Pizza Perfection

Like most people, I love pizza. And probably like many Bakersfield residents, when it comes to pizza, one name stands out for me: Tony’s Pizza.

Why Tony’s? Well, it isn’t the firefighter motif that’s the trademark of his seven Kern County pizzerias, although that’s cool. And it isn’t the varied menu, either.

Nope, it’s all about the pizza, and Tony’s Pizza is incredibly good!

I first became acquainted with Tony’s Pizza some years back when I was at Bakersfield College, and a Tony’s opened across the street from the campus on Mount Vernon Ave. An office colleague rejoiced. “A Tony’s!” she exclaimed. “They’re the best!”

High praise, indeed, I thought. I better check it out for myself.

So one day shortly thereafter, a friend, Adam Alvidrez, and I met for lunch at Tony’s on Mount Vernon. Adam had worked at the Tony’s in Shafter when he was an undergraduate at Cal State Bakersfield, and raved about the pizzas.

I immediately noticed the firefighter motif when we walked into the store. The logo features a cartoon-like fire truck delivering Tony’s pizzas.

Chile Verde Pizza
Chile Verde Pizza

We placed our order, a large Tony’s Combo ($25.20), found a seat, and waited for our pizza. It didn’t take long. When it was ready, I was astonished by the toppings. The pizza was covered with salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, linguica, chopped bell pepper, mushrooms, and onions. The toppings were so dense you couldn’t see the mozzarella, but the first bite revealed ample cheese. The crust was thin but firm throughout, with a brown, puffy edge that insisted I eat it (I often leave the crust behind on lesser pizzas). It was splendid!

Another friend, Jack Hernandez, turned me onto Tony’s vegetable pizza ($16.99 for medium). It, too, is delicious, covered with spinach, onions, olives, garlic, tomatoes, and bell pepper. While I usually like my pizzas with some sort of meat, I now occasionally order the vegetable pizza because it’s so flavorful.

Tony’s secret is his commitment to quality, and that’s been the rule since the first Tony’s Pizza opened in Delano in 1979. Tony’s Pizza was founded by Anthony Martinez Sr. At the time, according to the company’s website, it was the only pizzeria in Delano. His son, Tony Jr., who spent nearly three decades with the Kern County Fire Department, carried the brand to first Shafter, then to Bakersfield in 2005. The restaurant now has four outlets in Bakersfield plus one at the Outlets at Tejon at the base of the Grapevine.

It’s a family operation: Tony Jr., his wife, Doris, or any of their five children are likely to be found at any of the Tony’s venues on any given day.

After I retired, I looked for a Tony’s closer to my Rosedale home. The closest I found was at 4750 Coffee Rd., near the intersection with Hageman Rd. I made a couple of trips to pick up pizzas, but the five to six mile jaunt eventually proved daunting, and I opted for closer options to satisfy my pizza cravings.

My cravings weren’t satisfied. So recently, my wife, Claudia, and I drove over to the Coffee Rd. Tony’s for dinner. Unlike the Mount Vernon Ave. restaurant, where the counter is at the back, the counter at the Coffee Rd. store is the first thing you come to upon entry. The familiar firefighter motif features French-blue patterned wallpaper; the French-blue booths had blue-edged tables with beige centers.

Mexicana Pizza
Mexicana Pizza

The counter staff, young and smartly dressed, were all friendly, helpful, and greeted customers warmly.

We opted for four small pizzas to sample the various choices, since we couldn’t seem to settle on just one. My choices were the Mexicana ($11.39 small; $15.39 medium; $25.20 large) and Tony’s Combo ($13.35 small). Claudia selected a Hawaiian ($10.54 small) and a vegetable ($13.35 small). The young woman who rang us up handed me a pager to alert me when our order was ready.

We thought our pizzas would be small, based on the pizza pans tacked on the wall. But when I went to grab our order at the counter, I had a sense that we’d ordered four medium pizzas. They were mounded over with toppings! We realized that we would be taking home a fair amount.

The quality was the same as I had experienced before. The crust was the same airy, puffy-edged, golden brown crust that I’d enjoyed previously: crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside.

The sauce was applied perfectly so as to blend with the toppings, enhancing the flavor of each bite (I despise over-sauced pizza so all you taste is tomato sauce).

The combo was as I remembered: loaded with toppings and so good! The Mexicana, though was a revelation. Topped with chorizo, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños, it was scrumptious! The secret is that each topping is in perfect proportion so as to complement each flavor. Since I love spicy food, I was in heaven.

Claudia’s vegetable pizza was also delicious. I confess that I didn’t sample the Hawaiian simply because I am not a fan of pineapple on my pizza. Lots of people like it that way, and Claudia indicated that she did as well. It’s just not my cup of tea.

Tony’s charges extra for soft drink refills so be advised to order the appropriate size from the get-go.

A few nights later we were seized by a yearning for a Tony’s pizza. So I called the Coffee Rd. locale and ordered one for pickup: a large half pepperoni and onion and half Tony’s Combo substituting chorizo for bell pepper ($22.23). The young woman on the phone told me it would be ready in 12 to 15 minutes. I was a little surprised, since other places from which I’ve ordered pizza typically say 45 minutes. So off I went.

When I arrived, our pizza was just coming out of the oven. When the woman handed it to me, I was astonished by how much it weighed. At home, we were amazed again that the cheese wasn’t visible, but was perfectly proportioned to the toppings, which smothered the pizza. The crust was again splendid, the flavors fantastic. The drive to pick it up was worth it!

Which sums up why I go out of my way to enjoy Tony’s Pizza: quality ingredients, attention to detail, ample toppings. The vegetables always appear to be freshly diced in-house, the sauce in perfect proportion to the cheese and toppings, the meats—pepperoni, sausage, chorizo, you name it—are well seasoned, leaner and more flavorful than other places. Order a large combo from Tony’s and a large combo from anywhere else, and lift the box. The weight difference is measurable, the flavor difference is substantial, and the value is incomparable.

There’s an old adage that you get what you pay for. Those TV spots for single-digit-priced large pizzas? Nowhere close to Tony’s.

Thinking that perhaps we should also try a side dish, we ordered potato wedges ($4.50). The wedges from what appeared to be a large russet potato, were nicely browned on the outside from being roasted, not fried, and soft and flavorful on the inside. We loved them.

Tony’s also offers a variety of sandwiches for $8.25; chicken hot wings (eight piece $8.95; sixteen piece $14.99), and rib-tips ($7.95 small; $14 large). If you’re dining in and would like something green, a trip to the salad bar is $5.50.

If you haven’t tried Tony’s Pizza yet, you’re in for a treat. And you might find yourself in the same mindset as me: go the extra mile for an exceptional pizza.

Tony’s Pizza accepts major credit cards. For locations, go to www.TonysPizzaCompany.com. LET’S EAT!

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