Valian’s Pizza Update

Honest Raia Family Wants Whole Truth Known.

We’ve written quite a bit lately about the rediscovery of Valian’s Pizza at Raia’s Italian Market at 4500 Washington Avenue. Many of us have since been to Raia’s more than once to sample the rich goodness of the thin crust and rich marinara and cheeses that together make up the arguably greatest tasting pizza of all time. I’ve even taken Richard Coselli, the fellow who served as the UH student chairman of Frontier Fiesta back in 1957 when Valian’s Pizza was first introduced at our big annual campus show, to try the Raia version with me.

Richard Coselli’s taste buds agreed with mine. The Raia version, indeed, is enough like the original to be accorded the status of Valian’s Pizza Reincarnated, even if there existed for both of us a slight variation in taste due to some changes in herbs, spices, or meat products now available in comparison to a half century ago.

Now it seems that we have jumped to a wrong conclusion on how the item described by the Raia family on their menu as “Valien’s DeLuxe” pizza came about. It turns out that this beautiful restoration of an all time Houston culinary favorite was not the result of some ancient family friendship between the Valian and Raia families and a handing-off of the former’s famous pizza recipe in the name of friendship for the sake of posterity.

That story was the urban legend that I hooked onto when my friend first told me. And, since my friend had never been to Raia’s, that was also the legend that he had hooked onto from someone else. My error was then going to Raia’s to try the pizza and then writing about the experience without checking out the truth of the story about its origins directly with the cafe’s owners, Luke and Kathy Raia.

I still haven’t met the Raia couple, but I have heard from Kathy Raia a couple of times by e-mail. Give me an “F” in investigative journalism this time, folks, but I wasn’t on assignment, looking for a deception that never existed in the first place. The Raia place just reeks with good taste and integrity.

My willingness to accept the story I first heard about how the pizza started at Raia’s, nevertheless, has only reenforced the urban legend version of a delicious replication that deserves the Valian’s pizza comparison in its own right.

An e-mail I received from Kathy Raia last night explains the whole misunderstanding:

Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2010 16:46:36 -0500
Subject: Re: Raia’s
From: raia.italian.market@gmail.com
To: houston_buff@hotmail.com

Mr. McCurdy, we appreciate your blog about how good our Valien’s pizza is but we don’t want to create any false impressions.  The store manager you talked to is our son. He knew that my husband went to Valian’s when he was younger. We have never had a relationship with the Valian family nor received any recipes from them.
We named this pizza after one of the pizzas we used to order at Valian’s. This pizza was put on our menu as a tribute to the first restaurant in which my husband was introduced to a pizza.
If you would like to clarify this on your blog, we would appreciate it because we have been getting a lot of phone calls and emails.  My husband has had to expain that we didn’t know the Valian family and this pizza is not their recipe.  We just enjoyed going there.
Please come in again and say hi to my husband so y’all can reminisce about Valian’s.
Thanks, Kathy Raia

And thank you for that clarification, Kathy. You and Luke still deserve Valian’s Pizza status and credit with your tribute recipe version of one of the greatest and most uniquely delicious foods ever produced by a Houston family.

Long live Valian’s! Long live Raia’s!

 

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6 Responses to “Valian’s Pizza Update”

  1. Jack Murphy Says:

    Bill, Who knew? Does anybody remember that fantastic Valian’s salad?

  2. Dick Kirtley Says:

    Yes Jack I do remember. Valian’s salad was the only reason I frequent the place until they required that I order something additional. Oh, the salad must have anchovies.

  3. Marsha Franty Says:

    Regardless of the details of its pedigree, I can hardly wait to try Raia’s pizza. I didn’t live in Houston during the years you were enjoying Valian’s so I won’t be doing any comparing, just enjoying what I expect will be a great meal at a family-owned restaurant!
    Back to the game……still hoping the Rangers will pull this one out!

  4. Dennis H. Says:

    Tried the Valian’s deluxe. Nice attempt but not close to the taste I remember.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Dennis:

      I ate at Raia’s with a friend today. It was my third try since our discovery of the attempt to resurrect Valian’s. After this many trips, I’m inclined to agree with your appraisal. I do like it, but it’s not the full taste of Valian’s pizza that most of us remember. That being said, the Raia’s pizza is a lot tastier than anything else I’ve found out there. It’s just too bad we can’t find someone from the Valian family to unlock the vault on their secret ingredient combination.

  5. Carolyn Says:

    Sorry, this is a good pizza for sure, but that’s as close as it gets to Valian’s pizza. We were SO hoping to find our old family favorite reborn, but it’s not to be. Sure wish the family would publish the recipe . . . the crust made the pizza. Oh, and it isn’t Raia’s anymore, the name changed to Polovina Italian Cafe. Same people, same menu. Good food, just don’t expect ‘Valien’s Pizza’ to rekindle your love affair with the real thing.

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