writing about:
Cafe Vincero: The well-priced downtown Tacoma Italian restaurant makes its calzones with fresh yeast and double 00 flour, creating a delicious aroma for its heat-blasted calzone baked in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven. A thin layer of sauce on the exterior adds moisture and flavor (714 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-503-6141; cafevincero.com).
Louie G’s Pizza: The pizza restaurant in Fife, frequently host of live music, serves its version with tidy layers of meat and cheese stacked in a yeasty pocket cooked until golden brown, with dipping sauce on the side. (5219 Pacific Highway E., Fife; 253-926-9700; louiegspizza.com).
Aversano’s Italian Restaurant: The family-friendly Italian restaurant in downtown Sumner bakes its calzones in its 30-year-old brick oven, leaving the bottom speckled and blistered. A hand-braided edge wound around fillings that were as much meat as they were cheese. (6015 Parker Road E., Sumner; 253-863-3618; aversanos.com).
When on a quest, I like to involve readers, whose tips are responsible for a good chunk of my dining coverage. When that story published, readers responded with nominations for nine other restaurants. I dutifully toured them all.
Here’s where readers suggested, in the order I think you ought to try them.
PAESAN KITCHEN & BAR
Where: 1701 Dock St, Tacoma; 253-301-2396; paesankitchen.com.
Calzones listed on the menu: Brute ($8); Veggie ($8).
Readers say: Besides Half Pint Pizza Pub, Paesan was the most nominated. Reader Lauren Spahn said, “Their calzones are great! ... Super tasty.” Erin Knuth said her first meal after a lengthy diet was at Paesan. Said Evan Howard, who is from New Jersey, “Paesan is the closest without getting on a United flight.”
Critic says: Now I know why these calzones were among the most nominated. Paesan owner Philip Panagos noted the brick oven fueled by gas gets a blasting hot 600 degrees. The dough is made a day ahead and allowed to develop, which is why the dough carries that delicious yeastiness.
Singed edges from high heat caramelized the dough, which gave it a golden brown crispy exterior with slight chewy resistance deep into the hand-crimped edges. The chef cut the calzone in half, revealing the all-meat extravaganza of the Brute, filled with pepperoni, Italian sausage and salami, with a light application of red sauce and stretchy ribbons of mozzarella. The garden calzone went sauceless (and didn’t need it) with still-snappy mushrooms, peppers, red onion and fresh spinach layered with goat cheese. Presentation was as stylish as the handsome dining room of this Foss Waterway restaurant. Calzones were served on wooden paddles.
Best at: Affordable pricing and all-around execution. For its size and quality of ingredients, $8 was a steal.
HALF PINT PIZZA PUB
Where: 2710 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-2531; facebook.com/halfpintpizzapub.
On the menu: Bulge ($10.99), plus a combo, a sausage-pepperoni, meatball supreme and white sauce with chicken (all $9.99).
Readers say: Among six readers recommendations, Dennis Flannigan nailed it when he said, “Good price, oozes ooze, and that’s good.”
Critic says: Start your visit with The Bulge, the most decadent calzone I encountered, with a rich tangle of bacon, chicken, mozzarella and cream cheese. Sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts cut through the richness. The combo calzone was built with generous layers of pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, black olives, onions and mushrooms. On both, the crust arrived golden brown, crisp on the outside and soft inside.
Best at: Decadent calzone, The Bulge.
AMICI ITALIAN EATERY
Where: 9807 224th St. E.; Graham; 253-847-1500; iloveamici.com.
On the menu: Turn any pizza into a calzone for a $2 surcharge; $12.99-$14.99 (small) and $16.99-$18.99 (large).
Reader says: Chrissy Flory Tennison wrote, “their dough, crispy on outside and fluffy on inside. Cheese is ooey-gooey and the sauce is sweet not bitter.”
Critic says: This Graham restaurant is the place to visit for those who love their dough thinner and crispier. The crust here came with a texture that broke off more like a delicious, sturdy pastry crust than a chewy dough. The Siciliano came with fennel-laced, loose-ground sausage stuffed abundantly into the calzone with pepperoni, mushrooms, mozzarella and a thin layer of red sauce. A vegetarian-friendly Mediterranean was filled with feta, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, onions and a thin application of red sauce.
Best at: Thin-and-crispy dough.
ROUTE 66 PIZZERIA
Where: 201 Washington Ave. N., Orting; 360-872-8990; route66pizza.com.
On the menu: Sausage, meatball or build-your-own with two toppings. $8.99 small, $13.99 large.
Reader says: Melissa Fletchall noted, “I love Route 66 because of their buttery crust.”
Critic says: The enormous calzones at the downtown Orting pizzeria came with a crackly-textured crust sandwiching layers of meat and mozzarella cheese. The Italian sausage came with a fennel-flecked ground sausage. Sliced meatballs filled the other. Cheese was baked right into the crust, which was brushed heavily with garlic butter (as Fletchall noted, it tasted really buttery). A thin layer of red sauce was inside, with more red sauce for dipping. The calzones were of the flatter variety, not fluffy or tall.
Best at: Biggest calzones on tour in terms of surface area. The large could feed three teenagers.
AH BADABING PIZZERIA
Where: 5240 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma; 253-582-2170; ahbadabingpizzatacoma.com.
On the menu: Beef, chicken, meatball, vegetable ($10.95 each); Greek or Sicilian chicken ($15.95 each).
Reader says: Jerry Truckslammer said it’s “my new favorite calzone! Huge calzone, chock full of meat and so delicious!”
Critic says: The Sicilian chicken was the most unexpected and successful flavor combination on the tour. A puffy crescent of golden-brown crust was filled with the trifecta of deliciously salty ingredients — green olives, capers and artichoke hearts. Plus spinach, almonds, chicken, mushrooms, a copious amount of mozzarella cheese and finished with garlicky alfredo.
A beef calzone was as puffy and golden, but made with red sauce, minced garlic, pepperoni, sausage and ground beef. Mozzarella melded it all together.
Best at: Interesting flavor. Don’t miss the Sicilian chicken.
Where: 1946 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-779-0769; abellapizzeria.com.
On the menu: Basic four cheese, $7.99, plus $1.25 per topping.
Reader says: Brittany Ritter Dilley said it well, “Ahhhhmazing calzones!”
Critic says: I appreciated that the cook left the calzones in the oven long enough to develop a deep brown crust with steam vents cut into the dough ensuring no soupiness inside despite the generous application of red sauce. An all-meat with pepperoni, sausage and meatball carried delicious chewy resistance in the crust. The same for a vegetable calzone with mushrooms, onions and black olives.
Best at: Saucy abundance, with a sturdy, chewy dough. Calzones came with generous amounts of sauce, yet little soupiness.
FARRELLI’S WOOD FIRE PIZZA
Where: 3518 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-759-1999; farrellispizza.com.
On the menu: Meat-eaters or chicken ($12.69 each); NW Brat in a Hoodie (bratwurst with jalapeno cream cheese, $10.79) or build-your-own with three toppings ($11.99).
Reader says: Sean Dean had a simple description for his favorite calzone, “Definitely cheesy.”
Critic says: I’ll say. There was ... So. Much. Cheese. The chicken calzone was built with mozzarella, provolone, cheddar and ricotta, with cubed chicken and bacon. Ranch dressing was inside and out. The meat-eaters was cheesy with mozzarella, ricotta and provolone oozing around red sauce, pepperoni, Italian sausage and sliced meatballs.
Mine arrived a touch underbaked, so consider asking for “extra done.”
Best at: Cheeeeeeeese. Plus, extra points for the addition of ricotta cheese.
IL LUCANO RISTORANTE ITALIANO
Where: 3119 Judson St., Gig Harbor; 253-514-8945; illucanoristorante.com.
On the menu: House calzone, $16.95.
Reader says: MariClaire Eastabrooks had this to say, “The filling was stuffed with a generous portion of Italian sausage, nice-sized pieces of mushroom, the surprising addition of fresh spinach leaves, marinara sauce that was definitely homemade.”
Critic says: The most yeasty-tasting dough, with a dense, chewy texture and the tang of a well-developed dough. This one’s definitely for dough lovers. Filled with Italian sausage, fresh spinach, big pieces of mushroom, lots of garlic and red sauce, with strands of mozzarella cheese that weren’t quite melted in the center (a touch longer in the oven would’ve fixed that).
Best at: Dough. If you like a puffy, doughy calzone, this one’s for you.
CASA MIA ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Where: 7304 Lakewood Drive, Lakewood; 253-473-0400; casamiarestaurants.com
On the menu: House calzone, $13.50.
Reader says: Among other fun details, Jeff Wolcott notes that “it comes with a steak knife plunged into it.”
Critic says: You’ll be needing that steak knife. This was a hefty calzone laden with ingredients. I slipped the knife into the steamy center and a molten river of sauce and cheese spilled all over the plate. It was bordering on soupy, but letting the river of goo stand for a moment helped. Pepperoni and ham finished the calzone. It was a touch underbaked, so ask for yours “extra done.”
Best at: Most saucy.