Alpha Pizza’s fresh new approach breaks the college-town calzone blues
In November 2009, Alpha Pizza threw its hat into the ring of Amherst pizzerias and delivery joints and quickly separated itself from the pack through its incorporation of fresh local ingredients.
Formerly known as Pizza Rama, Alpha Pizza changed the name and face of the business but retained some of the same employees who have been there since the beginning. While some of the faces may be new and the menu’s been revamped, delivery remains prompt and the food remains delicious.
I recently got a chance to catch up with co-owner Mark Avgoustakis, who has more than 35 years experience cooking up college-town favorites, and talked to him about some of the dishes, their recipes and Alpha Pizza in general.
Since last semester, Alpha Pizza’s been serving everything from pizzas and calzones to fajitas and quesadillas. Its eclectic menu draws cooking styles from Greece, Italy, Mexico and many other countries. American casual favorites such as burgers are served straight-up, or topped with gorgonzola and mushrooms, spinach and feta or chili and cheddar. Alpha’s gorgonzola is amazing and makes one wonder why more restaurants don’t offer gorgonzola as a topping. It’s just one of Alpha’s many secret weapons in their arsenal of ingredients, breaking the mold of ordinary pizzas in Amherst.
When asked where he draws his inspiration for his dishes, Avgoustakis responded, “The dishes we serve on the menu have been in our family for two or three generations. I was working at Pizza Rama since 1972, so we carried a lot of successful recipes over from the old menu as well.”
In addition to being delicious, Alpha is affordable too. Their gourmet pizzas range in price from 10 to 18 bucks, but they can make any small pizza into a calzone for only $7.50. From the first bite, the buyer knows the food here is different than anything else in town. Why? For starters, all of the ingredients are fresh! Every vegetable they use and every piece of bread Alpha serves is as fresh as they can get. Co-owner Avgoustakis explains, “We use local grinders that we buy once or twice a day, and we restock when we need to. The dough for our pizzas and calzones is made fresh by hand daily as well. We also incorporate a lot of local produce in with our food. We’ll go down to the farmer’s markets when they’re around and get vegetables grown locally. The Squash Company here on Belchertown Road is one of our big suppliers.”
Indeed, mixing in local ingredients lets Alpha Pizza stand out in a sea of everyday eateries, but there’s something else about Alpha that simply can’t be found anywhere else: their dough is slightly sweet. There’s a pleasant, sugary aftertaste that’s not overpowering enough to shadow the flavor of the calzone or pizza, but distinctly present upon chewing so the consumer knows it’s there.
When asked about this distinctive quality in their dough, Avgoustakis replied, “I can’t reveal all of our secrets, but we do add a little sugar.” In part, that little bit of sugar distinguishes Alpha’s pizza and calzones from everyone else’s. Sugar can be a tricky ingredient, especially when adding it into food that normally doesn’t require any. But Alpha does it with class – it’s not sickeningly sweet whatsoever, but just enough so that it leaves its mark. With the fresh vegetables and unique dough, Alpha’s pizzas and calzones are some of the best to find in the town of Amherst.
This pizza place’s deliciousness doesn’t just end with the usual eats. Alpha’s hot grinders are enormous, and require two people to finish in most cases. For only $6.75, Alpha offers a 12” chicken parm packed full with breaded, fried, chicken breast heaped with marinara sauce and roasted red peppers, then topped off with gooey, melted provolone cheese. Their chicken parmegian is a thing of beauty – a sight to behold. It’s also one that’ll probably last for two good meals as well. Their 12” veal parm is also as insanely cheap as their chicken parm, at the inexplicably low price of $6.75.
Alpha has specials too, such as a soup of the day and clam chowder. For now, the chowder is only available on Fridays. While it may not be as great as some of the chowder you’ll find around Boston and the Cape, this is some of the best in Amherst. The pastrami grinder was a little disappointing, since the meat was meager and it wasn’t hot like the menu claimed.
Alpha may be one of the best places in town to find a pizza or calzone. The 35-plus years of experience Avgoustakis has in cooking food really makes for an enjoyable experience at Alpha Pizza.
Avgoustakis co-owns the restaurant with Laurie Wiernasz. The restaurant is open 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday (and Sundays 11 a.m. -8 p.m.), but only available for delivery after 4:00 p.m. Try some of Alpha’s eats today and you won’t walk away disappointed. Buying local and fresh doesn’t just make Alpha Pizza appealing – it makes them local heroes as well.
Brendan Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.