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Firenza Pizza in Lexington offers great food and is really worth a try

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) - When we do restaurant reviews, it’s normally an invitation to try something new and exciting that I really want to sample. I’ve eaten and reviewed everything from California style tacos to duck confit since starting The Lexington Ledger and everything was something new, exciting, something I was just aching to sink my teeth into. That’s why when Bruce Rickman at Firenza Pizza in Lexington called recently and invited me over to try their fare, I wasn’t dashing over at once. Sure, in my younger days, I’d have broken my neck to eat some pizza and have a cold brew. I used to scarf down my share and then some. Well, I got older and I guess my taste changed. Too many kid’s birthdays with round things that tasted like cardboard spread with ketchup had about knocked me out of the pizza game all together. Still, Bruce intrigued me when he told me about some of their artisan ingredients, and he agreed I could bring the children for a real family point of view,so I accepted his invitation to dinner. On a recent Monday, I loaded up my 22 year old son, two daughters, 15 and 11, and we went to Firenza in Lexington to eat.

Firenza Pizza is located at 5232 Sunset Boulevard in the same shopping center as the Lowe’s Foods grocery store. That’s close to Mineral Springs and Sunset for those of you who don’t go to Lexington much. When you enter the parking lot of the center, the pizzeria is a bit tough to find. Drive toward Lowe’s Foods and once you’ve passed the first strip building on the left, look hard left and it’s tucked into the corner. There’s ample parking and out front there are some tables with umbrellas if you’d prefer to take in some air while you dine. It was very nice for alfresco dining; that’s Italian for outside but I’m trying to sound worldly here.

When we walked in, it was a little confusing to me at first. The place is neat and tidy, nothing out of place and spotless, but you get a fast food feel at first, not exactly high-end. The furniture isn’t plastic and it’s eye-pleasing, but it’s almost like walking into a Subway instead of an upscale pizza place. Don’t let that throw you because the food turned out to be great, the atmosphere comfortable, and the staff extremely friendly and knowledgeable. Even though the first impression is fast food, the dining area isn’t blasé or trying on the body. I had no problem sitting through the meal with the family or staying and talking with Bruce afterward even with a bad back and many other ailments that have come as I age; I really was very comfortable.

When you enter, there’s an ordering line on the left with clear and easy to read menu boards. You can get one of the many specialty pizzas or build your own from the crust up. If you’re confused at all, move ahead a little and the staff is right there, happy to answer any questions you have. If you want something without the little effort to build your own, the specialty pies include ones like The Corleone, The Big Kahuna, and the BBQ Chicken Bacon Ranch! I had the specialty of the month, a creation built by one of Rickman’s staff that corporate liked so much they decided to feature it across the chain.

The dough is all made in-house with imported high-quality Italian flour. It’s worked by hand and formed in front of you into one of two sizes; 10”’ or 14”. There’s a gluten-free one for those who are intolerant. Next, pick your sauce, all of which are house made. There are several choices here from traditional marinara to pesto, spicy, alfredo, and even a BBQ. There are one or two more, but you should be getting the idea by now.

After you’ve selected your sauce, pick the cheese. Now this is not your cheap mega-bag of tasteless cheese that comes from the warehouse stores. Firenza’s cheese has an extremely high fat content which gives you a much better melt, overall spread, and a great flavor and mouth-feel. There’s mozzarella, fresh mozzarella (there is a difference really), shredded cheddar, parmesan, bleu, feta, ricotta, and even a vegan. Next, you’ll need meat and there’s no shortage of this either. There are the standards like sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, salami, bacon, ham, chicken, Buffalo chicken, and beef. These are all high end as well and trust me, I could tell the difference in the taste in every bite.

There’s a great assortment of veggies, but they recommend no more than four toppings per pizza. At first, I was a bit confused by this being a “more is always better” kind of guy, but Bruce explained the reasoning behind it. They use that high-grade imported Italian flour, spend all this time working it in house into a wonderful crust, bake it in a brick lined oven, once again working it by hand, just to get it crispy, golden brown, and with a tiny, almost unnoticeable amount of charring. If you overload the toppings, as the pie cooks, the moisture cooks out of everything and makes your crust a soggy mess. Theirs is thin and crispy and about as close to perfect as you can get. The toppings here range from jalapeños and pineapple, to artichoke hearts, spinach, and onions they caramelize in house. Of course, there are the standard bell peppers, mushrooms, several types of onions, and much more. If you want to pile it on, they’ll do it; the customer is always right!

Their custom salads are handled the same way. You get a choice of mixed greens, spinach, or arugula and then build your own, but with the employees doing the work while you direct. Their toppings are much better than most salad bars, which this isn’t. There are roasted garlic cloves done in house, mozzarella balls, Belau Cheese crumbles, Peppadew peppers, a variety of sweet red peppers I’d never tried that are small, about the size of an acorn with no heat and are now my new favorite variety, and many other exciting options. There are also signature salads that include an antipasto that’s loaded with great cold cuts, a Greek salad and a Spinach Firenza that looked great. Of course, there are all the dressings you’d expect like Thousand Island, Belau Cheese, ranch, balsamic, and then some specialties like Chipotle. Their salads are top notch and extremely tasty.

They have a nice variety of baked chicken wings that are delicious. There are several sauce options here also and the ones we tried were really good with the BBQ sauce, Savannah had that spread from ear-to-ear so that’s a good sign for sure. You can also order meatballs with sauce and Bruce kindly provided some of these for us to try. These are not made in house, but the franchise allows each of its store’s owners some leeway, so he and his manager tried several different ones until they found the best they could get. I enjoyed these and wouldn’t have known they weren’t house made if he hadn’t told me. There are also lots of other sides you’d expect like cheesy bread sticks, a must for any pizzeria I take the girls to.

Once your order is prepared, it’s delivered to your table by one of the friendly staff members. The only thing you prepare is your drink and that allows you to play with flavor combinations to suit your own taste.

There’s a great selection of beer and wine by the glass. Some of the beers are craft type and the wines actually come in a keg so that it’s not spoiled by air and it cuts down on waste going into the landfills because there are no little bottles. They simply draw you a glass or carafe dependent upon what you’d like. The craft beer I tried was very good and there are also some of the standard domestics if you prefer those. There’s also one of those soda stations with a build your own feel where you can mix and match flavors with your Coca-Cola branded products. There are even hand spun shakes made from soft serve ice-cream that are delicious. I thought my girls had enough of Bruce’s hospitality, so I made them split one and after they tasted them, I got some nasty looks while they sucked the bottom of the cups dry trying to get the last drop. There are also brownies and cookies baked in house and a black and white cookie that’s famous in New York and was featured on the TV show Seinfeld. They’re really famous and if you don't believe me, Google it.

All the above said, I really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere at Firenza Pizza. The casual atmosphere is actually nice and it’s comfortable. Their philosophy regarding food seems to be use the very highest quality ingredients and let those speak for themselves. As I said earlier, from the spread, melt, stringiness, chewiness, and mouth feel of their cheeses that cover the pizza evenly from side-to-side when they’re served, to their wonderful sauces and top-notch salads, the food is really good.

The staff gets an A + for friendliness and helpfulness. The young lady working the oven knows about the various heat zones and works the pies with a peel by hand to ensure even doneness. If she didn’t have these skills, you’d end up with one too done on one side and raw or half risen on the other. It’s really a skill you need to know. Bruce is still struggling a bit to get the hang of the shake making, but it really isn’t something that falls on his shoulders much. Of course, everything is available for take-out too.

The price point at Firenza is comparable with other pizzerias in Lexington that are of better quality than the big three chains but aren’t the strolling violinist type of place. If I were to go to a sit down, fancy-pants place like that where I had to dress anything more than casual I’m not having pizza and salads anyway; basically, I’m out. The truth is, Firenza sacrifices formalities like a glass beer mug for plastic to be able to up the quality of the food and still hold the line on pricing. For a person with a family that’s eaten a lot of those $5 pizzas, this is 100% better and I’ll drink out of a plastic glass to get the quality. Hey, I’d go back just for more of those great little red peppers and a few of their meatballs with sauce and cheese.

The one and only drawback for Firenza is where they are. Again, you really must look for them to find them. Bruce hopes that once more tenants fill the shopping center, more people will get to know them and enjoy their food. When I’m taking the family out for better than good pizza at a reasonable price, I’d say it would be worth it to seek them out. I would.

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