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Restaurant lunch highlights:

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Italian Gator

Slice is lunch time harmonic convergence

By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor

Igator092010There isn't a better way to get a handle on the heart beat of Gainesville than by enjoying an Italian Gator Slice-of-the-Day Special while perched on the brick wall across the street from the IG.  This is a perfect location to watch Gainesville pass by in lunchtime slow motion.

This turned out to be an excellent idea because, not only did I get a giant slice of excellent New York Stye pizza with sausage, bacon, and onion, it came with a large soda for a little over $5.

Karlie, the shockingly blue-eyed pizza queen, was in a talkative mood and told the GLOB Master that the Italian Gator will sell 80 to 90 slices on a good lunch day.

 

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I asked Karlie what was it like standing in the 'IG Position A' looking out the window all day.  "Look," Karlie said waving her hand clockwise.  "There's room for two people and a pizza oven back here."

Did I say before that the IG has a giant slice and soda pizza special for $5 and some change?

One thing I KNOW I've said before is that I think the best pizza is the one that is right in front of me within arms' length.

I could go on and on about the IG's pizza – regular GLOBers know how I can do that – but let me summarize by saying that the Italian Gator loads up your slice with a mound of toppings. The sauce is thick and tasty. The crust is thin, crispy, and always golden brown.  The pizza is mesmerizing.  Something is going on in that red sauce.  I'm thinking the red  might have a pinch of sugar in it.  Just enough to go. "Oh man, that's REALLY good."

 

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One giant IG special slice should satisfy the lunch requirements of most anyone.

It seems like I have been to a lot of pizza places lately. Thinking of the total overall pizza experience, you know what I really like? Pizza pie specials, where the pie is already made, so I don't have to decide what toppings to put on my slice.

The IG is like that. So I was able to walk up to the IG window and simply say, "Let me have the special slice and a soda," and VOILA, I'm eating pizza. That's what I'm talking about when I say perfect Food On The Run lunch.

You can take your slice around the corner of the IG window and sit at an outside Gator City table and enjoy your lunch.  But the GLOB Master is telling you right now to walk across University Ave with your pizza lunch in hand, sit on that low-rise brick wall and watch the hustle and bustle travel by one of Midtown's busier locations

I'm hoping you can tell I am a serious fan of the Italian Gator. Maybe we should meet there some time and discuss what makes your favorite pizza lunch experience?

The Pluses and Minuses of the Italian Gator:

THE PLUS (+) indicators: Giant slices, ample toppings, very reasonable price.

THE MINUS (-) indicators: Literally a FOTR spot with very minimal seating.

Be the first to offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about Italian Gator.  Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments.  - THANKS!

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Gumbys

Be the first to offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about Gumbys.  Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments.  - THANKS!

 

 

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Cici's Pizza

Choices abound at this pizza buffet

By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor

CiciDoorposterI was out in what I call the Archer Rd. Triangle to take pictures last week and thought pizza would be the answer to lunch. I walked past Cici's, a pizza buffet restaurant, in Butler Plaza twice before the thin-and-crispy, everything-on-it light went on in my head.

This review isn't for pizza snobs who demand certain ingredients, perfect crusts, or haute cuisine to satisfy their hunger.

This review isn't for foodies who turn their nose up at plain ol', ready-to-eat fast food. As Ferris Bueller says, life can move pretty fast sometimes, and this lunch stop is the perfect food-on-the-go factory.

Kudos to the Cici's for emphasizing customer-friendliness. Audra and Kaitlin teamed up to drive this all-you-can-eat bus, and they did it with a smile and attentive behavior, as they flew around the restaurant making sure everything was just right from keeping tables clean to answering any lunch question at all.

"Lunch is popular, be we do a lot of families and students for dinner, GLOB Master," Kaitlin said stopping by my table. "Customers are really coming in for the flatbread pizza," she added.

I am saving the flatbreads for another visit. According to the Cici's website they have 20 different pizzas available. It looked like Audra's and Kaitlin's mission was to have all of the pizzas available before lunch was over. There is a complete Cici's menu at the restaurant link below.

I found a website called punny.org that goes into detail about attacking a buffet lunch line, and I'm paraphrasing some of their better, humorous tips: Break out the Fat Pants -- Don't even think of showing up at a buffet in pants that actually fit you. You want two sizes above normal at a minimum. Sweat pants work great too.

 

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I started with a very nice salad from the salad bar that included all the standard items including some tart, sweet pickles and yummy garbanzo beans. I saw several ingredients that deserved my interest if I should make a second trip to the salad bar.

Now, here's my take on Cici Pizza, and pizza buffet rules:

PIZZA BUFFET RULE #1: Wait for the pizza that's fresh out of the oven. The whole pizza experience is amplified by fresh, hot, bubbly pizza.

 

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So many choices GLOBers. I surveyed the 60-ft-long ingredient landscape and tried to cover my plate with a varied selection choosing, from left in image at top of this review:

SAUSAGE & PEPPERONI:The Sausage was tasty; wish I had caught this one coming out of the oven. The Pepperoni and Sausage had very pronounced flavors. I could detect a certain sweet flavor to the red sauce.

PIZZA BUFFET RULE #2: Sit close, but not too far from the buffet line. Even a little bit of walking will contribute to buffet fatigue.

VEGGIE SLICE: Perhaps I should have called this slice a three-way. I had 2 of these, which had black olives, green peppers, and mushrooms. My slices were just warm, which made the crispy crust come into play for a flavorable combo with the green peppers. I did taste the 'shrooms, which complimented the crispy peppers very nicely.

PIZZA BUFFET RULE #3: Take a break. After your first plate is probably a good time to break out that book and pause for a bit. Avoid the temptation to down a mug of soda. The only digestive aid you should use right now is time.

CHEESE PIZZA:  Like climbing Mt. Everest I guess I selected  this slice of pie becaus it was there.  They just pulled this pie out of the oven and the cheese was hot, melted, and gooey.  A nice starter slice amidst a cornucopia of flavors, textures, tastes, bites, chews . . .

 

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All right I couldn't resist. I saw the chocolate brownies when leaving the buffet line, and they really looked good. Walking up to the buffet line, I saw Audra adding a new pizza to the lineup called the Buffalo Sauce Chicken and Cheese. I swear I heard it sizzling GLOBers. It was bubbling like it was alive. I had to try that too, which turned dessert into a sweet and savory experience.

Kaitlin came by again and I said, "That hot buffalo chicken pizza is really good."

"Yeah it's my favorite, it just doesn't stay on the buffet too long," she replied.

CCstuffedWe are talking about Cici's being a crispy and crunchy multi-ingredient lunch stop with ingredienst any restaurant would be proud to serve to customers, GLOBers. It has more pizza choices than should be allowed for a professional eater and an every-day price at a little over $8.

Audra only charged me $7 for lunch and when I asked if it was a mistake she said customers over 55 years old eat for $7, children eat for $4.  I'm going back to Cici's, as soon as I get enough nerve to face the Archer Rd. triangle again.

The Pluses and Minuses of Cici's Pizza

Cici's Pizza + indicators: This was good, hot, fresh pizza in more varieties than seemed possible to eat.

Cici's Pizza – indicators: Stick to rule #1: The "older" buffet pizza slices are for the REALLY hungry lunch outers.

Be the first to offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about Cici's Pizza. Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments. - THANKS!

 

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Family takes on all-you-can-eat pizza challenge

By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor

CiciDoorposterI wanted to try another pizza lunch buffet and quickly thought of PBB – that's Pizza Buffet Bliss – at Cici's Pizza in the Butler Plaza Shopping area.  Cici's must have something going for it considering it was closed for a while and then re-opened to much fanfare from inquiring Cici's pizza lovers.

On further consideration, I decided I need to take a different approach to multiple platters of sliced pizza pies sitting under heat lamps.  My new approach to PBB was to see how the hot slice lunch line worked for a large group Gainesville pizza lovers gathered together at one time. Just like Noah, I proceeded to round up pizza eaters.

 

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"And so the Sanford clan descended upon Cici's pizza for an all-the-pizza-you-can-eat-and anything-else-sitting-under-a-heat-lamp" family feast.  There we were, five Sanfords representing three generations; three females and two males; one granddad, one mother, a high schooler, a middle schooler, and one elementary schooler in search of perfect pizza satisfaction.

Did I say we were also all hungry for pizza?  Cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, veggie pizza, everything pizza, pizza with pineapple, white pizza, spinach pizza. All five Sanfords were surprised to also find spicy chicken wing pizza, spinach Alfredo pizza, and Mac & Cheese pizza.

 

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Everyone agreed the pizza was good. The Sanford girls were leaning more toward the cheese pizzas. Kaci was all over the Spinach Alfredo slice, plus she was curious enough to give the Mac & Cheese pizza a taste. Kaci had a hard time choosing her favorite. This string bean of a middle schooler wins the pizza eating award of all time for gobbling down nine slices of pizza, a healthy plate of salad, and a couple of very tasty pizza rolls called garlic knots. Oh yeah, Kaci also requested a couple slices of custom made pineapple pizza and they were duly baked up especially for her.

"That was a good dinner," Kaci said with a small, quiet burp. "I would come back.  There are still a few slices I would like to try," she added.

 

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Buchholz High School freshman Kali Sanford was more middle of the road in her pie slice choices. "It was all good, I like the cheese pies, the salad was good, and I REALLY liked the garlic-knot rolls."

Hawk Sanford is in the middle of serious training for his youth football team and, being smaller than everybody else, settled for two slices of cheese pizza. One thick slice and one thin and crispy square slice. When asked what his favorite pizza is, he quickly responded "Big Lou's Italian Pizzeria downtown."

Mom Lindsey sampled an everything slice and a slice of the spinach pizza and gave them a two thumbs up. It appears that the fewer slices of pie allowed Lindsey more room for the garlic knot rolls.

This was good meal. The pizza was hot and cooked fresh and was quickly removed from underneath the heat lamps by hungry customers. I agree with Hawk that the crispy cheese pizza was very flavorful, and that the everything slice and Alfredo slice had a lot of cheesy flavor.

CiciSTEPHIt was a very special fun pizza adventure. Kudos to the very customer friendly server, cook, chef, cashier, host, manager named Stephanie, who was very accommodating and eager to make our all-you-can-eat-pizza adventure special.

Thanks Steph! The GLOB Master likes the way you throw a pizza pie!

After much calculation, it was decided that the Sanford clan had consumed 26 slices of pizza, several servings of salad, more garlic rolls than we really want to talk about and at least eight brownies.

The Pluses and Minuses of Cici's Pizza

Cici's Pizza + indicators: This was good, hot, fresh pizza in more varieties than seemed possible to eat.

Cici's Pizza – indicators: This was good, hot, fresh pizza in more varieties than seemed possible to eat.

Be the first to offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about Cici's Pizza.  Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments.  - THANKS!

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Pomodoro Café

Authentic, calzone = primo Italian lunch

By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor

pomodoroThe New York Times story the Gainesville Lunch Out Blog published about creating your own calzones and making your own ricotta cheese got me thinking that I haven't been to an Italian restaurant in some time. Plus, I have a friend that brags about being a regular Italian food lover at the Pomodoro Café on NW 39th Ave. near the I-75 interchange.

 

PomodoroWINE

That was two good reasons to go experience my first calzone ever, and see what I'm missing.

Walking to the front door of this café I heard Italian music wafting through the air enchanting folks walking by and luring them into the cafe. You've seen those old cartoons where the scent appears as a serpent like smoke charming the victim and pulling them forward into who knows what.

I was immediately hooked, and then when I walked into the front door of a friendly appointed café of wood, and gingham checked accents I knew this was going to be a fun lunch experience.

I was getting into the feel of the PomodoroVASEold world. The wine bottles on the shelves, wooden beams between the tables, and the comfortable booths were appealing as I looked at the Pomodoro Café menu. Bruschetta Toscana Assortita, Vegetali Con Penne, Cappellini Francesco and six Pomodoro pizza's including the Margherita, Julianana, and Mikey's Pizza Pie. I'm going back for the Mikey's Pizza Pie sooner rather than later.

You will find the complete Pomodoro Café menu at the restaurant link below this feature.

And there is the Italian music continually playing in the background. Songs that reminded me of, sounded like, Dean Martin, Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra.

Life is good I thought to myself looking out the Pomodoro window to their patio seating that had the appearance of a cozy, mountain side Italian patio.

A regular Pomodoro lunch special is an open face Calzone with your choice of two ingredients.

Tami my server explained that calzones are sandwiches made from the pizza dough that is folded over the ingredients much the same way a Stromboli is made.

The soup element of my lunch special comes with a cup of Pasta Fagioli (Fuh-jo-ley). This tasty soup is clear chicken stock with white beans, bacon and small pieces of pasta. The Soup was hearty and tasty. Being a non-Italiano lunchouter in a strange cafe I thought it was odd that the soup included both beans and pasta, but it was very good and a nice compliment to my calzone.

 

PomodoroSPECIALMy lunch was presented in an interesting, long and narrow tray that was perfect for the three items of my lunch. My soup, the Calzone and a small bowl of marinara sauce to add to my calzone. It was a very cool, interesting presentation.

Since I was in Italy – wasn't I in Italy -- I added Italian sausage and roasted garlic to my open face calzone. That is a nice touch the way Pomodoro's leaves a little pouch of cheese and ingredients showing on the face of the calzone, and toasting up in the oven for the customer's satisfaction when the entrée is presented.

 

pomodoroMenuBrdMy Italian sandwich was toasted perfectly, the Ricotta and Mozzarella cheese melted into a gooey, chewy combination of cheese joy. The Italian sausage added the spices to the Italian sandwich and the roasted garlic had me ALMOST shouting, "Pasta Fagioli, Calzone si bellissimo!"

We all know the lunch experience is a combination of individual elements working together to make an excellent lunch hour. The Pomodoro Café has their lunch experience elements singing acapella in an Italian opera.

The Pluses and Minuses of Pomodoro Cafe:

Pomodoro Cafe + indicators: Wonderful old world lunch experience. Has any GLOBer tried Pomodoro 's Mikey Pizza pie?

Pomodoro Cafe – indicators: Other than being 'Way out in West G'ville' none noted.

Be the first to offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about Pomodoro Cafe.  Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments.  - THANKS!

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Piesanos Stone Fired Pizza, W. Gainesville

Editor's Note: A Gainesville Lunch Out Blog feature of Piesanos Stone Fired Pizza can be viewed on the Piesano's Millhopper Area, and the University Avenue location GLOB page. -- GLOB Master

Be the first to offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about Piesanos, West Gainesville.  Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments.  - THANKs!

 

 

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Big Lou's New York Style Pizzeria

In writing about another amazing Big Lou's Slice of the Day (SOTD) Special, I'm thinking the GLOB has covered Big Lou's NY Italian Pizzeria a lot. But, you know what, GLOBers? Big Lou's deserves it. I'm thinking Big Lou's is one of the two best pizza lunch stops in North Florida. The second will remain nameless at this time. You can get the BL Slice of the Day and a salad for $10. Add a drink to what really is two slices of amazing pizza and a salad big enough to share, and you have an incredibly delicious lunch for two. We are not talking ordinary pizza here, GLOBers; that's the best part about the BL SOTD Special. The pizza Megan served up at my latest BL lunch was what she called the White Pizza SOTD. All right, there was a ton of mozzarella cheese on my plate, however the spinach, roasted tomatoes, and artichokes hiding underneath the avalanche, double portion of melted cheese made for a unique image. The crust was toasted crisp today. When Big Lou's gets busy be sure to mention you want a crispier crust so they will keep your slice in the oven a little longer. The flavor of the spinach and tomatoes held their own along the mild flavor of yummy artichokes, altogether a taste treat combo that literally filled my mouth with melted cheese and tart, tangy flavors making me completely forget that I didn't add pepperoni or meatballs to the mix.

- GLOB Master

 

BLou'sSalad

Gainesville Lunch Out Blog Content Editor Lynn Dirk thinks Big Lou's makes one of the best dinner salads in N. Florida and she explained why: "Iceberg lettuce is normally unimpressive, but at Lou's it is always very fresh and crisp, and there are enough additional veggies to give the salad variety and make it interesting: red onion, cukes, tomatoes, and black olives (a super food I have learned!). BTW, the garlic rolls are also very good -- light and crispy."

- GLOB MASTER

 

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Authenticity wows Food Adventurer

By Melissa Kahan, GLOB Corresponent

biglousstorefrontIt still amazes me when I dine for the first time at a local lunch stop that can surprise me. I thought I had tasted all the better pasta creations, seafood delicacies, and sweet dessert dreaminess, among many other food categories, that Gainesville has to offer, but I quickly learned my lesson. I also felt that a current review of this restaurant was definitely warranted, as it seems that the experience remains just as pleasurable since the last review two years ago.

For this particular lunch excursion, I dined at Big Lou's New York Style Pizzeria for a co-worker's farewell lunch. However, while I was saying goodbye to the beloved co-worker, I was saying hello to a new favored lunch spot. In fact, I stood there with open arms, embracing this new-to-me location and delicious pizza creations. I admit: I was skeptical at first, as my love of Leonardo's pizza or a Piesano's pie blinds me from other pizza shops. However, I joined the ranks and followed my co-workers' leads in ordering a slice (or two, for some) from this previously unknown pizza palace.

 

biglous2We started with an order of the garlic rolls, which were an extremely savory preface to the meal. This bread lover can truly appreciate a soft roll teaming with warmth and speckled in garlic particles as the sauce dripped off the crunchy outer shell of bread. After such a delightful starter, I was tempted to get two slices of pizza, but I refrained. Despite the appeal of a calzone or the interest that a stromboli peaked, I opted to create my own topping combo with a slice of cheese pizza as my blank canvas.

 

TOPPERI am a fan of variety and letting my creativity and knowledge of food pairings shine in my lunch, if possible. That being said, I chose to top my slice with feta cheese, spinach, sausage, pepperoni and artichokes to give it a well-rounded bevy of toppings, image at top of this feature.. I was having so much fun creating my masterpiece that it took me by surprise when every bite was much tastier than I could have imagined. The crispy crust and light marinara sauce under a blanket of mozzarella cheese proved a sturdy base to my toppings: The sausage and pepperoni slices, which were both fresh and sliced off of large sausage links in true Italian fashion, married well with the rich feta cheese, creating a veggie void filled by the light spinach and flavorful artichoke chunks. I was so taken aback by how authentic the ingredients and actual pizza itself tasted I didn't realize how large the slice actually was, too.

Not only do you get the best bang for your buck — a large slice with five toppings and a roll was $4.75 — but the quality of ingredients was reason enough to want to venture back here sometime in the very near future. Even if you are a thicker, Chicago-style pizza lover like myself, this is a treat and well worth a try.

The Pluses and Minuses of Big Lou's New York Style Pizzeria:

Big Lou's + Indicator's : quick service, excellent quality, outside seating overlooking downtown, varied topping options, addictively tasty, reasonably priced.

Big Lou's - Indicator's very little parking, if only pizza was healthier

 

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BIGLOUSmmGIF2I felt old when I told my daughter, Jana Sanford-Heller, that Big Lou is celebrating his 10th year of making pizzas in his very cool, downtown New York Style Pizzeria, and Jana replied: "I must've been gone from Gainesville longer than I thought;  I've never been to Big Lou's."

We started lunch with a Big Lou's Greek Salad that was big enough for both of us to feel good about eating our veggies, plus there was enough for my 2-year-old granddaughter, Penelope. Momma Sanford-Heller made her poppa proud by taking the smart highway toward a healthy lunch by ordering some very yummy looking veggie pizza. Receiving her slice with her favorite toppings of black olive, feta , and tomato, Jana was impressed with the size of the Big Lou's slices and was feeling good about her and her daughter taking advantage of the Big Lou's two-slices-and-a-drink lunch special. Granddaughter Penelope did serious damage to her slice of cheese pizza. Jana and I were impressed with the customer-friendly suggestion the server made of offering to cut Penelope's slice into smaller pieces.

Since the Sanford-Heller's opted for a Meatless Monday lunch, I decided it would be OK if I ordered my regular Big Lou's toppings of pepperoni and artichoke hearts. I go for the texture contrast of the spicy, yummy, chewy pepperoni against the milder creamy feel of the artichoke. Jana and I did exchange some of our pizza slices so we could have a taste each other's taste combos. I liked the contrast of the salty olive and sharp feta cheese embroiled in Big Lou's sauce. The pizza crust was crunchier this day and made for a humongous piece of stand up straight pizza that didn't even think about wilting as I picked up my slice. Lunch trips will always have to be downtown I think, because as we walked away from Big Lou's and approached the car, Penelope's eyes lit up as she exclaimed, "Popsicle?'

MMbiglousHYPPOgifHave you tried the Hyppo Gourmet Popsicle shop across the street from Mark's Prime downtown? Oh man, this popsicle world has some of the most unique flavors in frozen ice you will ever taste and the price is reasonable.  I felt adventurous and selected the cayenne and chocolate; the taste was delightfully refreshing. This was my second trip to Hyppo with Jana and Penelope. On our previous visit, I had ordered the Elvis Hyppo of peanut butter and banana flavors. Also, you can dip your 'cicle in chocolate for another dollar and you will be a very happy popsicle kind of person. Jana selected pistachio almond, and Penelope had an orange creamsicle. It's easy to see why so many folks downtown are walking around with their favorite Hyppo pop of the day. The original Hyppo started in St. Augustine, and they have opened this shop downtown to rave reviews - including this one!

- Mike Sanford

 

Main St. & 2nd Ave. 'pizza special paradise'

By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor

Big Lou's New York Style Pizzeria special of the day -- 2 giant slices of the pizza special and a drink for $7.50.

That alone should explain why Big Lou's is one of the most popular lunch spots in Downtown Gainesville. If you need more explanation think about the ham, pineapple, green pepper & tomato special pizza. Or my favorite the sausage, pepperoni, ground beef and three cheese special pizza. The pizza special pizzas change every day.

BIGlousSIDEBARService is quick, and the staff are friendly and very good at what they do. Whether you're sitting at the lunch counter, inside in the dining room, or on the patio, Big Lou has created the quintessential NY pizzeria here in Hogtown.

Not only that, if you talk to Lou just the right way, he will be more than happy to give you a little New York attitude with your pizza special.

I'm not a pizza snob. I like all kinds of pizza. Typically for me the best pizza is a pie that's within arms' reach.

If I had friends coming into G'ville from out of town and they wanted a good pizza experience, I would feel very good about introducing them to Big Lou's.

Did I say the pizza is really good? Big Lou's has an excellent crispy, thin crust that stands up to the ingredients without wilting into your lap. If you prefer deep dish, they do offer a thick crust pizza "when available.

The dough slingers in Lou's kitchen have come up with some unique pizza pie specials that combine ingredients from a 32-item list of toppings that will raise your eye brows in pizza delight.

Along with the usual assortment of other tasty Italian entrees, Lou has a special "French Fry Buster." This is an order of deep fried potatoes that will make you ignore those folks who tell you potatoes and pizza don't mix. When they drop the fries in a fryer basket and then into the hot oil, it quickly melds, connects, cooks the potatoes together in an artistic conglomeration that makes the French fries outside UF's computer science building look unimpressive.

So there you have it. This eating professional is a big fan of Big Lou's.

The Pluses and Minuses of Big Lou's New York Style Pizzeria:

Big Lou's + Indicator's : 2 giant slices and a drink makes lunch for two and creates one of the better lunch specials in Gainesville.

Big Lou's - Indicator's It's downtown. Parking will be an adventure.

Offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about the Big Lou's Italian Pizzeria.  Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments.  - THANKS!

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