I learned about pizza as a young kid in Manhattan. My dad would take me to his favorite pizzeria, Jimmy's, where a hirsute Italian worked the counter. Chest hair snaked around the edges of his tank top like escaping maggots, and his knuckles appeared carpeted. As I hurriedly gobbled down my sausage and mushroom pie, I'd notice this swarthy man's grim look of satisfaction, as if to say, "Try and find a more delicious slice, you miserable little kid." Sure enough, when we moved to the South when I was 8, there was no pizza like Jimmy's. Sure, the Southern proprietors were friendly and I liked ordering extra pepperoni without fear of reprisal, but the pizza in the South was bland, and those tipsy wooden salad bowls irritated me. I concluded that a great pizza joint must be a labor of contempt.
With reservations (the nervous kind), I entered the breezy, welcoming confines of Whitewater Pizza and Pasta at the corner of Eagle and Fairview (there is another in Meridian). Whitewater Pizza and Pasta is the former Mackenzie River Pizza Company; they could not retain the same long name because of bankruptcy laws. The owners have a fondness for whitewater sports and the décor reflects that--there are kayaks and rafts hanging randomly from the high ceiling and the walls are covered with pictures and other references to Idaho's famous big water. Perhaps because I spend a lot of time on the river, I found the environment to be somewhat contrived. The staff, however, was unquestionably genuine. My waiter Chris was helpful, attentive and engaging--all bad signs in my early formed pizzeria book.
The menu items have thematic names like the Selway, Polly Beemis and Payette. Having a low cholesterol level and great disdain for PETA, I ordered up The Kayaker, which consists of every meat known to man. My Coke was brought out first in an appropriately American sized cup. Next came my Caesar salad. The bowl was low and stable and the dressing pleasantly sharp and light, but the lettuce was less than crisp and could have been a bit colder. The main event can be ordered with either sourdough or regular crust, tomato or pesto sauce; I went with the former options. Despite all the animals that pitched in to make the pizza, it was surprisingly inoffensive. There was no need for a roll of paper towels to collect the grease, and the roof of my mouth remained intact. The crust was perfectly crisp and airy. I had found the Stepford Wife of meat pizza. Total bill was under nine bucks.
I went back a second time with a co-worker and his Italian wife. We skipped the pasta because you just don't eat pasta in front of an Italian mother. We did fire up a variety of pizzas, appetizers and soup (not homemade), and the consensus was unanimous: everything was good but not over the top.
Whitewater Pizza and Pasta is the Main Payette of pizzerias; it's a safe, predictable experience with broad appeal. They accomplish their goal of providing inexpensive, enjoyable family dining. There's no edge, but most families probably don't want to watch a corpulent pie tosser whose favorite movie is Soylent Green. As for me, I'm still compelled to continue to search for a pizza joint run by folks who act like they want no part of my business.
--Waj Nasser has skin as thick as a Michelin long-haul tire.