February 3, 2017

Review: 41311 Heartlake Pizzeria

"Buongiorno!" Welcome to Heartlake City's newest hot-spot for sit-down/take-out Italian fare! Will we give it five stars? Read on to see...

This set was provided by the AFOL Relations & Programs (AR&P) team of The LEGO Group for the purpose of sharing set details with fans. Opinions provided here solely reflect those of our reviewer. Photographs are property of Friends Bricks and are not directed by TLG in any fashion.

Is 2017 "The Year of the Pizza?" It sure seems like it! No less than four of the announced 2017 LEGO sets feature the yummy circular food. Everywhere you look, from DUPLO to Friends, to City and Batman - our little characters are munching slices of Italian pie. 

Did I just say, "slices?" Yes! Hot on the heels of last year's watermelon wedges and pie portions, we now have glorious quarter-tile slices of crispy pizza! Now... I was all set to write a brief history of LEGO pizzas here but, someone has beaten me to it. They even created the exact pizza tile comparison shot that I was envisioning! So, rather than duplicate their work, I'll link to it. But if you do take a peek, please come right back because we still have a Friends set to discuss...!

Briefly putting this set in historical context, a few other sets come to mind. One is, of course, 2015's "Stephanie's Pizzeria" (41092) which, though smaller, had some similar features. Meanwhile, a spark of nostalgia strikes as I fondly recall my first LEGO pizza experience: 1994's "Pizza To Go" (6350). That same era brought us the "Breezeway Café" (6376) and its elegant upstairs dining experience. One could say that the "Heartlake Pizzeria" is a modern (and improved) combination of those classics. I may refer to these sets again later for comparison. But first, let's take a look at this box! 

Mmmm... [sniff, sniff] I can almost smell the oregano and basil through the packaging! Actually, with this size and shape, this could itself be a small pizza box! (It's a little over 10" square.)

I should note that this is a European copy of the set, so box details may differ slightly in other parts of the world. We can tell that this belongs to the base theme of Friends sets (not a sub-theme) by its familiar ribbon wave across the top. Background art places the set in a park-like area with fancy urban buildings beyond. The set is well-depicted here and includes a bonus bubble detailing kitchen activity. Emma and Oliver figures are featured in the lower right corner at near-actual size.

My first take: The color scheme here is interesting. While I normally wouldn't put red, green, magenta, and lavender together, I recognize that the goal was to show classic Italian flag colors in the awnings while keeping some of the trademark Friends color palette elsewhere. I think it works. But if you were to swap those floor and trim colors for something more neutral (gray, white, brown..), the model could easily lend some architectural interest (and PIZZA!) to a LEGO City layout. The façade's arches and flowering vines are lovely and remind me of a rustic Italian villa.

Images on the back of the box do a great job detailing all the wonderful little goodies included, such as: kitchenware, food, and stickered and printed tiles. Play scenarios pictured here are making me hungry and I'm excited to put the characters to work! Hmm... I do feel a little badly for Oliver there, trapped on the second floor. I may need to build some stairs for him later!

The box contains two numbered bags, a sticker sheet, two large lavender plates, and an instruction booklet which is available for free download here.

Pages 2-72 are devoted to building instructions. 74-75 provide an inventory of all the parts used plus contact info for LEGO Customer Service. Three more pages show off other Friends sets that are new this year and include checkboxes to tic off until you're complete. Inside the back cover, we're shown the official LEGO Friends website and app. And finally, the back cover offers a chance to win a prize in exchange for feedback about this set.

Lots of nice building materials here! I'm immediately noticing the magenta window frames and inverse slopes (new in this color!). 

Digging into the build... As you're probably aware, the LEGO Company has done loads of research about how kids interact with LEGO sets. One thing they've learned is that kids love to start playing with what they're making – before it's even complete. As a result, sets are now designed to facilitate this. Such a play-driven model design is clearly evident as we jump into our instruction book and page 3 outlines it for us. We're granted immediate access to imaginative play scenarios via: assembling the figures, then a vehicle, and then an environment. That environment and its play possibilities get expanded in Bag #2. Interesting fact: Ever notice how adding the wheels is always the final step to building LEGO cars and trucks? That's because kids tend to run around the house with their new vehicle just as soon as it can roll – and LEGO would like you to finish it first! 

The minidolls included in this set are: Emma (one of our five main Friends characters) and a new Friend named Oliver. With his fabulous thick black hair, Oliver certainly looks as though he could have some Italian heritage. His torso element has brand new printing of a green shirt. This should be useful for future creations. His outfit keeps the red/green/white theme going without the specifics of a uniform. This is nice because we can pretend he's a patron, an employee, a visiting friend, or maybe even a restaurant reviewer for the Heartlake Times! This version of Emma, with her pink work apron and comfy shoes, is new only because she lacks the flower that she had in her hair for the Juniors set, "Emma's Ice Cream Truck" (10727).  Naomi wore this outfit too, in the "Heartlake Cupcake Café" (41119).

The three-wheeled pizza-delivery scooter is really cute. It has room up front to secure a minidoll by their feet; a mounted phone for GPS directions and phone calls; and a rear compartment for storing boxes of hot pizza. My only complaint is that I don't know how our driver operates this vehicle. A steering wheel or handlebars would have been great. 

Here's a quick comparison of the Pizza To Go truck with our new delivery scooter. They're a close match in size and features. Today's doors with handles are easier for kids to open, which is nice. And the communication system certainly got an upgrade! But I do miss that nice shelf inside there.

The scooter gets its pizzeria logos thanks to stickers. They're not centered on the sides of the scooter because LEGO is avoiding placing them across multiple bricks. In olde-times (a.k.a. when I was a kid, and even into the 90's) you'd just slap that sticker on a bunch of bricks. However, when you later wanted to take your model apart, you had to decide between ripping your applied stickers along the seams or leaving that bunch of blocks together forever. No more worries like that. (Thank-you, LEGO!)

Another detail you might find curious: In the rear compartment, a single white stud faces into the storage space for no apparent reason. (See step 8, above.) This is probably a result of LEGO's designers being economical. One of their goals is to limit the number of different types of bricks used per set, especially avoiding ones that are visually similar. In step #8, a white 1x1 brick with side-stud is needed for mounting the phone/GPS. Then, beside it, another 1x1 fills a gap. Rather than introducing an additional element type (a standard white 1x1 brick), they just used another of the side-studed ones and turned it inside to hide the stud.

Next up, we build the front half of the downstairs of our pizzeria. The welcoming entrance has two front windows with colorful flower-boxes below and striped awnings above. At the top of the front wall are four decorative corbels which will help support a balcony. Inside is: a corner for business operations (with a phone, money, cash register, and menu); a bar of ready-made leafy salads (nice to see this healthy option!); and the base for a pizza oven that we'll add later. It bothers me a bit that the red phone handset has no base. It also hovers awkwardly past the edge of the counter. This can be remedied by adding a tan brick of your own – to lengthen the counter by one stud.

As Oliver sets out with his pizzas for delivery, I wish he could hold the boxes without tipping them. (That melted cheese is gonna be pooled in a corner!) I'm reminded of my wish that LEGO minidolls had their hands fixed in two different positions (offset 90 degrees) as some of the Star Wars battle droids do. Olivia's robots also have this feature. Of course, twistable wrists would be even better! :D 

Time for bag #2! Finally, I get my hands on some pizza slices...

Here's a closeup view of some detail parts. The notepad tile is great. It's a new print but found in three other new Friends sets, including "Stephanie's House" (41314). It can easily be imagined here as a shopping list, someone's order for food, or even a secret recipe! I won't obsess over what it might say on there, except to point out what might be Olivia and Andrea's names in the middle. Hmmm... Is Emma planning a surprise party at the pizzeria?

On close inspection of the printed quarter-tiles, you'll notice that each one actually depicts two slices of pizza, for a total of eight. You'll also get one additional quarter-round pizza piece as a spare part. Note: these slices have different toppings than the whole 2x2 round pizzas. Nice! I like giving our diners options. "I'll take a vegetarian small-portion please!"

As I start building the second half of the set, I realize and appreciate that LEGO has kindly made these instructions in the "new style." That is, each step begins by pointing out exactly how many of which pieces you'l be adding. I've noticed that this "mini-inventory" makes it easier for my son (who's five years old) to assemble models. Nearly all set instructions have this style now. Personally, I tend to forget to look at these and dive straight into the big picture. Maybe that's because I grew up without these extra clues - or, (more likely) I'm impatient! 

Let's have a look at this fabulous rolling pin, shall we? This is a very clever little creation. I'd thought it looked familiar and, sure enough, this same design was used in the kitchen of the "Parisian Restaurant" (10243) modular building. I'm always happy to see things built from existing elements when possible, rather than creating another pre-fab mold. And in this case it's a real "win" because the roller actually works! The instructions have us store it on its end, which seems a little odd. I think it actually looks like a roll of paper-towels in this position but, hey, that works for me too!

Actually, one of my first observations on seeing this set (after "OMG – pizza SLICES!!!"), was "Why is there a rolling pin in a pizza kitchen?" I thought all proper pizza makers tossed their dough in the air to make it stretch and flatten. Well, after a bit of investigation,* I found out that some folks do in fact prefer to use a roller. It's less physical effort and can provide a very thin, uniform crust. So... apparently Emma does not prefer bubbly irregular artisan crusts! Another possibility: These are actually cookie pizzas[gasp!] How yummy would that be?

Wait... What's that, Oliver? You'd like to try this pizza tossing method? Ok, here you go.... Oh dear. That'll take some more practice. Until then, I'm glad you have that rolling pin!

I adore the simple but effective details in this kitchen. The angled grater and cheese make me chuckle because of the history of LEGO fans referring to that element as a "cheese slope." How appropriate that Emma should be shredding it. There's a small sink, a stovetop with simmering sauce, and containers of [I'm guessing] oil and flour. The freshly-flattened dough (an unprinted round tile) is a nice touch. The brick oven looks great with its masonry texture and is large enough to hold two pizzas. Figures can easily use the brown paddles to move things in and out of the oven. Upstairs, the checkered tablecloths add to the atmosphere. ...I can even imagine traditional music playing quietly for ambiance. 

Here are the leftover (spare) parts from my build. Bricklink tells me I should also have one gray Technic half-pin. I will be honest: I did bump my tabletop setup at one point, sending tiny pieces into a tumble. So, it still might be here somewhere. That's why they give us extras!

With the build complete, I'd certainly give Heartlake Pizzeria five stars. At the recommended price of $30 USD, it provides a good value with a nice assortment of quality parts, a solid design, and tons of play potential.

However, I could not resist making one quick modification to the set (for ease of playability), and I'll share it with you. The entire upstairs can be flipped around 180 degrees, allowing for a more traditional dollhouse arrangement. I did that, then flipped the exterior wall back out, to have the awnings again facing the street. With the façade walls moved all to one end, I could comfortably play with the upstairs and downstairs from the same side. I see why the LEGO designers may have made it the way they did (better 360-degree view with play possibilities on both sides), but I'm lazy and want to do all my playing from one direction. :) My finished model has a different, but still pretty good finished look, inside and out. ...You can ask your Friends characters if they'd prefer dining al-fresco on the balcony or inside on the mezzanine.

If you're interested in adding personal touches to your copy of this set... I noticed that the official LEGO Friends "Finding the Pets: Part 2" video, featuring Emma, gives us a good look around inside the pizzeria. We see spiral stairs, tiled floors, hanging sausages, wine casks, flower arrangements on the tables, and even [eek!] a mouse running through the kitchen! These are all great ideas for adding to the set and making it your own. Other potential additions: a refrigerator, glowing embers in the brick oven, and maybe a wine bottle or soda cans. Thankfully there's plenty of floorspace free for us to fill in with experiments.

My last word: In a final attempt to settle my "rolling pin: yea-or-nay" query, I did something a little bit crazy. I contacted the real Heartlake Pizzeria. Did you know there's a real Heart Lake in Pennsylvania? Yup. And on its shores is the Heartlake Lodge where you can order.... pizza! They offer a variety of types, in fact. So I called to talk with them about how they make theirs. A very nice guy (not named Oliver) said that they have four cooks there. Two spread their dough by hand and two of them prefer to roll it out. Haha! So, indeed, either way is fine. 

And now... I'm off to eat some real pizza! "Arrivederci!"

Note: All exclusive parts mentioned in the colours noted were applicable at the time this review was posted. Parts may be available in other colours and sets after the post of this review. Brickset and BrickLink were use to verify this information.

* Shoutout to the pizza-maker members of NEOLUG who were doing a parts-draft of this set last week and shared their thoughts.


SassyPetLover said...

Lol where u called the real Heartlake pizzeria 😂 btw nice review!

kuhander said...

Great review. Second time I read it actually. The pizzeria is a great little set. It has great charm and is always part of our city.

Post a Comment