Almost a couple of years ago now, the Kansas City Star sponsored a contest called the Casual Food Chowdown where they pitted 16 restaurants against each in four categories - barbecue, burgers, pizza, and tacos - and put them each in a bracket-style tournament where people voted on-line for their favorite places. Once the Final Four were picked, they finished up voting for their favorite overall casual restaurant in the Kansas City area. The winner - and not to my surprise - was Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue (see my entry on Oklahoma Joe's here and here), but the other Final Four participants were Westport Flea Market for burgers (click here to see my entry on Westport Flea Market - the third best burger on my Best Burgers - 2012 list), Ponak's Mexican Kitchen for tacos (click here to see my entry on Ponak's), and a place that I wasn't familiar with called SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza. Since I'd eaten at three of the four category winners in the past, I decided to try SPIN! for a pizza on a recent visit to Kansas City.
Pizza isn't usually on my radar when I go to Kansas City. With so many world class barbecue and steak places in the town, I really haven't sought out any pizza places for a number of years. I remember eating at a Minsky's a few years back, but it wasn't all that great. With a strong Italian heritage in the city, I figured there had to be some place that had good pizza and I was hoping SPIN! would be just that place.
SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza has been around the Kansas City area since 2005. Gail and Dr. Richard Lozoff had started a chain of bagel places in the Kansas City area called Bagel Bagel. The local chain had grown to nine locations before the Lozoff's - and partners/in-laws Mitchell and Debra Swaden - sold off the chain in 1994 to Boston Market who then developed Bagel Bagel into the Einstein Bros. Bagels chain. Gail Lozoff, whose grandfather and father were bakers in the Kansas City area, worked on the executive staff for Einstein Bros. in Denver before returning to Kansas City to work for Houlihan Restaurants as their chief concept officer.
The Lozoff's would go out to eat quite a bit and they found that most casual places were either expensive or repetitive in their choices of food. Gail Lozoff left Houlihan Restaurants and worked on a casual pizza place concept with her husband and a business partner, Edwin Brownell. The group opened their first SPIN! pizza place in Overland Park in 2005. Today, there are five SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza locations in the greater Kansas City area (they are looking at opening a sixth location very soon), and they recently began to sell franchises of the concept. Their first franchisee, Craig Hofman, the owner of the Lucille's Barbecue chain in Southern California, plans to build about 35 SPIN! locations in SoCal.
It was the original Overland Park location that I visited one evening during a trip to the Kansas City area a few weeks ago. It's located in the Leawood Plaza strip mall on the south side of 119th Street behind the Cheesecake Factory. (see map) It was around 8 p.m. when I got into the place. When you walk in, you are greeted by a guy who is standing underneath the menu for SPIN! on a board. You place your order for pizza and drinks right then and there. It was similar to the concept I encountered at Punch Neapolitan Pizza in Minneapolis a couple years ago. I hoped that the pizza at SPIN! would be better than the one I had at Punch.
In addition to pizza at SPIN!, they have a number of salads, grilled panini sandwiches, flatbreads and spreads, and other sandwiches on the menu. The menu at SPIN! was developed with local Kansas City chef Michael Smith, a James Beard award winner who is the owner of - naturally - Michael Smith, an upscale restaurant in downtown Kansas City.
I was going to get a pizza and they have a number of specialty pizzas including their margherita pizza that was named one of the top dishes of the year a couple years ago by Restaurant Business magazine. SPIN! regularly wins local awards for best pizza in the Kansas City area. Their pizzas are one size only and I ended up getting a pepperoni pizza and asked if they could put some sausage on it. I also ordered a couple Boulevard Pale Ale's to go along with the pizza. He gave me a table card with a number on it and I went to find a place to sit.
The pizza at SPIN! is baked in a large wood-fired oven in true Neapolitan fashion. They use locally sourced and fresh ingredients for their pizzas. They get their Italian sausage from Scimeca's Sausage, a longtime local meat market that caters to Italian restaurants in the greater Kansas City area.
I found a table with a bench seat along the wall in the dining room. There were two large groups - a group of 20-somethings at one large table, and a smaller group of middle-aged ladies across the industrial/contemporary dining room. SPIN! has won a handful of awards for its decor. Not long after I sat down, a young lady brought over my two beers with a glass.
Since wood-fired Neapolitan pizza doesn't take long to bake, I got my pizza about 10 minutes after I ordered at the front counter. It featured large slices of pepperoni with chunks of sausage across the top of the pizza. Fresh mozzarella was used for the cheese with a light tomato sauce mixed in. The crust was thin in the middle, but more thick on the outer edges. The misshapen pizza was probably around 11" inches in diameter.
The overall taste of the pizza was very good. The crust had a nice chewy texture, but it wasn't doughy in the least. The pepperoni had a nice spicy and salty taste, and the Italian sausage was sweet and spicy. But it wasn't greasy, at all. It easily passed the "Does it taste good with a beer?" test that I always use as a determining factor whether a pizza is good or not. It was an excellent pizza.
I did my best in trying to finish the whole pizza, but I ended up a couple pieces short. I got a box from one of the servers to take the remaining two slices back to the hotel for breakfast in the morning.
So, I've now tried all four category winners in the KC Star's Casual Food Chowdown. I have to concur with the readers who voted Oklahoma Joe's as the best, but it was certainly tough to chose between the other three. For pizza, SPIN! acquitted themselves very well and it is no wonder they win many "Best Pizza" awards in the Kansas City area. Now that they're on my culinary radar for restaurants in K.C., I'm sure I'll be back again at some point.