March 11, 2010

Eat & RunAt Pizza By Alex, they do one thing, and they do it SO right

Alex In

— From staff reports

click image to enlarge

Doug Jones/staff photographer: Tuesday, April 21, 2008: James Casavant stacks pizzas in the cooler for the supper rush., at Biddeford's Pizza By Alex. Eat and Run

BIDDEFORD — Everyone knows that pizza stores in Maine are a dime a dozen. (In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw one in an automotive parts store.)

But the good ones definitely earn a reputation. And everyone knows Pizza By Alex in the Biddeford area -- and well beyond.

The small, one-person pies are so good, that's all the eatery serves: pizza, 19 varieties.

Having eaten Pizza By Alex since we discovered it (we often thank our neighbors for favors with a pie to share), we've wondered why an eatery in busy downtown Biddeford would focus on just one menu item.

We asked owner Andrew Mantis. And, like his philosophy, he kept the answer simple.

''It's what we do best. We only have pies, we only have one size, and we don't deliver. And it's been the same recipe since 1960,'' Mantis said. ''My uncle started the business, and we've expanded a few different items. But basically, it's the same pizza.''

All pies cost between $5.50 and $9.10.

We normally get the spinach ($6.35), which goes great with cheese, or the extra cheese ($6.70), because we love cheese. But for the purposes of this review we tried the bacon ($6.60), which was heavier, crispier and saltier, but nice.

The Alex Special ($9.10), named for its creator, has pepperoni, salami, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives.

''My uncle and I had a very close relationship,'' Mantis said. ''I wouldn't change his name. We have a bit of name recognition. We have customers from as far away as Augusta, and all over the state. We do FedEx pies. We mail them out.''

The magic in the Alex pizza, at least in our mind, is the crust: a light, pastry-like, almost-sweet dough pie.

However, Mantis said there is nothing special about his crust. The popularity of his pies, he said, lies in the simplicity of the Mantis family approach.

''Everyone thinks there is a secret recipe. It's just how we handle it,'' Mantis said. ''And everything is done daily. We chop our own vegetables. We slice our own meat. We do our own grinding of cheeses. We mix our own sauces on a daily basis. If I don't want to eat it, we don't serve it.''

The restaurant, like the menu, is simple, clean and comfy.

It reminded us a bit of an old New York City pizzeria, but don't ask me why.

Maybe because it seems upscale in an old, historic kind of way. Maybe because Biddeford's downtown feels like a real city. Maybe because Pizza by Alex has at least a bit of renown.

The only thing we are certain of, is, as our neighbors call it, ''the good stuff.''

Pizza By Alex is worth five stars.

The Features staff of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram anonymously samples meals for around $7.

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