Residents of Inman Square have been anticipating the opening of All Star Pizza Bar for months, peeking into the storefront windows as the space transformed from Aram's #1 Pizza, to a funky hipster hangout with a chalkboard wall and intergalactic artwork. Across the street from the well-established All Star Sandwich Bar, the pizza spot serves up brick-oven pies with inventive toppings, as well as buckets of beer and pitchers of fruity sangria.
New patrons tend to approach from one of two camps: All Star groupies, who were lined up around the block for free slices the day it opened, and tweeted with excitement about the debut, and skeptics who border on offended that someone would pile duck confit with Buffalo sauce onto a thin crust pie.
We fall somewhere in the middle, excited by the prospect of a new neighborhood place, where you can get a cold beer with your slice, but skeptical of all the hype.
Your first order of business, no matter what pizza you choose, is to order it well-done. The relatively thin crust has a tendency to flop. Cooks need to crank up that lovely brick oven, and add a little salt to the dough to make it really shine.
As for the pies, you could do better elsewhere in the area. What sets All Star apart is its creative, and surprisingly judicious use of toppings. House-blend cheese pizza ($13.95) with a slightly sweet sauce and just the right amount of cheese, is made significantly better with the addition of slow-roasted marinated tomatoes ($1), or juicy and flavorful meatballs ($1).
Purists who find elemental bliss in the simplicity of a perfect cheese slice should probably stay away. But that Buffalo duck confit pizza ($20.95) is fantastic, if that kind of crazy is your thing. The balance of silky preserved dark-meat poultry with the bite of blue cheese, and the tangy spice of the famous hot sauce, works wonderfully. Pickled celery in the garnish adds a pop of acidity, which balances an otherwise rich dish.
Wacky toppings succeed because they aren't piled on, and each ingredient is placed there with purpose. Miss Piggy's Fig ($19.95) is a tasty play on sweet and savory, with creamy goat cheese and salty Prosciutto di Parma offsetting fresh Mission figs and a syrupy vincotto (reduced wine) sauce. Chili relleno pizza ($19.95) with salsa verde, fire-roasted poblanos, and grilled chorizo doesn't work as well. It sounds appealing — sweet corn, cojita cheese, and fresh cilantro — but it's one-note.
The Red Head ($20.95) pushes the boundaries of acceptable amounts of pizza toppings — with bacon, shaved steak, red potatoes, caramelized onions, and horseradish sauce. The risk pays off. It's a supremely satisfying pie, the darling of Kosta Diamantopoulos, who co-owns the All Star Bars with brother Johnny. "I'm always going to go with meat," says Kosta. "I'm just being honest with you."
We take his advice and order it instead of romesco ratatouille ($18.95). Advice he will not give you: Don't try to eat more than a slice or two at a sitting.
There is no denying the sticker shock on these pies, but one is more than two hungry people can finish. Our research shows three people per pizza along with a bucket of PBR makes a fine meal. (No restrooms on the premises, but you can zip across to All Star Sandwich Bar if necessary.)
The first month in the life of any restaurant is spent working out the kinks, listening to customer feedback, and tweaking the concept to fit the community. It's worth noting that with each visit, the service and food improved. The Diamantopoulos brothers care about their customers and want to make them happy.
With creative pizza, cold beer, and friendly staff, they are on the right track.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.