Margheritas are tough to do really well, but there were not a surfeit of pizza places doing much as well as I would have hoped. So, I was very heartened to hear last year that the folks at Nancy’s Hustle in EaDo were going to open a pizza-centric place nearby. Nancy’s Hustle is among my favorite restaurants and I know the chef there has a penchant for breads and pastas and thought that pizzas could be their next success. Tiny Champions is. With pizzas with a minimal amount of toppings that Tiny Champions does – like with the margherita – the quality of the dough is paramount. This is the key thing that Tiny Champions has done very, very well in my several visits.
The pizzas here are minimalist in construction, ingredients are judiciously applied, but there is a lot of flavor in what there in the box are on the tray. With thinness of the crust and the understated use of toppings, that crust has to be very well-made and flavorful or the pizzas will be disappointing. But, the thin, bready and slightly chewy crusts cooked to firm crispness here are delectable. The pizzas look Italian, at least the way they do in a lot of Italy outside of Naples and the pizza al taglio in Rome that’s served by the rectangular slice to go. It has a taste more reminiscent of the New York style, but not New York style. It’s a somewhat unique taste, and one that’s delicious.
The pies are very well-balanced, with a little of each working more than ably together and providing a lot of flavor. There are a half-dozen standard creations presented on the menu in a wordy format: tomato, mozzarella, speck, pineapple, and fresh jalapeños; tomato, mozzarella, sausage, onions, peppers, and basil; tomato, garlic, anchovy, herby oil ricotta cream spiked with chile, a Tuscan style dry salami, with fennel, fresh herbs, maybe more fennel; ricotta cream, mozzarella, kale, Swiss chard, and pickled garlic; and the cheese pizza – tomato, mozzarella, Parmesan. If you want to build on the cheese pizza base, you’ve got a limited but better than most array of: pepperoni, fennel sausage, anchovies, roasted mushrooms, roasted onions, fresh jalapeños, mixed olives, and a slew of sauces for dipping the crust or more – garlic chili oil, herb-inflected oil, hot sauce, a fancy ranch, Parmesan, salami XO.
A very welcome sign, is that the pizza from Tiny Champions don’t suffer much at all in transit. Given their thin crusts, they might reach a more tepid temperature than the typical pizza, but the good taste remains. I’m not at all opposed to pineapple on pizzas – seemingly unlike a great many with Italian last names – and the one here paired with speck, a better ham, and spiked with fresh jalapeños is delicious.
But, pizza is not alone among the enticements at Tiny Champions. It’s a different array that you might expect from a pizza joint: there are several pasta preparations featuring soft pastas made in house, an array of appetizers numbering a baker’s dozen with strong Italian and Mediterranean accents and often acidic notes, ice creams sometimes with a savory bent made by the restaurant, along with cocktails, beers and an adventurous, well-edited wine list that you might expect with Sean Jensen involved. I haven’t sampled any in my three visits to pick up food, but I imagine these are all quite commendable or better given the quality of the pizzas and the association with Nancy’s Hustle.
I haven’t dined in, yet, but after three pizzas, I’ll quickly state that Tiny Champions is the best pizzeria in Houston.
2617 McKinney (east of Emancipation), 77003, (713) 485-5329