Lila Kalick: Finding a savory slice in Ann Arbor's sea of mediocre pizza

BY LILA KALICK
Daily Local Cuisine Columnist
Published October 21, 2009

Ann Arbor, let’s talk pizza.

In our college town, it's often mass-produced, made on the fly for the phalanxes of students curled around corners at the usual hot spots, namely Backroom, Bell’s, Cottage Inn, NYPD and Pizza House. A sample of the crowd knocking back beers at Charley’s surely would agree that nothing satisfies a case of late-night munchies like a greasy, cheesy, $1 slice from across the street. I can’t argue with my college brethren’s choice of midnight snack. Late night pizza is the greatest.

The demand for the product is high, the customer is willing and hunger is on the line, literally. Eating cheap, slapdash slices at campus haunts is clearly a must-do college experience and Ann Arbor has plenty of options. But more often than not the crusts are bland, the sauce weak, the cheese quality poor and the topping selection sparse.

These low standards make a smattering of chili flakes, extra parmesan and a big gulp of soda (yes, "soda" — not "pop") almost a necessity in the quest to get it all down successfully before heading to the next party or back home to the comfortable recesses of your sheets. It’s safe to say that most Michigan students don’t seek out pizza places open past 11 p.m. for the sake of their sensitive taste buds. But if we did, there is no question: In terms of quality, the cheese stands alone. Silvio’s Organic Pizza surpasses the competition.

Silvio’s commitment to locally bought fresh ingredients and innovative flavor combinations yields a superior slice — one that a surprisingly large number of Ann Arborites have yet to try. What’s more, Silvio's — like its endemically greasy, hyper-cheesy counterparts — is also open late: until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. That's worth noting, especially if you find yourself around North University Avenue in need of a snack at 2 a.m. Silvio’s location also makes it the perfect lunch spot, a stone’s throw from the Diag and a welcome Mom-and-Pop alternative to the Panera, Chipotle, Noodles & Company and Starbucks that surround it.

The restaurant itself, with its gray-tiled floor, red tabletops, Italian flags and children’s colored pencil drawings hanging on the cream-colored and exposed-brick walls is reminiscent of the boardwalk eateries I used to go to with family during summer vacations at the beach. Those memories and the soft yellow lighting inspire warm fuzzy feelings, only furthered by the glorious smells radiating from the industrial-sized oven.

The neatest parts of the whole experience, besides the vintage stained-glass Coca-Cola clock and the fact that the restaurant is raffling off two round-trip tickets to Italy, are the experiments taking place in that kitchen. At Silvio’s you’ll find ingredient combinations you've never even imagined. Try a potato, blue cheese and rosemary pizza, or maybe a bowl of dandelion soup. The most popular of these crazy creations is the truffle pizza — fontina cheese, shitake mushrooms and white truffle oil. Hold the tomato sauce — this thing is out of this world. Other quirky finds include breakfast pizza and the “Sweet Dream” pizza, a super alternative to insomnia cookies, topped with custard cream, Nutella and powdered sugar. If you desire something sweet, but less colossal than a whole pizza, you’d be a fool to pass up the cannolis — tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough with a sweet vanilla or chocolate custard filling.

Silvio’s creations may seem unorthodox but they’re almost always a success. It’s refreshing to see such a commitment to innovation, especially in a market that usually restricts itself to the basics: cheese, pepperoni and ... more cheese. Moreover, Silvio’s is committed to producing a healthy meal for its patrons. Every pizza is patted out by hand, made with organic ingredients and produced using sustainable food practices. Silvio Medoro and family, who work and run the restaurant, buy their certified organic ingredients from local providers. You may even recognize the taste of their goat cheese — it’s from another Ann Arbor favorite: Zingerman’s.

If the perfection of the crust, succulent flavor collaborations and extensive menu are not enough to draw you to Silvio’s, try a piece for the authenticity of the flavors. They’re as genuine as any I tried on my trip to Italy because Silvio and his family are actually from Italy. Always, always, always ask about the special, and if you can’t make it out of bed, call in. They deliver!