Northwest Neighborhood Treasures, Near and Far

Five new reviews of family-friendly ethnic cafes and east coast-style pizza parlors

Saccone's Pizza and Cafe

2701-A Hwy. 183 S., Leander

259-1882

Monday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, 3-9pm

13812 Research Blvd.

257-1200

Monday-Sunday, 11am-10pm

Close your eyes and picture the perfect pizza ... if it comes with free CinnaStix, then it's time to let you in on a secret North Austinites have been keeping -- Saccone's Pizza and Cafe. For six years, these New Jersey natives have served authentic East Coast-style pizza earning the extreme loyalty of their customers. Their refusal to blend Texas cuisine into the menu or tailor to Austin culinary trends has kept the product true to its name: "Pizza With a Jersey Attitude." Its light, thin crust is true to the taste of pizza up North, crusty on the bottom and ready to fold on the go.

The menu seems a little pricey at first glance, but when "Dan's Special" arrived at the door, reluctance faded and it was obviously worth the extra five bucks. Their one-size-fits-all pizza is more than enough for a family of four and capable of sustaining a single person for days. Too much sauce or cheese can weigh down a thin crust, but the ratio was just right, covered in round sausage slices like pepperonis, black olives, fresh mushrooms, and onions. Falling within their small delivery area was a nice surprise, but after the first bite, it's easy to understand why loyal take-out customers zealously agree that the 15-minute drive is well worth it.

Authenticity is maintained by owner Dan Saccone and his family, natives of Carteret, N.J. Burned out on the banking business, Saccone went to work for several friends running a pizza shop where he learned to make pizza the way locals expected. With a brother in Leander and their parents' retirement to the same town, Saccone visited Austin on a regular basis and in 1996, came permanently, hoping his pizza skills could woo homesick East Coast natives with a taste of home and tempt locals with something new. The first Saccone's Pizza and Cafe opened in Leander, in February 1997, and exactly one year later the second location opened in North Austin.

Saccone's has an extensive menu of pastas, hot and cold subs, sandwiches, and appetizers, but much of the traditional Italian-American cuisine fails to distinguish itself with the same flavor or authenticity of his pizza. The marinara sauce had a mediciney taste and though Saccone has improved the recipe over the last month, it still needs some tweaking before I'd choose it over pizza. Rubbery cheese on the Philly cheesesteak and hard meatballs in the meatball sub confirmed my first instinct that pizzas are by far the best-tasting and most economical choice.

Now, back to that pizza. Customized toppings are always an option, but the "Family Favorites" and "Specialty Pizzas" should be explored for their range of variation from plain to packed. The Margherita and the white pizzas are simple for the topping-wary eater, and a Sicilian is available for those preferring a 1-inch-thick pan slice. Meat-eaters have their pick of pork toppings and meatballs, while veggie lovers can order broccoli, eggplant, and fresh tomatoes. Saccone's uses no eggs in its dough, and the sauce is strictly meat-free, so vegetarians and vegans are never restricted to salad.

So how do you convince a town where Gatti's all-you-can-eat buffets are wildly popular, Gumby's is considered late-night gourmet, and a pizza isn't a pizza without Ranch dressing that there's something better out there? Imagine moving to Missouri or Kansas, where breakfast tacos don't exist and the local Tex-Mex hot spot is On the Border. The enormous 18-inch pie re-creates the regional style well enough to fool a native but a New Jersey birth certificate isn't necessary to appreciate Saccone's Pizza and Cafe. Northeastern transplants and Austinites who appreciate the authentic regional cuisine will agree that a few U-turns on Research are worth the treasure served at Saccone's.

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