Al’s Pizza, Jacksonville FL

How do you like this? I sort of pipe-dream, considering an ability to get out more, and possibly run up an expense account, of this blog building into a remarkable travel story full of crawfish boils in New Orleans and lobster feasts in Maine, and yet here we have our first out-of-state visit since we started writing about our meals and it’s to Florida, a state I’ve successfully avoided since I was about nine.

Our friend Chris, whom Marie and I’ve known since we lived in Athens, moved down here via Charleston, South Carolina some time back and claims to have been eating well ever since. He’s actually suggested that we need to make a weeklong trip to Ybor City in Tampa for him to really blow our minds with amazing food, but for now, we only made it as far as Jacksonville. It doesn’t look to be a bad town at all, yet I am amazed, now that I’ve seen it, that they were able to con the NFL into giving them a franchise.

Chris knows well our love of eclectic neighborhoods and funky little businesses, so he had us meet him at Al’s Pizza in the Riverside community, whose streets are lined with tattoo parlors and coffee shops. Al’s is a local business that’s doing well enough to support six stores in Jax and Atlantic Beach. It doesn’t quite feel like a chain yet, having just enough upscale accoutrements in the fixtures and flatware to fool guests into thinking that they’re dining someplace exclusive. On the other hand, I was reminded of those places where the feeling of financial investment outweighs the feeling of emotional investment. I suspect this will become an ongoing theme in this blog.

So it’s a little more corporate than I’d prefer, but the food’s quite good. Marie and I shared a chorizo pizza, with spicy sausage, red onions, red peppers and green olives. This was a very nice little concoction.

Honestly, I think Al’s needs a bit more tinkering to make this a complete winner, but the pieces are in place for a really great pizza, and the locals call it a winner and don’t care what I think. The place has won the local alt-weekly’s “best pizza” award for fifteen straight years, which is either an amazing achievement or a scathing indictment of the city’s inability to develop a contender. The sauce is very good and the vegetables tasted quite fresh. They’ve certainly sourced some excellent onions, but I missed the feeling of having gooey cheese stretching out and making a mess. Perhaps I caught the kitchen on an off night, or perhaps it sat out too long, waiting for our table’s other dishes to finish.

Marie’s mother and Chris each had pasta dishes which further proved the excellence of their sauce. Chris tells us that he usually comes to Al’s on Monday, when they have a special on dinner. My daughter just settled on chicken strips, and I was taken with their presentation, and we all liked the garlic bread very much.

Overall, it was a very good meal. I don’t think Al’s could much trouble Atlanta’s top five pizza joints, but I was quite pleased, and wouldn’t mind trying this concoction again. Only next time with hotter, oozier cheese. Of course, that would mean going back to Florida. We’ll see!

Other blog posts about Al’s:

Finding Florida (May 30 2009)
High Heels & Good Meals (Feb. 16 2012)