Everybody's got a go-to pizza spot. It's usually less than a 10-minute drive away, with some sort of cutesy Italian name. The tables have shakers of ground Parmesan and red pepper flakes and bottles of olive oil and vinegar. The pastry case has cannoli. There's a dude or dudette flipping dough into the air and sliding hot pies into brown cardboard boxes. It's the kind of place you call up when you're running late at work, or it's pouring out, or you just burned to a crisp whatever it was that was supposed to be dinner. In other words: pure comfort food.
Michelangelo Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant fits the bill. The Long Island-born mini-chain has three locations in Southwest Florida: one in Parrish, one in Lakewood Ranch and the one nearest my house, on University Parkway in a small strip between Publix and Walmart. The original Ghostbusters theme song is blaring on the stereo when I show up for after-work takeout. The eastern wall is decorated with an enormous blowup of the Sistine Chapel scene with God's and Adam's pointer fingers almost touching.
My 'za, which is ready to go right on time, may not approach the beauty of the Sistine, but it's in the ballpark. Michelangelo specializes in Sicilian-style pies, which really just means they come in the shape of a rectangle with rounded corners. I've never contemplated the wisdom of the square pizza before, but now I get it: This thing fills the entire square box in which it's served. No wasted corners.
Michelangelo's toppings generally hew to Italian-American standards. All the usual meats are well represented, plus you've got your Hawaiian pizza, your pesto chicken pizza, etc. The "Grandmas Sicilian" pie ($14.95) is what's inside my box. It's got a medium-thick crust and comes topped with tomatoes, chopped garlic and basil.
All good pizza begins with a good crust, and Michelangelo's is solid: crunchy on the outside, but plenty foldable, with little ridges of caramelization around the edges. The tomatoes are the real star here, though, landing a fruity and tangy punch that makes you believe in the power of tomatoes again after consuming so many bland, inedible varieties. The little nibs of garlic add power to the pizza, too. Unfortunately, the basil on my pie is so sparsely applied that it's basically MIA.
A garden salad for two ($6.95), ordered to offset the carbs of the main meal, is filled with fresh goods but comes lacking a crucial ingredient: dressing. Luckily we've got some in the fridge. Michelangelo also serves sandwiches ($6.95-$9.50), chicken ($14.95) and veal ($16.95) dishes, seafood options ($13.95-$17.95) and simple pastas like baked ziti ($10.95), lasagna ($10.95) and linguine with clam sauce ($13.95).
You could probably recite the menu without ever even seeing it, because you've probably got a go-to spot just like it. Michelangelo is a bit farther from my house than my current neighborhood pizza place, and those five extra minutes of driving time can sometimes make all the difference. I don't know if I'll switch allegiances. But if I lived a street or three closer? That would be the kind of conundrum that would keep me up at night.
Michelangelo Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant has three Florida locations: 2957 University Parkway, Sarasota, (941) 355-7810; 11517 Palmbrush Trail, Bradenton, (941) 739-5656; and 11255 Highway 301 N., Parrish, (941) 776-1160. All three are open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. For more info, click here.