Magpie Pizza Review: Hipster Casual Eatery Sets Scrumptious New Precedent For Local Pizza

EJ Dickson, Arts Editor

Kvetching about the lack of decent pizza on campus is something of an Olympic sport at Oberlin, with transplanted New Yorkers and Chicagoans taking the gold medal. One rarely walks past the dining halls without overhearing bearded hipsters lamenting the meat lovers’ pie at Stevie, or bespectacled first-years yearning for a vegan slice from the Roberta’s in Bushwick. For those who “don’t care about pizza,” or for those who can happily choke down a Domino’s Buffalo chicken pie, the high-octane grumbling of disgruntled pizza lovers may seem trivial and petty; yet for the more discerning among us, who would rather have a full frontal lobotomy than walk past a Little Caesar’s, the awfulness of Oberlin pizza is a nearly inexhaustible conversation topic.

In the midst of all this bitchery, however, it’s easy for Oberlin pizza lovers to lose their perspective. Although we all love to complain about Ohio pizza, gleefully sharing memories of the cardboard crust at Downtown Pizza like Vietnam vets trading war stories, in so doing we often fail to realize that for the most part, the pizza at Oberlin is not so much terrible as it is staggeringly mediocre. And when pizza-loving Obies eventually come to this realization, a terrible thing happens: we stop complaining about the meat-lovers’ pie at Stevie, we start ordering from Domino’s during finals, and we eventually grow to find a perverse sort of solace in pizza mediocrity.

Thankfully, there is hope for these sad souls in the form of Magpie Pizza, a new pizzeria in the East College Street complex. Despite its slightly pricey menu and the preponderance of John Mayer tunes playing in the background, the pizzeria, which opened a week ago, transcends the standards of mediocrity set forth by most local pizza joints: its fresh ingredients, wide-ranging menu, and warm and efficient service will surely satisfy even the most Olympic-level pizza snobs.

Named for owners Jim and Rachel Straders’ nickname for daughter Maggie, Magpie Pizza diverges from the standards of most Oberlin restaurants by modeling itself after a hip and laid-back urban eatery, its sparsely decorated, minimalist décor echoing the effortlessly trendy interior of a Brooklyn café. While the café’s proximity to the neighboring Firelands certainly rids customers of the delusions of dining amidst the bearded pashas of Bushwick or Park Slope, the chilled bottles of water and the panels decorated with magpies — painted by one of the waitresses — set Magpie apart from the more casual atmospheres of other neighborhood joints.

The menu is diverse and comprehensive, catering to a wide variety of culinary interests with offerings ranging from a 14’’ Tuscan pizza (with fried egg and prosciutto) to the slightly more Ohio-friendly Blue Hawaii pie (topped with Canadian bacon and pineapple). While the prices of some of the larger 14’’ pies like the $18 Tuscan pizza are wont to make budget-conscious college students’ jaws drop, the menu wisely offers options for individual (and, admittedly, slightly undersized) pies at half the price. Additionally, the menu boasts vegan options for $2 less than full price, offering cheeseless variations of all the offerings on the menu.

Although the higher-end toppings on the menu set Magpie Pizza apart from its competitors, a house salad ($5) failed to signal the Second Coming of All Things Green and Crunchy. Drenched in buttermilk dill and chive dressing and tossed with oven-crisped parmesan, the salad could have benefited from one less ingredient or a simple balsamic vinegarette. While the chilled romaine and tomatoes were fresh and the pepperoni was crispy and unobtrusive, the salad itself was essentially the more classy, better-dressed cousin of an identical item on the menu at Lorenzo’s.

The pizza itself, however, was phenomenal; a taste bud-popping amalgam of fresh and gooey mozzarella, elegantly-selected ingredients, and a flaky, crisp crust that transcended even the most far-reaching comparisons to neighboring Oberlin eateries. A wild mushroom pizza with olive oil, mozzarella, Portobello, cremini, shiitake, capers and roasted red peppers was savory and intensely flavorful, with the capers providing the perfect complement to the earthy richness of the mushrooms and the pungency of roasted garlic undertones. The dough was also flawlessly cooked, its soft and buttery texture bringing to mind the decadent flavors of the cheesy bread rolls at Red Lobster (although I would hate to inadvertently insult the cook by drawing such comparisons).

While less distinctive and more adherent to pizza convention, the margherita pie topped with basil, olive oil, mozzarella and tomatoes also proved immensely satisfying. The freshness of the individual ingredients expunged the mind of lingering memories of the Ghosts of Pizzas Past: the rubberized cheese and cloyingly sweet tomato sauce that bear the mark of the civil rights violation that is CDS pizza. Indeed, the pizza at Magpie’s can most closely be compared to the pizza at the best OSCA Pizza Night ever, with the added benefit of not having to deal with throngs of vicious co-op members scrambling for a slice, carrying the whiff of PBR and desperation.

The familiar faces at Magpie’s congregating in the kitchen (open to the dining room) also lend themselves to the eatery’s welcoming, intimate vibe. Indeed, many of the pizza cooks at Magpie’s are Oberlin alumni or current students, including College senior Joe Brophy, who applied to work at the pizzeria over the first half of winter term. A former cook at KHC who studied the art of pizza-making during a winter term “Tao of Pizza” project, Brophy says that the staff’s perfectionism and willingness to experiment with ingredients distinguishes Magpie’s from other local pizza joints. “[It’s] all about the freshness,” Brophy, who developed a passion for making pizza while studying abroad in Germany, explained. “That’s how you should do a pizzeria.”

In the end, it is not the vaguely hipster décor or the insufferable whinging of Jason Mraz in the background that distinguishes Magpie’s from its competitors. It is the cooks’ emphasis on high-quality ingredients and their meticulous attention to detail that ultimately separates the men from the boys, or the well-dressed cousins from the shabbier cousins. If nothing else, the pizza at Magpie’s bears the mark of precision and meticulous attention to detail: whoever is making this pizza is making it with care, attention and a specific goal for how you “do” a pizzeria in mind. Kvetchers and purists, take note: you no longer have to find solace in mediocrity. Finding decent — even good — pizza in Oberlin is no longer an Olympian task.