My job brings me to the swankiest and most expensive restaurants in the metro but I remain as easily pleased as your Boy Bawang-loving relative. When my mood’s not at its best, I don’t crave for Nama chocolates or fancily boxed truffles; I hoard Chocnut. When I’m down with fever, I don’t request for cream of mushroom soup; I plead for watery lugaw riddled with vinegar-soaked tokwa’t baboy (I swear the right mix of gingery, salty, and tangy flavors renders me a couple of Centigrades cooler in an instant). My ideal breakfast doesn’t have toasted bacon or Eggs Benedict in it (though, just for the record, I’d never refuse any of those two). Serve me sinangag topped with a handful of crispy garlic bits and a pair of glistening fried tuyo and I’ll be extra fine for the rest of the day. Coffee? While most people willingly shell out purple bills for a dose, I get by with twenty-five peso worth of brewed coffee from the McFastfood nearby.
Having said all of these, don’t be surprised when you ask me “Where’s your favorite pizzeria?” and I lead you to the lower ground floor of SM Megamall. Because really, that’s where I go when I’m short on cash and I’m hungry for awesome multiple-cheese pizzas. Let me introduce you to what I think is one of the best budget pizzerias in the metro that is conveniently inside the cafe that also sells my favorite cream puffs: SoHo Pizza Express in Chewy Junior Cafe.
SoHo Pizza Express
Okay, so SoHo Pizza Express is not a pizzeria per se. They don't have a brick oven installed. There are no dough-tossing performances (I think, they don't even prepare the pizzas in the store). Don't expect mustache-wearing Italiano chefs in here. In other words, do not barge in here expecting the ambiance and service of the real deal from Roma.
But don't let that hinder you from ordering The Great White Cheese, because at P45 apiece, it's the best budget pizza you can get. This picture does not give justice to my favorite slice but is here nevertheless just to show you how ample the size is.
For less than fifty pesos, you can treat yourself to a pliable crust of herbed dough smothered in bechamel, gooey mozzarella, and cream cheese. I particularly love how the crust works harmoniously with the toppings. It's flavorful on its own (the kind I can eat sans the cheese) but it doesn't hog the spotlight at all. It gives way as stage to the generous toppings.
I usually go for The Great White Cheese, but sometimes, I find myself asking for Meaty of the Minds (P55)
A plate of this, plus two mini puffs always equates to a quality, satisfying, and budget-friendly meal. And speaking of mini puffs...
Unlike the SoHo Pizza Express, which is a secret to many, Chewy Junior no longer needs lengthy introductions-- especially to cream puff fans of the metro.
Just last year, the brand (a franchise from Singapore) has mushroomed in kiosk-form all over Manila, treating sweet-toothed Filipinos to cream puffs like they never had before. This March, they opened Chewy Junior Cafe in Megamall, which serves SoHo Express pizzas, juices, and smoothies, in addition to their full-line of cream puffs.
Chewy Junior's claim to fame is their unique texture: slightly crispy on the outside and bread-like mushy inside. Most of its fans would agree that Chewy Junior's the offspring, if donuts and cream puffs were to marry.
I personally love Chewy Junior best because their filling really fills-- not just a reluctant squirt from a pastry bag. It's that cream-filled, eating a puff requires a special technique:
It is also good to note that the filling, may it be vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, or Nutella based, is just appropriately sweet: not cloying, nor sugar-high inducing.
The top ranks among my favorites is shared by the Nutella (a Nutella cream-filled puff topped with dark chocolate and a wafer) and NY Cheesecake (a vanilla filled puff topped with white chocolate, graham crumbs and cream cheese).
Honorable mentions include the Original (powdered with confectioner's sugar), Cheese Lover (more cream cheese, of course!), and Chewy Ensaymada (a well-favored local recipe that has been exported to the International branches of Chewy Junior).
Original flavor sells for P45 a piece. It's almost the size of a small donut. Premium and Deluxe flavors sell at P229 and P289 respectively, for a box of 6. If I were you, just get the mini puffs (which, in fairness, aren't tiny at all in cream puff standards) which sells at P119 for a box of 8. This way, you can sample and share more flavors with your friends.
Now you know where I get pizza slices that sell at P45 each and cream puffs that cost only over a hundred pesos for a box. Next time, I'll be showing you where I head to when craving for tender and quality ribs that sells at two hundred pesos per person!