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Review: Blood, toil, sweat and cheese

"Pizza is like sex - even when it's bad, it's still pretty good." Nowhere does that old saw hold more true than in Bratislava, where pizza mediocrity is the norm, variety and invention are shunned, and dining in pizzerias is ever more popular.
With so many pizzerias open nowadays - there are 36 listed in the 1999 Bratislava yellow pages alone - it's hard to believe that Italian America's greatest contribution to western society didn't appear in Slovakia until 1982. The country's first pizza oven was brought to Bratislava in that year by Ján Marek, who learned the trade during a two year stint in Vienna managing a Slovak restaurant.
"It was a matter of technology," says Marek. "Pizza ovens didn't exist here before I imported the first one from Austria in 1982."

Pizzeria Umbria

Where: Špitálska 31, Bratislava
English Menu: Yes
Open: Daily 10:00-22:00, closed on Sundays
Prices: Pizza from 89 to 149 Sk
Rating: 7 out of 10

"Pizza is like sex - even when it's bad, it's still pretty good." Nowhere does that old saw hold more true than in Bratislava, where pizza mediocrity is the norm, variety and invention are shunned, and dining in pizzerias is ever more popular.

With so many pizzerias open nowadays - there are 36 listed in the 1999 Bratislava yellow pages alone - it's hard to believe that Italian America's greatest contribution to western society didn't appear in Slovakia until 1982. The country's first pizza oven was brought to Bratislava in that year by Ján Marek, who learned the trade during a two year stint in Vienna managing a Slovak restaurant.

"It was a matter of technology," says Marek. "Pizza ovens didn't exist here before I imported the first one from Austria in 1982."

With his new pizza-making know-how, Marek conducted seminars in the early 1990s in six different Slovak cities on the art of pizza making. "Now there are tons of places that make pizza. Many of them have even imported enormous ovens from Italy," he said.

Despite his impact on Slovak culinary life, Marek never opened another pizzeria after founding Pizzeria Umbria (Špitalska 31, opposite the Hotel Kyjev), an unpretentious haunt which is still open today. The pizza served at Umbria is above par for Bratislava, with a tasty, chewy crust and tangy, homemade sauce. Prices are below average and the service is relaxed and personable.

"We've been open for many years now, but we are constantly tinkering with our recipes and adding options to our menu," said Marek. The current board of fare includes a pizza with crab, octopus and shrimp.

In Slovakia, a thin-crust or Italian-style pizza is the standard model. American franchise Pizza Hut is one of the only restaurants that breaks the mold, serving deep dish, or 'pan pizza', which has a crust several centimetres thick. The Hut is also responsible for introducing another innovation to the Slovak pizza market - delivery.

"There are two or three others that deliver now," said Pizza Hut Bratislava manager Ivan Rodan. "But we were the first."

Last year Pizza Hut tried to institute another staple practice of pizzerias around the world - selling pizza by the slice - but ran into logistical problems. The massive warmer set up outside the restaurant on Obchodna ulica had to be put away for security reasons every day, and the entire operation was burdened by hygiene and safety concerns.

Aside from Little Caesar's, another American franchise, no privately-run pizzerias in Bratislava currently sell pizza by the slice.

"This will change in the near future," said Rodan. "The fast food market is coming to Slovakia."

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Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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