Valian’s Pizza is Back!

 

Hmmm! Hmmm! Good!

BAD NEWS UPDATE, 8/14/2017. Raia’s went out of business about three years ago and their fair (but not quite as good) rendition of the original Valian’s Pizza went with them. No explanation for the shutdown. Their business traffic, at least, looked good, but you never know. Sorry to have to share disappointment here, but life is like that sometimes, isn’t it?

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Do you recognize anything special in what you are looking at in the above pictured pizza box? Well, if you could suddenly inhale the aromas wafting in the air, and gently trial-taste the brick-oven cooked blending of cheeses, pepperoni slices, mushrooms, green peppers, marinara sauce, and unmistakably deliciously light golden brown thin crust, you would recognize that you have just bitten into something many of us remember in Houston from long ago as a Valian’s Deluxe Pizza.

That’s right, their back! All this time we’ve spent here at The Pecan Park Eagle over the past few months bemoaning the demise of Valian’s, a form of the old treasured pizza has been available to us all the time. It simply wasn’t promoted well enough for the word to get out.

Well, we’ll try to fix that little information hole today.

A week ago Friday, I was driving to an alumni luncheon at St. Thomas High School with Delbert “D.D.” Stewart, an old classmate and even older friend. As we drove south on Durham, near the Shepherd-Washington intersection, I just happened to mention our broadly shared regret that Valian’s Pizza no longer existed.

“Oh, but it does,” D.D. interjected. “There’s a place very near here on Washington Avenue that serves it on their menu as ‘Valian’s Pizza.’ It’s a place called Raia’s Italian Market.”

 

It’s at 4500 Washington, a block east of Shepherd on the north side of the street with ample parking in the back of the building.

 

I wasn’t able to check out my friend’s tip until yesterday. He had not been there personally and I had to discover for myself if it were really true. I knew that only my taste buds could answer that one.

I finished early at my office yesterday. It was about eleven in the morning. By choice, my days at work aren’t too grueling anymore so I decided to just drive over to this Raia’s place and see for myself what kind of pizza they were offering in the name of Valian’s the Great. The owner of the deli market, a fellow named Luke Raia, wasn’t around, but I learned from his store manager that the clean-looking little deli place had been open in this beautiful new storefront building since the summer of 2008.

I checked out the take-out menu since I don’t enjoy dining alone in public, and because I wanted to take home some goodies to the family anyway. There it was in the pizza section of choices, advertised clearly in a misspelled form of the famous family surname as “Valien’s Deluxe.” A whole pizza is available in one generous size for the going price of nine dollars.

The young store manager had no clue about the misspelling of “Valian’s” as “Valien’s”, but he did know that their offering of that product came from the fact that store owner Luke Raia had been a friend of the Valian family and that he had had obtained their recipe for pizza for use in his new restaurant prior to their 2008 opening.

I put aside my personal amazement over the two years deep misspelling of Valian’s on the menu and ordered a couple of pies to go. I told the young store manager that, if his product turned out to be the real thing, to get ready for the Internet article I intended to write about it. His pizza business was getting ready to really add a few mushrooms. On top of their already very active luncheon deli and evening dinner business, Raia’s was about to plug into a very large market of people who have been figuratively dying for the taste of a good old Valian’s Pizza for way too long.

 

Raia’s Dining Room: For their service hours, check them out at http://www.RaiasItalian.com

 

Folks, I took my Raia’s-Valian’s/Valien’s Deluxe Pizza home and tried it. Verdict: It’s the real thing. Except for a slight difference that I think is due to the fact these particular meats and cheeses most probably are not coming from the same suppliers that once served the original Valian’s store, this pizza is as good as pizza gets. And the great thin crust is unmistakably Valian’s all the way.

My 25-year old son Neal tried this Valian’s Pizza last night for the first time in his life. After a lifetime of listening to me speak of the original, he couldn’t wait to give it a try. I couldn’t wait to watch.

After he took one bite, I watched Neal’s eyes roll back. A few moments of careful chewing were gradually followed by a one-word response:

“WOW!”

He paused a few moments before adding, “So this is what pizza is supposed to taste like?”

 

The other food choices at Raia’s look delicious too, friends!

 

Folks, I don’t know Luke Raia, and I have no investment in his business, but I do know this much. He’s done the history of local foods proud by preserving and offering Valian’s Pizza on his menu. For that reason alone, he deserves our initial support. I also have a hunch that we shall find other food reasons for going back.

Thanks for saving Valian’s Pizza, Luke. Can you now do something about the spelling of the family name on the menu? Unless the family name was really “Valien” and they misspelled it as “Valian’s” on the neon sign that once fronted their South Main restaurant, the menu spelling error deserves correction.

Have a great weekend, everybody! And happy food choices too!

If you make it to Raia’s for the Valian’s Pizza, please post your own reviews here as comments on this article. I’d really like to hear what the rest of you think.

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21 Responses to “Valian’s Pizza is Back!”

  1. Jack Murphy Says:

    Bill, Your Valien,s Pizza article may be your best work to date it made me want to ask my wife for a date (minature golf) and head to Raia,s for a pie! Incdentally, my brother Bill had a stroke this past month but I,m pleased to report he,s recovering nicely . Jack Murphy

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Jack:

      I’m sorry to hear about Brother Bill’s stroke, but am glad to hear that he’s on the road to recovery. Please give him my best wishes for a full return to good health.

      Regards,

      Bill

  2. Fully Says:

    Mom has punched a ticket for us to go soon and for me to try this masterpiece.

    She wonders if you ever tried Ye Ole College Inn, it was run by a family friend who starred for the Rice Owls back in the day.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Fully:

      I grew up with the everyday knowledge of Ye Olde College Inn, but I never got there until I was a young adult. Dad always considered YOCI to be either too adult for kids – or too expensive for our family’s eating-out budget.

      Regards to your wonderful mom,

      Bill/Buff

  3. Patrick Callahan Says:

    Dr. Bill:
    DOUBLE WOW!…..All I can say is…that after your testimonial it will be worth a try the next time we make the 165 + mile drive from Central Texas – South to “Big H”. Your previous writings about the old “eating haunts” – always brought to mind the fact that there should be enough of us 1950’s guys around, that would love to see some of those places resurrected – albeit just a menu item, maybe a trend is starting? Great article – you do good work….
    Callahan

  4. Mark Wernick Says:

    Bill, your piece on Valians (Valiens) pizza is longer than most of your baseball articles. I tip my hat to your love of anything Houston and Houston history and nostalgia. I remember Valians from when I was a kid, but I never tasted their pizza. Weren’t they over across from the Shamrock Hilton, near where the Fannin Bank Building is now? Ye Old College Inn, adjacent to the east side of Rice U., was the site of one of my earliest high school dates, a double date with a friend, and we enjoyed a fine meal there. I love these evocations of pleasant old memories. Keep it going, Bill.

    Mark

  5. Marsha Franty Says:

    Hi Bill,
    Thanks for another wonderful article!!! My daughter has raved me about Raia’s great food, tho I don’t remember her mentioning the pizza. I’ll make it a goal to get there soon!
    I agree with a previous writer that food is just as important a preservation goal as buildings….an important thread in the fabric of Houston culture, worth restoring for all of us.
    Take care!
    Marsha

  6. Ray Slaughter Says:

    A little more history on Luke’s background. He was one of the partners in D’Amico’s over in the Rice University Village. Solid ground for opening his own market and restaurant. His food is totally wonderful and his prices are in line with most Italian restaurants in our city. I have not been paying attention close enough regarding the pie choices. I think my pie choise has just changed.

  7. Oscar S. Says:

    Bill,
    Luke Raia is a personal friend of mine.
    He is a native Houston Houstonian, that grew up in sothwest Houston
    and went to Corpus Christi Catholic School and graduated from
    St. Thomas High School.
    Great article on the restruant.
    Oscar S.

  8. Ann Biundo Says:

    Now you have my mouth watering! I have grieved the loss of Valian’s for more years than I care to mention. We are up at the lake right now or I would speed over to Raias for a taste of the past. Tell me Bill, when you tasted it did you sense your fraternity brothers and their dates’ presence? The food was wonderful as were the many memories made there. I wonder if anyone preserved the huge beam with everyones’ names and dates carved into it?
    Ann Evans Biundo

  9. Wayne Roberts Says:

    I tried it last night. I never went to Valian’s before leaving Houston in 1969 so I can’t compare. This pie was pretty darn good. It wasn’t as good as Lombardi’s in NYC but it was up there.

    The Houston pizzeria I miss is Capri which was down in the mishmash at Greenbriar, Shepherd and SW Freeway. Back in the day I ran several pizza places during college summers and immediately after graduation and before grad school. I didn’t like eating pizza since I worked around it all the time but I’d go to Capri because it was different from any other pie in the Houston area I’d tried. Very thin crust, cut square, very cheesey. The parlours I ran were the Village Inns in Westbury Square, Baytown, and an independent, Pizza Junction, out at SW Freeway and Wilcrest. They’re all gone now.

  10. Vince Tortorice Says:

    Thanks for heads-up. Finding a “real” Valian’s pizza is like finding an old friend I haven’t seen for 40 years. Went to St. Thomas with Luke…a good old friend and a great guy.

  11. Gene Lockard Says:

    Just made my first trip to Raia’s Italian Market, thanks to a good friend who recommended it, and I will definitely be going back for more! I had the fettuccini alfredo, and I recommend it unreservedly – it was delicious. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the alfredo sauce was just right – rich, but not like one was eating a stick of butter. Although I got my order to go, it was packed well and was still quite warm when I got home. The order included sour dough bread and a small bottle of olive oil for dipping. I might mention that the guy who took my order was very polite and friendly, and the place was absolutely spotless. It really is a combination of restaurant and market, since there are a number of cheeses, breads, wine, etc. for sale there. The atmosphere has just a bit of Old World quality to it which is very appealing. Next up is pizza or cheese ravioli and marinara sauce, but really, there are a lot of things on the menu that sound good. (And I’ll definitely be ordering the fettucini alfredo again.) I looked around while waiting for my order, and the other patrons seemed to be enjoying themselves. I give Raia’s Italian Market my highest recommendation.

  12. Margery McCurdy Says:

    Thank God that Valian’s is back!!! Look forward to trying it during the Christmas holidays!

  13. Dennis H. Says:

    Nice attempt but not Valian’s. Same ingredients but a different taste.

  14. Charles Burwell Says:

    Okay…this better be good. I’ll bite. Did I overlook details about how they think they duplicated this famous pizza recipe? When Vallian’s closed…that pizza disappeared from the face of the earth….but I’ll be able to tell you if it’s back in fact or just in name because it was unforgettable. The only other great pizza in Houston, imo, was Leonardo’s on So. Post Oak. Oh, and Raia’s better offer their clone with anchovies. If it doesn’t come with anchovies I won’t touch it.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Brace yourself, Charles. It’s been a while since I wrote that first hope-loaded column on the return of Valian’s pizza. Upon further review and the digestion of time, I have to say that Raia’s version of Valian’s pizza is OK, but also little more than a nice-try tribute attempt at recreating the greatest pizza of all time. You know how time factors into this, don’t you? In the months that have passed since we discovered Raia’s, I have observed that I suffer no compulsion to go back for more on a weekly basis. Had it really been the Valian’s recipe, an army of Dr. Oz types could not have kept me away!

  15. Charles Burwell Says:

    Hi Bill…well, I’m already disappointed but not enough to stay away. I’ll definitely be trying it out. So many places were climbing on the pizza wagon back then and none of them matched the best recipe ever. It was thin dough and it was sliced into thin strips. I’ve vivid memories of good friends and great dates at Valian’s. They also served a plate called steak scalopini a la pizza (sp?) delicious. Seems they were open pretty late also.

  16. Nancy O'Neal Says:

    GREAT NEWS—I was thinking about their pizza just a few days ago.

  17. Karen westmoreland Says:

    Hope this is true and they are still there. I grew up on Valians pizza and still crave it. Visiting Houston from Tyler and can’t wait to see if I can get a piece

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