By Patrick McAuliffe and Adrienne Vertucci
The fall semester is now in full swing, and most of the student body should be pretty comfortably settled (as comfortably settled as a young adult with lots of stress and nagging existential dread can be). With the pressure of schoolwork, clubs, and social lives, why not unwind with the universal comfort food? That’s right, we’ve toured some of Binghamton’s local pizzerias and sampled their pies, as well as their general atmosphere and prices for those on a tight budget (so probably everyone). For a control slice, we’ll be getting one pepperoni piece at every restaurant. And yes, all of them deliver. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Nirchi’s (along Vestal Parkway past Denny’s and KFC)
You may have not-so-fond memories from GIM season and your unwitting participation in the Nirchi’s Diet. The actual restaurant itself may be a bit more enjoyable than their shits–I mean sheets of “pizza” from that Zombie Student Association meeting one time. The interior of their small building is pleasantly arranged like an Italian eatery, with dark wooden furniture comprising of both booths and elevated tables. You can sit on their sunny indoor patio, closer to the registers, or outside on tables lining the parkway. Pictures of local kids sports teams form a connection to the community. Their menu offers both square and triangular-shaped slices, with many more varieties of square pizza on display. I arrived, ordered two triangle slices – pepperoni and chicken bacon ranch – and a fountain drink, which came to $4.39 without tax or toppings. Depending on what you get on your pie, it can be a bit more pricey. It could be the triangle slices or whenever you order a slice of any shape individually, but the ratio of cheese to bread to sauce is much more balanced than a slice of sheet pizza. The taste of both is nothing exceptional – what you order is what you get – but the sauce on the pepperoni slices was a bit sweeter than I expected.
Verdict: whatever your preconceived notions of Nirchi’s are from GIM samplings, it may be worth your time to visit in person considering they are so close to campus with such a large variety of products.
Mario’s Pizzeria (University Plaza, behind Tully’s and CopperTop)
This one’s a bit out of the way in the plaza, but UP is small and you’re a smart kid. Upon walking in, there was the sense of a small-town pizzeria atmosphere. The dining area walls are painted dark blue, with booths and tables filling the carpeted room (surprising for a small operation). If I had to use flowery language, I would call it “quaint,” with “quiet class.” But you can’t eat class; their pizza lives up to the appearance. I ordered a white garlic pizza with my pepperoni, and with a fountain drink (free refills!) my total was $5.99 without tax. Yes, a bit more pricey than Nirchi’s, but the price covers all toppings, which were not nearly as exotic as Nirchi’s. The white pizza was very good, but had clumps of mozzarella – parmesan? Ricotta? Not too sure – unevenly distributed across the slice. The experience may have been improved with a more even distribution. For the pepperoni slice, however, the sauce was incredibly flavorful and exceeded expectations.
Verdict: a conveniently accessible location may be offset by their above-average prices. However, if you find their pizza delicious and you have a little extra money to spend, Mario’s is a solid choice for pizzerias.
Pizza Nia’s (corner of Rotary and Seminary Aves in Binghamton)
If you’re looking for something very out of the way, this little joint will be right up your alley (although the neighborhood is fairly removed from any alleys). The family restaurant itself, which sells burgers and hoagies in addition to pizza, is incredibly small, with what appears to be living space right above it. Inside, one wall serves as a chalkboard menu facing opposite a dining counter with just four stools. Don’t come with a large party expecting adequate seating; though it may be small, think of it as eating in your own clean, bright kitchen. Here I ordered a sausage pizza with my pepperoni, as well as a can of soda. This combo came to $4.50 with no tax charged at all, but $0.25 for each topping (for a grand total of an even $5). The toppings themselves were not very well integrated into the pizza; what I mean is that it appeared to be made with just a piece of cheese pizza and the meat slices (yes, the sausage was an Italian sausage sliced up) were put on top when it was recooked. The bread, cheese, and sauce all form a fairly thin combination, allowing for a bite that melts in your mouth. There may not be a hearty substance to the slices, but it simply means you could achieve your lifelong dream of eating an entire pie yourself. Photos of children and various other members of the neighborhood enjoying their pizza adorn the wall opposite the menu, providing little moments of joy during consumption, if that’s your thing.
Verdict: as long as you have an easy method of transportation to the actual place, it’s easy to see yourself becoming a “regular” there, with a friendly owner and delicious pizza. But just you. Not much room for many others.
Grotta Azzurra (corner of Main and Oak Streets right before downtown Binghamton)
Our last stop is one conveniently located along the West Side bus route into downtown Binghamton. As a general Italian restaurant, their menu covers pizza, subs, burgers, and sandwiches, among others. This could be the most diverse menu of all the selected pizzerias. The outside isn’t in the best shape unfortunately, and the inside is hardly an improvement. The layout is done in the style of a traditional Italian restaurant, but without adequate lighting and well-kept dining areas, the place looks rather sad. You probably wouldn’t care if you stumbled in after a drunken blur of a night and all you wanted was food, so let’s get to that. There is a wide variety of toppings, but you can only choose from what is currently already made. My pepperoni and barbecue chicken slices and can of soda combo came to $4.85 without tax, which isn’t bad. Like Pizza Nia’s, the slices here were thinner than expected, and while this didn’t cause too many problems, my pepperoni slice practically fell apart. Check yourself before you wreck yourself (and possibly your clothing from spilling). The barbecue chicken slice was still good; if anything, it may have been a bit dry. Now where to sit….you have plenty of options, although they are mostly all regular tables. There is, in fact, a private dining area, but the sign barring entry to it forbids its use in a rather passive-aggressive way. And where exactly are the bathrooms? However, bonus points in the eyes of our Christian readers for an illuminated picture of Jesus near the entrance to the kitchen.
Verdict: a great landing spot for your drunken crash and burn on the way home, but does the food quality make up for its depressing appearance and subpar customer service? Probably not.
There are obviously more than these four pizza places around the Binghamton area, but there’s only so much pizza someone’s bowels can take (first part of Weird Al Yankovic’s “A Complicated Song”? Anyone?). We hope that this gives you an introduction to some local eateries, and maybe some ideas for where to order your next GIM feast from. It’s always good to get some variety. As the old saying goes, “variety is the spice of life,” and wasn’t Variety Spice the Spice Girl that loved doing pizza crawls? Yeah, we’re pretty sure that’s right. Happy eating!