The Pizza Struggle is Real

Gainesville's Pizza War 9-23-15

It’s a real thing. The battle over Gainesville’s best pizza. This is the third best way to start a fight at a civilized party (after politics and religion).

Pizza preference is arbitrary. Every special little snowflake thinks their criteria and judgment is the most correct. So to be honest, this is just one special snowflake’s opinion. I’m not getting an in-depth review here. Just a suggestion list.

1) Best Deep Dish – Satchel’s
They make limited quantities, so call ahead to make sure they have it and will start baking it before you even get there. I recommend the garlic, basil, black olive combo of toppings. Satchel’s is cash only but they have an ATM in the building.

Satchel’s Pizza
1800 NE 23rd Ave
Gainesville, FL 32609
Phone: 352-335-7272

2) Best Thin Pizza – Italian Gator
It’s a window between Gator City and Jimmy Johns in midtown. Parking options suck because of campus, and there’s limited choices in general. But just get the cheese pizza. It’s hands-down the best regular pizza in town. The crust / sauce / cheese balance is just right.

Italian Gator
1728 W. University Ave.
Gainesville, FL 32603
Phone: 352-367-4600

3) Best Old Gainesville – Leonardo’s by the Pan
Leo’s hasn’t changed in as long as I can remember. The wooden shingles and faux-stained glass inside. The booths. The crossword on the wall. The sauce is chunky and mysterious. The garlic rolls are tasty, dense dough balls. The pizza is unmistakably handmade. They call it Chicago-style, but it’s old school Gainesville with a touch of hippie.

Leonardo’s Millhopper
4131 NW 16th blvd.
Gainesville, FL 32605
Phone: 352-376-2001

4) Best chain/franchise – Piesano’s
Not going to lie. I do get suckered into chains and franchises, and I’m not going to turn down decent pizza. I have to give props to Piesano’s because of the diversity of their selection and options.

Piesano’s Stone Fired Pizza
check their website for the three locations and contact info:

5) Best Late Night Travesty – Five Star
Despite what I feel like the next day, there is nothing like being downtown when the bars are letting out, and catching one of the wandering Five Star guys for cash-for-hot-pizza. You have to sit in the doorway of a closed business and eat it right from the box with friends, burning the shit out of your mouth. If you hate this experience, you’re old and can stay home.

Five Star Downtown
210 SW 2nd Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
Phone: 352-375-5600

More you should know about:

Big Lou’s – I’ve had enough pizza here to say it’s hit or miss. When it’s good, it’s great. And when it’s bad, it’s not too bad. Plus it’s nice to sit on the patio downtown and people watch.

Big Lou’s NY Style Pizzeria
5 SE 2nd Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
Phone: 352-335-7123

Leonardo’s by the Slice – Part of the Leonard’s 706 & Bistro1245 family, Leo’s by the Slice is a cornerstone of Gainesville pizza, and an integral part of the college experience. Parking is atrocious, and the place is kind of grubby, but the pizza is good and quick. I’ve lived in town long enough to know people who worked there, and have some hesitation about the state of the kitchen. But that’s hearsay for now. I’ll still eat there for old time’s sake.

Leonardo’s by the Slice
1245 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
Phone: 352-375-2007

A Perfect Pie – mad props for bringing options to Northeast G’ville. And this guy is from New York. He even has NY plates on his car. So as sketchy as this place might look when you pull up, take a chance to try a hidden NE gem. If you remember Lisa pizza in the mall back in the 90s, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Just a little less greasy.

A Perfect Pie
1818 NE Waldo Rd.
Gainesville, FL 32609
Phone: 352-745-7898

Huge note: I have not food-trucked it so I can’t have an opinion about Humble Pie or Ameraucana Wood Fire. Yet.

A Perfect Pie

Half cheese, half garlic pizza
Half cheese, half garlic pizza
Half cheese, half garlic pizza

Update: A Perfect Pie has left the NE side of town and taken up space in the Oaks Mall. We haven’t been for pizza since (because really, the mall?!), so we can’t tell if they’ve changed much. Boo for loosing one more NE business.

The pizza snobbery in Gainesville is lovely and astounding. We have such a loyalty to our favorite places, and we actually feel proud of our pizza options.  And what makes a pizza good is totally arbitrary, unique to each individual. Yes, I’ll get into the best pizza places in town in a different post.

For the moment, let’s talk about a sketchy little option in the NE part of town.

Wait, I do get grumpy about Northeast Gainesville because it’s the older, poorer side. We have gross roads, few dining options, bad schools, and the atrocity called Wal-mart. It’s straight up working class. The people are blue collar. They’re hard working. They’re diverse. They stretch their dollars from paycheck to paycheck.  And they are largely overlooked. (Putting soap box away.)

Back to Waldo road, between Tacachale and Wal-mart, a few blocks south of UF’s Eastside Campus.  Kind of nestled among the barber shops and the bail bonds offices. And it’s sketchy as shit. No, seriously.

A Perfect Pie. When you drive in, note the cars with New York plates. The hand painted and economy printed signs. The often-renovated building painted with a solid coat of non-descript red and white. My sister and I used to call a place like this a front—a place that inexplicably exists for years, likely because it facilitates other types of business. Not that it’s true of this place. Really.

Short story, you want to try this pizza. It’s good pizza made by people that don’t just toss a pie from a freezer to an oven. My folks are from Philly and this is the kind of place we would go to on our Jersey beach trips. The menu encompasses the kind of stuff you imagine it would (wings, salads, pasta, subs, burgers, deep fried stuff). They even do big sheet pizzas for parties and groups.

The less-short story. The crust is basic. I kind of want it to be more hand tossed. But it’s thin and supports itself. The cheese is mostly real and nicely bubbly and stretchy when it’s hot. The two wins are the sauce and the balance. I’m picky about sauce, and it’s right between sweet and tangy. And balance—the right quantity of crust to sauce to cheese.

It’s big. It reheats well. It’s even good cold with coffee the next day. It’s not going to blow your flip flops off, but you’re going to have a happy belly. Plus it’s a great location on our side of town.

A Perfect Pie
1818 NE Waldo Rd.
Gainesville, FL 32609

Phone: 352-745-7898 / 352-745-7897 / 352-745-7896
Jump to menu…

Satchel’s, Get the Bumper Sticker

Satchel's Pizza
Satchel's Pizza
Satchel’s Pizza

If you live within 300 miles of Gainesville, you’ve seen the bumper stickers on everything from the ratty Subaru wagons to dusty Lexus SUVs. Hand-lettered, artsy signs asking forgiveness for being late because the driver was at Satchel’s. Contrived cute hippie statements worthy of Be Here Now. These are the great, galloping herds of the Satchel’s temple cult.

You may sense a slightly sarcastic note here, so I have to confess. We live mere blocks from Satchels. Close enough that when the wind blows, I can smell hot cheese, burnt dough, and patchouli. In the early days when I first moved in to this house, I ate Satchels often. Too often. I burnt out–no pun intended.

Reluctantly I’ve started eating there again. From time to time, friends play live music at the Lightening Salvage stage, and of course The Man drags me out for live music, pizza and beer. (I protest at the lack of air conditioning in the Salvage area in the dead of summer while eating hot pizza.) I’ve once again become intimately familiar with the menu.

I am well aware of how many people adore the kitschy decorations at Satchel’s. Here’s me going out on a limb to have an opinion (rare, I know). The place is kind of cool, and obviously a lot of work went into it all. It gives me the shivering willies. I can’t help but imagining a trailer park in Arizona completely populated by alien enthusiasts in aluminum foil hats. End opinion.

That aside, the food is spectacular. The salad is a delicious meal in itself. The calzones are deadly pockets of yum. They’ve got a small selection of beer and wine. As for the actual pizza, there’s a great selection of toppings, and the crust and sauce taste handmade. The good kind of handmade. If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll call ahead and get them to start a deep dish pizza for you since they have a limited quantity of the crusts, and they take a while to cook (I suggest basil, garlic, and black olives on top!). In fact, I suggest calling them with your order as soon as you get in the car to head over there, since it can often be hugely busy and you might wait an hour for your food.

So slavish followers and creepy decor, vs. distinctly delish pizza. Kind of even battle there. The thing that throws it for me is the culture of Satchel’s business practices. There are stores I don’t shop at because I don’t agree with the mood of the company and the way they interact with their community. Satchel’s strives to exhibit the gold-star standard of how a business should treat its employees and its community. This is the good side of the hippie culture (yes, I’m a direct descendant of hardcore hippies, so I know what I’m talking about).

If you’ve never been to Satchel’s, here’s a few things you need to know. There is seating in the old van parked out front, as well as around back past the gift shop. Yes, they have a fun gift shop. Parking is lousy, especially when it’s busy. They do catering, and you can do carry-out orders. This is a cash-only establishment (but they have an ATM in the hall). The deep dish pizza is the best, but they only prep a quantity and can run out. You will not be able to look at everything they have decorating the place.

This is one of those places that is intrinsically Gainesville. For good or bad. G’ville was a haven for hippies through the years, and these flower children grew up, had kids, had grandkids, and evolved their ideals to survive in the real world. Then there’s the poor Southerners who couldn’t escape to the big cities, and the college kids (some of whom can’t escape G’ville even after their multiple degrees have been earned). So we have this gumbo of unusual local characters and transient upwardly-mobile youths.

You’re highly likely to meet this gumbo at Satchel’s. If you make it through dinner without seeing someone you recognize–well, I have to wonder how long you’ve been living in the area. In fact, if you’re reading this and haven’t been the Satchel’s, you must have just moved here this year. But that’s okay. Go to Satchel’s try the salad and the deep dish pizza, and buy a bumper sticker to put on your car so you’ll blend in with the locals. And no, it’s not an excuse for being late.

Satchel’s Pizza
1800 NE 23rd Ave
Gainesville, FL 32609
Tuesday-Saturday | 11:00am-10:00pm