Pizza party!

In case you missed it, here is my review of Gianni’s Pizza that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

Last month, I launched the first in a series to visit the Peninsula’s popular pizzerias. My friend Joe hails from the East Coast and never misses an opportunity to bemoan the state of the pizza scene on this coast.

I asked readers for their help finding the best pizza in Monterey, hoping to please East Coast Joe’s picky pizza palate.

East Coast Joe and I are back on the road with our Peninsula pizza party!

Our next stop on our tour of the Peninsula’s pizza parlors was Gianni’s Pizza, a popular spot that always draws a crowd on Friday nights.

A quick refresher on the rules: each pizzeria is judged on the classic margherita pizza, a meat pizza and a specialty pizza, all scrutinized for crust, sauce and toppings.

Gianni’s sticks to the classics, with pizzas available in five sizes: mini (8 inches), small (12 inches), medium (14 inches), large (16 inches) and extra-large (18 inches).

For our two visits, we stuck with the personal-sized “mini” pizzas to sample as much of the menu as possible. (Though some combinations aren’t available in all sizes.)

On our first visit, we had the Meat-Zilla pizza (small, $18) and the Pizza Margherita — with fresh tomato slices, basil, white onions, olive oil and Parmesan, Romano and mozzarella cheeses, with sauce (mini, $10.02).

The Meat-zilla was loaded with meat, but oddly didn’t have much depth of flavor.

The Meat-Zilla is a carnivore’s delight, topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, salami, Canadian bacon, ground beef and linguia.

Joe and I were surprised that a pizza with so much meat on it turned out remarkably bland. Too much meat muddied the individual flavors of each.

The one taste I did get was an unfortunately pungent linguia sausage. After a couple bites, we found ourselves removing the linguia — and pizza shouldn’t be an excavation project.

We loved the addition of onion on the Pizza Margherita.

The Pizza Margherita fared much better. We both loved the addition of onion — it gave a good kick to the otherwise basic margherita pizza.

On our second visit, we shared a Pizza di Casa (mini, $10.02) — and the barbecue chicken pizza (mini, $10.75).

The Pizza di Casa is a house specialty — fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and Canadian bacon with dollops of ricotta cheese.

The Pizza di Casa is one of my favorites at Gianni’s.

The ricotta was nice, giving the pizza that touch of something rich and creamy. It was a nice balance to the slight touch of salt from the Canadian bacon.

The kitchen had a heavy hand with the basil this time — I love fresh basil on a pizza, but it almost overpowered the delicate flavors on this pie.

Back in college, I went through a big barbecue chicken pizza phase — after one too many back in the day, I have been a little reluctant to order barbecue chicken pizza. But Joe promised me it would be a good bite.

The barbecue chicken pizza was surprisingly pretty tasty, making me rethink my stance on this new classic.

Sure enough, the barbecue pizza was actually pretty tasty — so tasty I just might give barbecue chicken pizzas another chance.

The sauce was sweet, with that light, tangy touch. And there was a generous portion of chicken on top and a layer of crispy cheese around the edge of the crust.

After four pizzas, what was the verdict on Gianni’s?

We both agreed that the pizzas were a top-heavy — the crust was too thin to carry so many toppings. We had to let our pizzas cool a bit before grabbing a slice, otherwise the toppings slid right off.

The sauce nicely accented the pizzas without overwhelming the toppings. The toppings were generally pretty good, albeit pretty basic.

Gianni’s makes for a fun Friday night dinner of casual comfort fare with friends. For Joe, Gianni’s scores points for the experience more so than the pizza. That may not be a ringing endorsement from the native New Yorker, but Gianni’s certainly gets the thumbs-up from me for a pretty tasty pizza pie.

Stay tuned next month for our continued pizza party!

Gianni’s Pizza is at 725 Lighthouse Ave. in Monterey. 649-1500.

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