The recipe for restaurant success in Wichita goes something like this: Open a place that serves good food not already widely available in town and get influential local foodies buzzing about it on the Internet.
Kurt Schmidt, who quietly opened Picasso’s Pizzeria in early March at 621 W. Douglas in Delano, found that recipe without even really trying.
His restaurant, which specializes in giant New York-style pizza slices, has far exceeded his projections in its first weeks of business, spurred in part by social media buzz and endorsements from Wichita food royalty such as chef Tanya Tandoc, who raved about the restaurant on a recent KMUW segment. (In Wichita, only Bartelli’s at 10330 W. Central also offers big New York-style slices.)
Schmidt, who worked at Lawrence’s Papa Kenos when he attended the University of Kansas in the mid-1990s, opened a version of his pizza restaurant dream, L.B.’s Pizza, inside Club Indigo more than a decade ago. That didn’t work out, and he’s been trying to re-launch his business ever since. He finally found the right spot and now can be seen daily in the restaurant, tossing pizza crusts dramatically in the air as the line of customers waiting to order gets longer and longer.
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ON THE MENU: Giant pizza slices topped with a wide variety of cheeses, veggies and meats, plus a few sandwiches, salads and calzones. Picasso’s also serves beer, both bottled and draft.
DON’T MISS DISHES: The slices at Picasso’s are amazing, especially the ones that use Picasso’s delicious red sauce as the base. Slices are made on homemade thin crust made with just the right flour — a high-gluten formula it took Schmidt a long time to find. (Picasso’s offers gluten-free slices, too.) Pizza crust connoisseurs will love the way it’s thin and crispy under the toppings and yeasty and chewy when they finally gnaw their way to the top. I’ve been to Picasso’s five times already, and my clear favorite is the simple beef-and-mushroom slice ($4.95), which lets the flavor of the sauce and crust shine through.
Picasso’s also lets customers build their own slices, choosing from a long list of toppings from pepperoni to pepperoncini. A cheese slice is $3.65, and each additional topping is 65 cents. Also available: “Slices of Art,” which are slices dreamt up by the owners. One of the best is The Picasso, topped with basil pesto, Roma tomatoes, spinach, feta and Romano cheese. The slice is colorful and fresh and so loaded, it’s hard to remember it’s meat-free.
Also good: The Kitchen Sink, topped with pepperoni, sausage, black olives, onions, mushrooms and green peppers; and the Hot Island, a spicy-and-green slice that has Canadian bacon, pineapple, jalapeno and pepperoncini.
My only complaint about the list of pre-imagined slices is that there’s not enough variety. Of the 12 on the menu, half of them are meat-free, another is topped with barbecue sauce, two more are too meaty or too cheesy for everyday consumption. I’m tempted to make up my own slice, but I imagine Picasso’s would be much better at it than I, and I want some more red-sauce options with meat, cheese and veggies.
Though I doubt I’ll ever not order a slice when I visit, Picasso’s also offers four sandwiches. We tried The Baller, ($6.99) a delicious meatball sub topped with generous amounts of red sauce, Parmesan and provolone and served with chips on the side. The meatballs are big, meaty and full of Italian flavor. We also constructed our own calzone, stuffing it with tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms and feta cheese The crust was good, but the rest of the calzone was a little dry and needed a serious sauce infusion. It was $5.95, plus 65 cents each for our two additional toppings.
Something I plan to do in the very near future is order a full-sized Picasso’s pizza, a 26-incher that costs $26.75 plus $4.99 for each additional topping or $39.75 for a “work of art” pie. These things are dramatic, and on one of our visits, we watched a customer load two of them into her car. They only would fit in the trunk.
AMBIENCE: Picasso’s feels like a college bar inside, long and skinny with concrete floors, wooden booths and the crust-tossing pizza preparers working in plain sight of the diners. It’s minimalist but in a good way, though the dining room is a bit dark. An outdoor patio that’s just been fitted with a privacy fence provides an inviting outdoor dining option.
PRICE RANGE: Slices range from $3.65 to $5.95, and one is enough for a reasonable appetite. Calzones are $5.95, plus 65 cents for each additional topping. Sandwiches are $6.99. Salads are $2.95 to $7.99.
SERVICE: Considering they’re just getting started and are already crushed with business, Picasso’s is doing pretty well in the service area. Slices are made-to-order, so they don’t arrive quickly. And a few cashiers are still learning their way around the register and the menu.