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Both the thin- and deep-dish versions of the meat-heavy pies were so hearty and substantial that a slice of each left me full and sleepy.
Tech N9ne was apparently flattered enough by his namesake dish to decorate one of the two-dozen full-sized doors — house doors — mounted around the dining room. Once the Cuezzes settled on Next Door Pizza as the joint's name, they began getting door donations from regular customers. A few are plain doors, but others — such as the WHB 810 door created by that radio station's on-air personality Todd Leabo — are done up like art pieces. "I didn't have a lot of money for décor," Patrick says, "so it's all worked out really well."
"We should create a door for the restaurant," William said, spearing a fried meatball with his fork. I might have given that suggestion more thought if I hadn't been so absorbed in spooning the house sugo — a rich, slightly sweet marinara — over a splendid meatball: slightly crisp and crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. It's served with slices of soft Roma bread. Could there be any other choice? Years ago, the Cuezze family owned a bakery in Independence, but Patrick understands that no local bread is quite so beloved with tomato sauce and a green salad as the venerable Roma loaf.
The tiny salad bar is simple and uncluttered. Patrick admits that he gets complaints from customers who would like a more elaborate array of greens and chopped vegetables, but the inexpensive spread — with the usual selection of sliced cucumbers, olives, grated cheese and such — is perfectly fine as a modest side dish for a slice of pie or a plate of pasta. (So far, there are only two pasta dishes on Next Door's menu, including penne drenched in a thick but not particularly remarkable Alfredo sauce.)
By the time the Cuezzes introduce their new menu in a couple of weeks, they will have added nine more chicken-wing options to the list of starters. (They sell a lot of the two variations — mild or really hot — on the current menu.)
I love the starters already available. The night I dined with Scott, Jason and Angela, we impulsively ordered something called Puerto fries: hand-cut, ice-water-soaked French fries (the most delicious, golden, perfectly crispy fries on the east side of the metro), smothered in a thick queso sauce (yes, it's a Rotel dip, made with a generic Velveeta-style product). Even better: the three sliders served on fresh rolls. Jason and I split these, agreeing that, though the fried-meatball version was good, the sausage slider was outstanding. The garlic cheese bread — on Roma, of course — was generously cheesy but needed more garlic.
Patrick says his clientele isn't afraid of garlic. He's even adding a new pizza with artichoke hearts and roasted garlic to the upcoming menu. Still, I'd like to see a lot more cloves of buttery, roasted garlic on his pies (and at the salad bar).
Scott, a vegetarian, called the Unhinged pizza "lasagna in a crust," and I agreed. All of Patrick's deep-dish specialty pies are very good. Maybe not as memorable as the kind you'd find in the Windy City but definitely upper crust by Kansas City standards. Patrick says he's experimenting with a focaccia deep-dish version. Bring it on.