We had a smaller crowd for this week's pizza challenge, as Darrin was out of town. Good news for FTM readers, as that means you are spared once again from my mug via video.
Raniero's in Cold Spring (on Martha Layne Collins Blvd) has been the furthest we have traveled from the bubble that is Fort Thomas. Another small, family owned business, we spent a lot of time conversing with the restaurants' owners. Part of the reason as to why we're only trying to dine at non-chain pizzerias is that very reason. We got to learn the story behind the start of the restaurant, how they have evolved and what's next for Raniero's.
The future is what excited us the most and will set the tone for the rest of this article. Basically starting near February 1, Raniero's will move next door to the old Blockbuster Video, which they are completely renovating. They will have more of a "tavern" type atmosphere and will fill a role in that community that currently does not exist.
Raniero's new location new door, which is under construction
Saying that, the visit we had will certainly be skewed as they are moving equipment, readying for a move, and most importantly, put their liquor license in escrow.
Upon entering the restaurant, you understand owner, Mike Howard Jr's, main inspiration for opening Raniero's: family and providing an affordable pizza option for the college crowd.
His grandfather Raniero obviously meant a lot to him, as does the rest of his family, which is portrayed in frames posted wall to wall.
Grandfather Raniero (middle) was one of the inspirations for opening Raniero's
The current dining room is perfect for a college campus. It's small, with no frills. You could feel perfectly comfortable cruising in to grab a slice between classes, or in your pajamas trying to recover from too many libations the night before.
The way it's set up right now, Raniero's is mainly self service. Since it's going to be tough to grade the service, I'm going to include our thoughts on service in this section.
The owners do not currently have their liquor license because of the impending move, so you have to grab your own fountain drink and order your pies at the counter, which is no big deal. The staff, like Buona Vita, is either family or friends of the family. They are very friendly and inviting and is one of the reasons why going to a non-chain pizza place is so much more of a fulfilling experience.
Overall Pizza Taste/Selection: 7.7
We tried the standard pepperoni and the Baioni Pie (homemade garlic sauce topped with sundried tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, onions and feta).
The pizza was very well done. It was foldable, not overloaded with toppings, and the crust - while not made fresh- was of good quality. It was crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Exactly what you'd want from a affordable, family pizza joint.
There was a nice selection of specialty pizzas, including crowd favorites Sal's Supreme (pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, onion, mushroom, green pepper and onion), Papa Mo's Meat Pie, and The Amore, which was taken to a pizza tasting contest and placed second of 60.
We started with the cheese sticks. We were all starving, and absolutely crushed the 10 inch plate. It was brushed with their garlic sauce and went well with the pizza sauce that came with it. We had to get a few cups of ranch dressing, because one just wouldn't do.
Pizza by the slice is a large part of what Raniero's is. They cater to everyone, even if you can't get an entire pizza, a few slices and a drink is an affordable $6.95. Salads, Hoagies and Desserts are also on the menu.
Perhaps the biggest reason for a high score in the "Extras" category is their pizza challenge. 15 minutes to down a 24 inch pie for one person, or 10 minutes in a team effort. Finish it and get a t-shirt and your name on the "wall of fame." If you're in the huge majority and cannot finish it, your picture hangs with the fellow losers near the bathrooms on the "wall of shame."
These are the types of things the FTM braintrust loves to find. Little peccadillos that differentiate give the restaurant character. Something you just can't find anywhere else... and we love it.
More on this "challenge" later.
1) Buona Vita - 8.15
2) Newport Pizza Company - 8
3) Raniero's Pizzeria - 7.8
4) Dewey's Pizza - 6.15
5) Fort Thomas Pizza - 5.375