Because I never lived in or near Manhattan, I can't vouch for the authenticity of Russo's New York Pizzeria and Wine Bar, a franchise started about 15 years ago in Houston by an Italian family from New Jersey.
But I can say the pizzas and calzones served at the Germantown restaurant are among the best I've had in the Memphis area. And judging from the crowds packing the place during the holidays, many local diners share that opinion.
Pizza isn't the restaurant's only specialty. Russo's also does a good job with pasta dishes, gnocchi, risotto and other Italian entrees.
Our traditional pepperoni pizza was a perfect blend of spicy pepperoni, a mellow but not bland tomato sauce and enough cheese to join all the components together in a harmonious pie.
The bottom of the medium-thick crust was evenly browned in the restaurant's brick oven, adding a toasty flavor and a firm footing for the toppings.
Russo's also offers all of its specialty pizzas by the slice, which is great for satisfying adventurous as well as traditional (i.e. "picky") eaters.
From a list that includes pizzas topped with chicken prepared several ways, Canadian bacon and pineapple, Italian sausage and various vegetarian combinations, we selected a slice of Caprese with soft pillows of melted fresh mozzarella atop sliced roma tomatoes accented with several leaves of fresh basil.
A slice, which ranges in price from $3.50 for cheese only to $5.50 for a specialty selection, covers the plate and is surely the equivalent of the personal pizzas offered by other places.
Our pepperoni-preferring progeny prevailed again by ordering a calzone filled with her favorite Italian meat as well as ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.
A tender crust, cut into manageable sections in the kitchen, encased a delicious filling that didn't even need a boost from the tasty marinara sauce that was served on the side for dipping. I've never found calzones compelling enough to order again and again, but this one is definitely memorable.
The pasta menu lists traditional favorites such as lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo, baked zita, cannelloni, scampi and ravioli. I like the flexibility of being able to add chicken or shrimp to a dish for an extra charge and choosing a multigrain pasta.
A reasonably priced menu for children under 12 offers chicken tenders, cheese pizza slices and pasta with choice of toppings.
We tried a trio of ravioli featuring large cheese-filled rounds lapped with three different sauces: a tangy but not acidic marinara, creamy pesto and another cream sauce promising gorgonzola on the menu. It tasted more like an Alfredo with none of the sharp blue-veined cheese flavor. Good but not exactly what we expected.
Every meal begins with a basket of herbed flat bread and seasoned olive oil for dipping.
On winter days, it's wonderful to also start with a bowl of steaming minestrone, a ubiquitous item on Italian menus.
It's often disappointing but not at Russo's. This combination of vegetables and cannelloni beans in a light tomato broth is what I can only imagine an Italian mother or grandmother would be proud to serve her family.
Tempting desserts include a couple of cheesecakes, layer cakes, tiramisu and numerous flavors of gelato or Italian ice cream.
Russo's cannoli featured a crisp wafer wrapped around rich creamy, dense filling studded with chocolate chips. The generous portion is more than enough for two to share.
And don't miss the refreshing if not "light" gelatos. The creamy gelatos, including the fruity strawberry we ordered, are served in a wafers molded into an edible bowls.
There much more to try at Russo's. We'll be back.
Russo's New York Pizzeria and Wine Bar
Address: 9087 Poplar, Suite 111
Telephone: (901) 755-0092
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: Beer and wine
Don't miss: Calzones, pizzas, minestrone, gelato