Cheese, pepperoni and several other varieties of pizza are available by the slice at Schmizza Pub & Grub in Eagle Point.

Paisans Pizzeria and Schmizza Pub & Grub

Whatever I'm eating, I'd rather be eating pizza.

It's hard to say what makes it my "it" comfort food. It could be the tangy sauce, the savory crust, the gooey cheese or the crispy pepperoni. It also could be an impressionable childhood spent enamored with four crime-fighting mutant turtles who happened to enjoy 'za.

My point is that there are many ways to make a great piece of pizza, and I innately shouldn't be trusted with a whole pie. So instead I explored the by-the-slice options of a couple newer pizzerias, Paisans Pizzeria at 149 S. Central Ave. in downtown Medford, and the first Rogue Valley outlet from Portland chain Schmizza Pub & Grub, located at 10522 Highway 62, Eagle Point.

At both restaurants, my friend and I each ordered the same thing, one slice cheese and one slice pepperoni. My thought was that the common varieties show me a restaurant's subtle twists. I think my friend was just hungry.

Paisans had a bright, clean atmosphere. Portraits hung on the freshly painted walls, and pleasant oldies played in the background.

There also were cafe tables out front with cushioned chairs, where we opted to sit. The chairs were notably comfortable for an outdoor setting, and I enjoyed the city feel out front. No one's going to confuse Medford for the Big Apple, but a slice in one of downtown's busiest locations makes for a metropolitan charm.

Paisans' pizza fits squarely in the category of New York style with oven-fresh, floppy, foldable slices and a hand-tossed crust. The marinara sauce had a fresh flavor with notes of garlic and basil, and the sauce avoided that deep red pastiness I tend to associate with lesser sauces.

The pepperoni was savory and fresh, and the amount of mozzarella was enough to make both the cheese and pepperoni slices feel complete without making them greasy or heavy. Shakers of Parmesan, red pepper flakes and oregano were available for sprinkling.

By-the-slice choices are cheese, Hawaiian, pepperoni, veggie, meat or salami and olive. By-the-slice prices at Paisans range from $3 for cheese to $5 for their meat pizza. They also offer a daily "special," a slice of cheese and a small soft drink for $3.50.

My preferences usually lean toward toppings that are a little crispier, but overall I felt like I got a quality slice at a fair price. Located only a short jaunt from the Mail Tribune office, Paisans may, in time, consider me a regular.

Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.

While Paisans celebrates New York, Schmizza Pub & Grub seems to celebrate Oregon's playful, arty side with hip, rock 'n' roll-themed decor in a clean, colorful environment.

Guitars hang on all the walls, and there's a shiny motorcycle chained to the ceiling, as well as a mannequin that looks like Slash. The rock theme continued to the restrooms, which are labeled "Rockstars" and "Groupies." There's a performance stage and three televisions in the dining area, plus another TV in said "Rockstars" room and more TVs in the pub area.

Even without the interesting environment, Schmizza's pizza would be worth stopping in for a slice. Our pieces were very substantial with thick hand-tossed crusts, hearty tomato sauce and bubbled cheese.

I liked the Parmesan sprinkles baked onto the crust, and although our pepperoni slices had fewer toppings compared to Paisans, I preferred this pepperoni's crispy texture.

Our server offered us ranch for dipping, and my friend was impressed by the generous amount of the dressing they gave to each of us. I was equally impressed by its thick consistency.

Prices are $3.25 for a slice of cheese, pepperoni or Hawaiian; $3.75 for a slice of meat or the chicken special; and $3.50 for a slice of the vegetarian special.

Schmizza's hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. See www.schmizza.com for more information.

— Nick Morgan

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