Have you ever gone to one of those places that gets amazingly good reviews, then you try it and you’re just not impressed? I mean good print reviews, good website reviews, glowing comments from friends, co-workers and family, and you just don’t get it. What do you do in those cases? Personally, I usually go back another time or two to try and figure it out. Sometimes it just boils down to a matter of personal taste. Sometimes it’s the power of suggestion. I mean look at Kripsy Kreme; I’m convinced the reason they’re so popular is because if you get enough people to tell others that a particular place is the best at something, they start to believe it without really examining it. Still other times, it seems to be because people want a place to be good so much that they make excuses and allowances for any issues. Sometimes, things aren’t that black and white. Stick with me on this one, it’s a bit of a roller coaster…
Messenger Pizza has a pretty impressive fanbase for a pizza joint in Nampa: they have over 3,600 Facebook fans, a 94% approval rating on Urbanspoon, and four stars on Yelp. Everyone I knew who ever tried it had nothing but good things to say. It was way up on my list of places to try once I started spending my days in Nampa, and was subsequently one of the first places I DID try.
When I showed up for lunch, things were looking good. There were several varieties of giant pizza slices available for reasonable prices. I ordered a slice of veggie and something called a “Pesto Stick”, which appeared to be a long breadstick sliced at an angle and brushed with pesto. Which makes sense when you consider the name. They fired my pizza slice and gave it to me laid out on two sort of side by side, normal-sized paper plates, wrapped in foil to hold it all together. Odd, but effective. The Pesto Stick was just wrapped up, and I figured it would be a good in-car snack while I drove back to my office.
|The remains of a Pesto Stick|
I once went to a pizza place and ordered a slice. It looked normal on top, but when I bit into it, it tasted horrible. Turns out it had been badly burnt underneath. I guess you can say that they couldn’t see it, but it still struck me as sketchy. This Pesto Stick thing was visibly burnt. Really burnt. I’m a guy who doesn’t mind a little char now and again, but this was something else entirely. It was bad. And the sad thing is that I think if it had been done right, it would have been freaking delicious. Unfortunately, all I could taste was charcoal. The thing is, it was so obviously visually apparent, that I just don’t understand how it could not be intentional. If this is the way these things are supposed to be served, I’ll never be ordering another one. Still, the place is Messenger Pizza, right? Not Messenger Novelty Breadsticks. So, on to the pizza…
|Some kind of veggie pizza…|
One thing you have to be aware of with Messenger is that the available slices don’t always come from their normal selection. When they said they had veggie slices, I assumed that it was the veggie pizza on their menu: spinach, feta, roasted red peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes. What I got was tomato, red onion and mushroom. I’m not a mushroom fan, but what the hell, I make allowances for them on pizza from time to time. The problem is that, as huge and filling as this slice of pizza was, it just didn’t have a lot of flavor. It was a little on the dry side as well. I had expected a more robust sauce, but there just wasn’t a lot going on.
Honestly, between that and the breadstick, I might not have returned. But still, there’s the buzz about the place. I wasn’t ready to give up on them yet. So, trip number two. I wanted a stronger flavor in the pizza, so I went with the classic pepperoni. And since there was no vegetation on the slice, I decided to try out their salad bar as well.
|Yup, it’s pepperoni pizza!|
The pepperoni pizza definitely had more flavor…from the pepperoni. I still prefer a sauce with more going on (or maybe they’re just not using enough of it?), but at least the over all effect wasn’t bland. There was a LOT of pepperoni, too. And due to that, it wasn’t dry. It WAS really greasy, though. Like constantly dripping kind of greasy. The few napkins I had grabbed on my way out the door weren’t sufficient to the task, and some damage was done to my pants. So while still not a great experience, it was a step up. Once again though, based on that slice I probably wouldn’t have returned…
…if it weren’t for that salad bar. I love salad, and a decent salad bar makes me very happy. Messenger has the best one I’ve found in Nampa so far. Ripe red tomatoes, sprouts, non-iceberg mix greens, thick cucumbers, red onion, cheesy breadsticks…
Oh, and that bleu cheese dressing. Easily one of the best I’ve ever had. BIG chucks of cheese, and nicely peppery. I’m a black pepper freak, and it was nice to have a bleu cheese dressing that didn’t immediately make me search for the shaker. I ended up returning several times after that visit JUST for salad. Then came the day I realized that I had a coupon for 50% off a pizza from Messenger, and immediately my thoughts turned to the most intriguing thing on their menu.
|The Drunken Goat|
Messenger’s Drunken Goat pizza is comprised of goat cheese, figs, Bristol Bacon (a sweet and spicy creation from the neighboring Brick 29 restaurant and sadly defunct B29 Streatery truck), fresh arugula and reduced balsamic vinegar. Now seriously, how could you not want to check that out? I ordered one, intending to share it around my office just for the reactions. Everyone who tried it was, at worst, puzzled by it. For the most part, everyone either loved it immediately (myself included) or it grew on them by the time they finished their slice. And with several co-workers reticent to try it (COWARDS!), a few lucky ones were able to secure a second slice.
So okay, now we were making progress. I went back for lunch with a pizza slice in mind. Anything without red sauce, specifically. And like magic, this little beauty was waiting for me.
|Um. It’s definitely pizza.|
I think some variation of this weird slice of the day has been added to the main menu now, but I couldn’t tell you the name or the specifics. This version had pesto sauce, green apple, more of that sweet/spicy bacon, and sliced jalapenos. And it was delicious. REALLY delicious. As well as not being too dry, too greasy, etc. This pizza was juuuuuuuuuust riiiiiiiiiiiight, as someone relating Goldilocks’ escapades to a small child might say. And that might be the end of the review, were it not for the sandwiches.
You see, Messenger doesn’t seem to want to just rest on their reputation and making things easy on themselves. So, they bake their own bread, and have recently started offering sandwiches during weekday lunch service. Normally I get a little pissy about places that are only open for lunch on weekdays or that serve special things only during that time, but since I work in Nampa…
Messenger has a dozen sandwiches at the moment, eleven regulars and a sandwich of the week. The sandwiches are served with an organic cookie (also made in house) and a side of fresh fruit. The grapes were good, as was the cookie. Now about that sandwich…
|The first Sandwich of the Week|
You might say it doesn’t make much sense to write up a sandwich that isn’t even available anymore, to which I reply: shut up! It sounded good at the time, so that’s what I ordered. The inaugural Sandwich of the Week was oven roasted pork shoulder, grilled organic onion, organic greens, tomato, and roasted red pepper aioli on house baguette. This sandwich was big, heavy, and juicy. The bread was great and the ingredients were top notch. I would have liked to have seen a little less aioli and a little more seasoning on the pork itself, but it was still damn good, especially for an early effort. I expect the sandwich menu will continue to grow, evolve and refine, and I can’t wait to explore it further. So yeah, little bit of a mixed bag. Not the place I’ll think of when I want a standard pizza, but for something a little out of the ordinary, I’ll definitely be back.
Food: Quality ingredients, a little tame for my taste in a few regards but they definitely make up for it in others.
Value: Extremely fair for what you get.
Service: Friendly without being annoying, my favorite.
Atmosphere: Cozy, open and welcoming.
Final Grade: B+