Beavercreek’s Spinoza’s delivers Italian enlightenment
By Paula Johnson
Photo: Slices of Ezzo Pizza (left) and Yin Yang Pizza at Spinoza’s in Beavercreek; photos: Paula Johnson
My friend Barrister Greg and I met up for pizza recently at a place I won’t name, which left me as usual asking the question “Where can a girl get a decent pie in this town?” Greg responded, “Let me take you to Spinoza’s.” So PIP (Palate In Progress) and I set out on a Friday after work to meet up with Greg to try it out. The only information given was that they pretty much only have pizza and salads. I asked no questions about what the place was like, and in my mind, Spinoza’s was a little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint with Formica tabletop booths, where you order up a pizza at the counter.
PIP and I were confused when our GPS led us to the mall at Fairfield Commons, to a place that was actually IN that mall. A mall at holiday time is probably the last place I wanted to be, and my expectations for what a decent pizza joint would be doing in a mall made me skeptical to say the least. We arrived to find Barrister Greg seated already in front of a stage, where a few musicians were tweaking their instrument setup. What I didn’t know is that Spinoza’s is one of the best venues to see and hear live music—everything from blues, jazz, acoustic, and world fusion, according to their website. (They also mention their Bose professional audio system.) PIP, as readers might know, is something of a curmudgeon when it comes to live music played “while he’s trying to eat his dinner in peace,” as he puts it. Both of us were questioning Barrister Greg’s judgment on this one. The space itself is nothing like the pizza joint I anticipated. Contemporary, casual, and comfortable with low lighting, the place was filled to the brim. “It’s always like this on weekends. Everyone comes for the amazing music lineup,” Greg informed us.
What’s in a Name?
I was curious about the name “Spinoza’s” (since Barrister Greg told me the owner was a guy named Glen Brailey) until I looked at the website. Here’s a quote that gives a clue: “All noble pizzas are as difficult as they are rare.”—Baruch Spinoza, 1632-1679. “OK he actually said THINGS, but PIZZAS are things, too” is the restaurant’s follow-up to the quote from the philosopher who laid the groundwork for 18th-century Enlightenment, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe. Clearly Glen Brailey’s goal is to share his enlightened ideas about pizza, from how the crust is made and the sauce recipe, to the impressive quality and variety of the cheeses and toppings Spinoza’s offers. Brailey’s pizza pedigree goes way back to a stint at Domino’s while still in college (studying philosophy is my guess), starting up Dayton’s Original Pizza Factory on Salem Avenue, and in 1995, opening Pacchia Wood Fired Pizza in the Oregon District. He sold Pacchia in 2008, ostensibly retiring from tossing the dough until the opportunity to open Spinoza’s in Beavercreek came his way. So what is Brailey’s pizza philosophy? The menu proudly proclaims its artisanally made and aged dough using non bleached or bromated flour, sauces that are slow simmered for long periods, and a variety of cheeses and toppings, thoughtfully sourced for the best quality and not the cheapest price. I was intrigued!
Spinoza’s offers a constantly rotating selection of local, regional, and world craft beers (Spinozas.com/NewSite/Craft-Beer-List), but we wanted some red wine with our pies. The list offered nothing unusual, but for those regulars in the know, like Greg, there’s another list with more interesting options, which he requested from our friendly server, Hailey. We went with a nice bottle of Lock and Key Meritage. “You’ve gotta try the salads!” insisted Greg, so we began with three: The Greek (large $11.95), Pax Romana (regular $5.45), and Iron Man (regular $6.45). What I really liked about all the salads were the wonderful, heaping, fresh array of greens, plus the addition of a few atypical ingredients. For instance, the Pax Romana, a sort of riff on the Caesar, featured roasted garlic cloves, sun dried tomatoes, and good, shaved Parmesan, while the Iron Man spinach salad was enlivened by edamame and pepitas. The detraction, for me, was that the dressings were not house-made, something which surprised me a lot, considering the care and craft that we found in everything else Spinoza’s kitchen sent out that evening. These salads deserve to be dressed better than they were!
The Pie’s the Limit
We put the salads aside when the pizzas arrived. PIP, a pepperoni fan, had ordered the Ezzo Pizza (12” $18.90), and I chose the Yin Yang (12” $16.95). I really liked the pizza combinations on the menu, including these two, but there’s a long list of choices to design your own, starting with an amazing 10 sauces to pick from. The spicy sauce comes highly recommended by Barrister Greg, so I know that will be on my next pie. Cheese options are also outside the norm, with smoked Gouda as one I haven’t seen before. Unusual toppings include macadamia nuts and pepitas. Gluten-free and whole-wheat crusts are available, as well. But back to our pies: the Ezzo highlights Columbus-based Ezzo Sausage Company’s wonderful all-natural pepperoni. We added sausage for the ultimate carnivore pie, as was suggested. I am not big on pepperoni, usually finding it too oily and overly processed tasting, but these little slightly charred disks were fantastic. PIP was in heaven, and we both agreed that this was a fine offering, from crust to cheese to the meats. I was equally as happy with the Yin Yang, a great combination composed of cumin spiced chorizo, gorgonzola and mozzarella, fresh spinach, and sweet glazed walnuts. The crust was painted with a garlic olive oil instead of traditional sauce, and the combination of the sweet and spicy with the fresh spinach and crunch of the nuts was so very good. This pie won out for me, while Greg and PIP favored the more traditional Ezzo.
So, how were we faring with seating right in front of the stage and with all that pesky music? Despite our proximity to the performers, we managed to converse, and we all enjoyed watching the live musicians. The first set was a singer-songwriter and terrific guitarist from Indiana named Brian Keith Wallen, whose name I know because I bought his CD. I wish I had noted the others who followed him, because they were all really fine as well. PIP even forgot he didn’t like music while dining, and I caught him humming and toe tapping.
We All Screamed
The whole evening was such fun—great music, a lively crowd, good pizza. I didn’t expect one of the best parts was yet to come: the ice cream. Glen Brailey appears to be as obsessed with making ice cream as he is with pizza. He experiments and changes flavors regularly. Ice cream is $3.75 per scoop or the trio sampler ($7.45). Take home pints are $20. Of the eight or so flavors offered, we narrowed it to Buckeye, Coffee Amicelli with Italian hazelnut wafers, and our favorite Ginger Cookie Butter. This one had Speculoos, Belgian gingersnap cookies. All the ice creams were simply outstanding in creaminess and body, the flavors unusual and surprising.
By the end of the evening, I had come up with my own formula for philosophical enlightenment: Salad + Pizza + Ice Cream + Music = one great way to spend a Friday night, and achieving this level of personal satisfaction can be accomplished with a visit to Spinoza’s.
Spinoza’s is located at 2727 Fairfield Commons Blvd. in Beavercreek. For more information, please call 937.426.7799 or visit Spinozas.com.