IT'S simple, it's satisfying and it offers the perfect laid-back communal dining experience.
Yes, we're talking about pizza. The combination of dough, cheese and toppings is one of food's greatest triumphs that doesn't feel the need for fussiness in order to impress.
In Australia we've adopted our own all-or-nothing approach to pizza (i.e.: load those toppings up!).
So who does it best?
It's subjective, but in recent years the pizza game had been upped in the region. There are plenty of pizza places around to road-test, from the long-standing Don Beppino's and Arrivederci, to newcomers such as Bella Italia on Hunter Street.
Among the newcomers slinging authentic Italian pizza are chefs Davide Vacca and Ricardo Tirini who, along with Aurelie Maingre, opened DiRoma Pizzeria 18 months ago. The little restaurant on Glebe Road in Merewether specialises in Roman-style pizza.
When they entered the pizza game together, they decided to meet in the middle and adopt the pizza style signature to Rome in central Italy.
"We do Roman-style pizza, which is a thin and crispy base. Most Italian places around, they have the puffy edge that is Neapolitan-style. Ours is Romano, which is very thin and crispy," Vacca says."That's why our name is DiRoma. It means 'from Rome'."
The dough has a thin, crisp crust which means that unlike its thinner cousin, the Neapolitan-style pizza that originated in Naples, it can accommodate a heavier load of toppings.
Italian pizza is typically light on when it comes to toppings. A classic Margherita consists only a tomato base with mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. Simple perfection that isn't drowning in cheese.
The menu at DiRoma covers the Italian pizza classics such as four formaggi (creme fraiche base with buffalo mozzarella, gorgonzola dolce, feta, grated parmigiano) and prosciutto (tomato base, mozzarella, parma prosciutto, rocket and shaved parmigiano), as well as a gourmet range that caters more so to the Australian-ised version of pizza.
One of Vacca's crowning creations is the tenderloin truffle, with garlic butter base, mozzarella, grilled eye fillet beef, baby spinach, caramelised onion, bacon, shaved parmesan, fresh basil and truffle mayo, which is full of flavour and has emerged as the clear favourite with customers since opening.
Here's more to try:
173 King Street, Newcastle Serving up perfect Italian pizza from a wood-fired oven, Napoli follow tradition and use Neapolitan flour for the dough which is kneaded by hand on a marble surface. The result is super thin pizza with a wonderfully fluffy, blistered crust on the edges. The menu is extensive (you must order the four cheese pizza). The metre-long pizza is a bit of good fun. Check out the specials - this week's include zucchini base with charred corn, sautéed onion, capsicum, lime and fresh chili (vegan-friendly) or mozzarella with truffle paste, brie, shaved ham, rocket and shaved parmesan.
545 Hunter Street, Newcastle Italians Andrea Dazzi and Nico Gentile opened their restaurant in May. They serve authentic Italian pizza, thin and with a crunchy base, wood-fired in their Marana oven. There offer 28 varieties, including vegan options, covering traditional combinations, as well as their own creations, such as pork belly with pesto base, porchetta, rocket and balsamic dressing, or the "anna" which pairs mozzarella with smoked salmon and crumbed pistachio. The 13-inch pizzas range from $15 to $26.
Slice Gourmet Pizza
1/289 Brunker Road, Adamstown The toppings are generous at Slice, where they stick with Australian-style pizza. The base is a happy medium between thick and thin. There are 30 pizzas on the menu. The Watagan Beef (with sliced beef, bacon, red onion, cherry tomato, kalamata olives and dijon mustard, is a winner, as is the Teriyaki Chicken with marinated teriyaki chicken, bacon, roma tomatoes, roasted capsicum and sesame seeds. And yes, they serve individual slices! They offer a select range of pizzas by the slice every daily 11am to 3pm.
Adam's Ribs & Pizza
548 Glebe Road, Adamstown Owner Mark Burrell is serious about his pizza. He has a mammoth menu of pizzas, from the traditional (margherita, supreme) to his own experimental flavours. There's the hot chip pizza with garlic aioli, roast chicken, bacon, mozzarella and potato fries, as well as his famed L.R.B. pizza with lychee, roma tomato, blue cheese, capers and baby spinach which he describes as "a flavour sensation". Don't knock it until you've tried it.
Masa Madre Pizza
1/40 Railway Street, Wickham It's not Italian that you'll find here, but Spanish-inspired pizza which is made using 24-hour slow fermented sourdough (Masa Madre means "mother dough"). Pizzas are cooked on a wood-fire oven, which gives each a beautifully rustic crust that is equal parts puffy and crunchy. The pizza menu is short, limited to nine varieties, with a handful of specials (both vegetarian and vegan options.) Try the zucchini pizza with zucchini, mozzarella, feta, almonds, lemon, grana padona, chilli oil and honey; corn and smoked bacon with fresh cron, mozzarella, maple smoked bacon, basil and grana padona; or the 'hot hippie' with tomato, mozzarella, red leicester, kimchi, mushroom, red onion and chives.
787 Pacific Highway, Belmont Italian restaurant Salina's has remained a firm favourite on the lake for more than a decade. Alongside pasta dishes and mains, the menu includes pizzas (28cm) and pizzettas (20cm). Thin crust, classic style, the toppings range from the simple (olive with sun-dried tomato, goats cheese and rocket; potato with rosemary, garlic and sea salt) to their own signature creations (garlic and lemon marinated chicken with roast sweet potato, mushroom, rocket and aioli; mushroom with caramelised onion, dried figs, walnuts, goats cheese, baby spinach and balsamic glaze).
Vita Cafe and Restaurant
295 Watkins Road, Wangi Wangi Across the lake over at Wangi Wangi, Vita has earned a faithful following for its beautiful food, including its stone-baked pizzas. They are Italian-style and well worth the drive. There are a handful of varieties on the menu and the toppings celebrate classic combinations - margherita, porcini, arrabiatta - as well as seafood, chicken and potato.
Best Coast Pizza
32 Llewellyn Street, Merewether You're either a fan of a thick crust or a thin crust pizza. For those in the latter category, Best Coast has the pizza for you. Their bases are super thin, which is achieved using a 24 hour cold fermentation process, with a nice fluffy edge. There's a big selection of pizzas to choose from which are split into categories of classics, meat, chicken, vegetarian and from the sea. Carnivores will like the BC Meatlovers with double smoked ham, pepperoni, salami, chorizo, caramelised onions, bbq sauce and oregano. For the vegos, try the Smashed Pumpkin with roasted pumpkin, caramelised onions, pine nuts, feta, Moroccan spice and rocket. If you're on the quest for a healthier pizza, Best Coast also offer wholemeal spelt bases as an option.
159B Darby Street, Newcastle Deluca's is one of the longest serving restaurants on the Darby Street strip (13 years and counting, in fact) now and for good reason. The little Italian eatery is snug and cosy, and the perfect place to settle in for a traditional Italian pizza with a thin and crispy crust. There are 11 on the menu, which range from pepperoni to anchovy, as well as specials such as the popular broccoli with gorgonzola and prosciutto (it's on the board now if you're tempted).
Empire Pizza Palace
199 Main Road, Cardiff In terms of great little suburban pizza joints, Empire hits the mark. Nearly one year old, Empire has 29 pizzas on the menu, including traditional toppings and cross-cultural fusions such as Mexican pizza (with beef mince, corn chips, onion, capsicum, bacon, jalapenos, cheese, sour cream and salsa) and chicken satay pizza (satay base with chicken, bacon, onion, cheese and shallots). They also have pizza subs. Yep, pizza on a slice of sub bread. Think of it as garlic bread on steroids. Don't question it, just enjoy.
Big Mamma's Pizza
77 Turea Street, Blacksmiths There's been plenty of talk about Italian pizza, but what about American-style? If you've ever been to New York and still dream about a big slice, Big Mamma's has just the thing. Alongside their traditional and gourmet range, they have three New York-style pizzas which clock in at the 45cm mark. They're massive. There's the NY1 with a quarter each of Hawaiian, meat lovers, bbq chicken and Big Mamma's Special (ham, pepperoni, cabanossi, mushroom, capsicum, onion, pineapple and olives); NY2 which is a classic cheese and pepperoni; or NY3 with ham, pepperoni, cabanossi, bacon and chicken on bbq base.
Corner Broke and McDonald's Roads, Pokolbin Alongside the share plates and cocktails on the menu at Goldfish sit the pizzas. There's six pizzas to choose from and one that has never lost its place on the menu is the lamb pizza. With braised lamb shoulder, potato, confit garlic, rosemary, green olives, feta and fresh mint, it's as close to perfection as a pizza topping can get. Full credit to goes to the confit garlic - its the prize element on this excellent pizza.
Grand Junction Hotel
88 Church Street, Maitland If you're not bothered about keeping things authentic, The Junkyard's pizza menu is the place you'll occasionally find those more unconventional creations. There's the standard fare - pepperoni, bbq pulled pork - as well as their weekly pizza special which has varied from classics such as the capricciosa to the cheeseburger (complete with pickles). If you're up for a carb-loading session, this week's special is a mac and cheese pizza which, we must admit, looks strangely tempting.
3443 Nelson Bay Road, Bobs Farm Ask anyone that enjoys watching sports on TV and they'll no doubt tell you that there is no better combination than beer and pizza. Murray's Brewery has got just that (minus the sports). Like everything on the menu at Murray's, the pizzas are generous in size and they don't hold back on the toppings. Each of the six pizzas on the menu is matched with one of their beers. Settle in on the hill under the gum trees and try an Angry Man pizza (grilled rump, crisp bacon, pepperoni, chipotle, pulled pork on a bbq base) washed down with a Murray's Angry Man pale ale.
The Oriental Hotel
53 Bull Street, Cooks Hill They're famous for the trivia nights and comedy shows, and also for their pizza. Pub pizza has a tendency to be pretty hit-and-miss, but the pies at The Ori are good. Very good, in fact. A great base, with a puffy crust, there's classic Italian combos as well as the popular peri peri chicken and bbq maple chicken. They run specials and also offer vegan versions, too.