with gallery: NeoPapalis offers a solid take on Neapolitan pizza
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What the new pizza eatery NeoPapalis has most going for it is not so much that it has unveiled a blockbuster type of pizza (it hasn't) or that it has an expansive menu with many items to choose from (it doesn't.) But NeoPapalis is fortunate enough to be located in the same building as a brand new, luxurious student high rise. Students need merely walk out of the door of their building and go through another entrance and they're there—a huge perk to both the restaurant and those customers, especially on a brisk winter night.
NeoPapalis, which opened Oct. 4, prepares a version of Neapolitan-style pizza, which owner Joe Sheena says has become the new wave in Italy. That pizza uses highly hydrated dough, Italian flour, sea salt, water and yeast. Sheena says his pizza recipe consists of slightly less hydration along with olive oil to create a crust "with a very airy edge and a very tender center." Sheena says so far, most of the customers have been students, but more people who live in Ann Arbor "are discovering us" through word of mouth.
In addition to four different types of pizzas, there are also salads and sandwiches. The ambience is sleek and bright. A long counter that is the focal point for food preparation takes up half the restaurant. There are numerous light wood tables and chairs.
There is also a bar area bordering a large, flat-screen television. Sheena hopes to sell Michigan microbrews on draft and three red and white wines, but he's been waiting for word on a liquor license.
The appeal here is to see your pizza prepared right in front of you. Servers knead the dough, then others add your choice of toppings: meat, vegetable and extra cheese. Your various items are added on as you move through the line. Then you get a pager that tells you when it's done cooking. For sandwiches and salads, you place your order with the cashier instead.
While the basic pizza prices are inexpensive, $6 and $7, that can rise, depending on how many toppings you select, as each is a dollar. It's fun to observe the variety of pizza that various customers create coming through the line.
500 E. William St., Ann Arbor
- Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
- Liquor: No
- Prices: Inexpensive for most items. Pizzas start at $6 or $7. Sandwiches start at $5.
- Noise level: Loud when busy
- Wheelchair access: Yes
We ordered the classica with bacon and there were big, flavorful chunks of it tucked beneath the cheese. All the tomato sauce pizzas were quite good, as was the crust.
The white pizza was basically just an abundance of mozzarella cheese sprinkled on the standard crust. I usually enjoy white pizza because it tastes starkly different than the tomato version. The caramelized onions, mushrooms and spinach we ordered were all fresh and tasted fine, but the overall pizza lacked enough garlic and other seasonings to distinguish itself.
The salads here are fresh and wonderful. You have a nice choice of a mix of greens: arugula, spinach and romaine. In the first salad we tried, the spinach and arugula were incredibly fresh, complemented by the fresh beets and cucumbers, as was the smooth, creamy goat cheese we ordered in it. The chipotle ranch dressing was spicier than other versions I've tried; I preferred the creamy ranch. I was impressed that the other salad I ordered contained fresh slivers of asiago cheese, as well as delicious artichoke hearts, bathed in a first-rate Caesar dressing.
A highlight of our meal was the turkey sandwich that my daughter ordered. It boasted big chunks of fresh turkey (reminding us of our Thanksgiving meal) contained in a giant pita that she ordered with provolone cheese. It was absolutely fantastic.
The steak sandwich and the chicken curry sandwich both were good and well seasoned. However, the chicken curry sandwich was doused with caramelized onions and was light on the provolone cheese. I would have preferred the reverse. All of the sandwiches are giant, more than enough for one serving.
There are only two dessert items, cinnamon sticks and another item that I don't feel constitutes a dessert: sweet potato fries. I would skip them. They were inundated with salt and didn't pass muster.
On our first visit, two days after Thanksgiving when the students had clearly deserted campus, we received our extensive order within minutes. But the second time, on a busy Friday night, servers were overwhelmed. I waited quite a while for my sandwiches, only to see others who ordered pizza after me get their meal delivered first. When my food was finally ready, I had to wait longer, as they forgot my sweet potato fries.
NeoPapalis provides some solid, fresh fare in an innovative, appealing environment. And in a college town, there's no such thing as too many pizza eateries.