Discussing pizza, a dish that’s the sum of its parts, is most always an exercise in deconstruction. Crust, sauce, toppings: What makes certain pizzas stand out? If you had to choose the best part of a pie at Back Road Pizza — a not-so-hard-to-find place in a strip of steel-building commercial spaces off Second Street just west of the Rail Runner tracks — it would be the crust. Back Road’s is so remarkable that it can detract from the other components. It’s definitely of the thin school, yet it has a bit of chew, and its flavor is wheaty and slightly sweet, nothing like the soda-cracker taste so many thin crusts sport. It has a crisp texture without being brittle, and it offers a touch of crunch from the cornmeal that’s incorporated into the dough. That cornmeal also contributes to the crust’s satisfying flavor, as does the New Mexico-grown wheat flour that gives it its spring. Take your friends who favor thick, chewy, deep-dish styles (or visitors from Chicago). Back Road might change their worldview.
The crust rules, but the other components are pretty good, too. The sauce, heavy on tomato flavor and slightly acidic, is rich, thick, and spread thinly over that delectable base. Toppings — including sausage made in-house and meatballs made from New Mexico-raised beef and pork — are also decent, right down to the artichoke hearts.
Each of the pizzas we sampled — from a special with green chile, roasted chicken, mushrooms, and feta cheese to a traditional pie with sausage, onions, and mushrooms — was carefully constructed, attentively baked, and served immediately. A Greek pie was the perfect mix of concentrated sun-dried-tomato flavor, briny kalamata olives, thin slices of artichoke heart, and wonderful crumbled feta.
There’s nothing especially adventurous — no Thai barbecued-chicken pizza with bean sprouts or other strange concoctions. The most unusual pizza we tried was among the best: one with roasted potatoes, bacon, green onions, a touch of cheddar, and a zigzag finish of crème fraîche applied after baking. The flavors were familiar, like a twice-baked stuffed potato, and in superb agreement. The textural contrast between that crisp crust and the firm yet giving chunks of potato made it an extraordinary experience.
The word parlor may seem old-fashioned — when was the last time you heard an interior decorator or real-estate agent use it? — but it still sticks to pizza and billiards. Back Road is both kinds of parlor. Red walls and black tables standing on red-and-black checkerboard linoleum give the place a traditional look. The pool tables are upstairs. A shaded patio walled in by climbing tomato vines hung with fruit (and signs asking you not pick them) hosts tables that are easy to balance in the gravel. You order at a counter window just past the entrance and find a table. Or move over to a plexiglass barrier that protects the table where the pizzas are rolled out on a surface covered in cornmeal. It’s worth watching. Or take one of the 10 tap beers offered and climb the stairs to show your buddies your skill with a cue. You’ll have plenty of time.
The dough of that fine crust is also the basis of other selections here: garlic cheese rolls, pesto cheese rolls, and bruschetta. The Cubano roll, cut in six sections, is a sort of baked wrap that binds ham, cheese, and pickles into crispy, sweet bite-sized morsels. A meatball sandwich, almost more than one man can handle (this man, anyway), features beefy halved meatballs that seemed to be all meat and no bread crumbs smothered in the rich marinara and tucked into a roll oozing with melted mozzarella.
Salads are decent, based on baby greens that seem exactly like the ones at many other restaurants in town. In a special salad, roasted beets and pumpkin seeds livened up the greens. A fall salad’s green canvas was decorated with walnuts, crumbled dry feta, and sweet dried cranberries. The balsamic vinaigrette was balanced and worth sopping up. The place also makes fine soups. The milky chicken and green chile is soothing and spicy at the same time, and the roasted garlic soup is a complex mix of puréed potatoes, rosemary, chicken broth, and a touch of cream that’s redolent of its namesake ingredient. Both were served with crostini made from Back Road’s wonderful dough. Is there a better crouton? ◀