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    Mellow Mushroom is a family favorite.
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    Pure Pizza, the new kid on the block.
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    Expert Peter Reinhart.
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    Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar executive chef Scott Wallen.

Eye on the Pie

By Michael J. Solender | Photography by Tonya Price

Posted: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013

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Peter Reinhart, a Chef on Assignment for uptown’s Johnson & Wales University, may have the tastiest job in Charlotte. He logs thousands of miles annually, crisscrossing the country as a good will ambassador for the renowned culinary school where he is a baking instructor, food culture lecturer, and resident expert on all matters pizza. His obsession with the pie has propelled him on what he calls “a journey of self discovery through pizza.”  His 2003 book, American Pie offers a travelogue, history lesson, and healthy dose of technique in creating what he often refers to as the “perfect food.”

“There is just something universal and satisfying about baked dough as a platform for flavor delivery,” says Reinhart. The talented chef and author let SouthPark Magazine join him—and get a behind the scenes look and taste—as he toured several of his favorite local pizza joints.

URBAN UPSTART

Pure Pizza may be only one year old but the 7th Street Market new kid is converting legions of uptown foodies with its healthy pies and complex flavor combinations. When owner Juli Ghazi learned that her daughter’s school was taking pizza off the menu, she set out to create a healthier version of the kid (and adult) favorite that could be replicated in school cafeterias. With the help of Reinhart, who is a consulting partner, Pure Pizza was launched.

“We offer three types of crust,” says Reinhart. “Classic, ancient grain, and gluten free. Our ancient grain and gluten free crust are unique in that the flours are milled from sprouted grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, and sorghum.”

But healthier does not compromise the flavor and Pure’s pies deliver the goods. “The Chorizo was designed to mimic the flavors of a Mexican street taco,” says Reinhart, “Chorizo sausage, mozzarella, radish, cilantro and a squeeze of lime on a crispy crust create one of the most unique pizzas in the city.”

When we asked frequent patron Susan Jedrzejewski about her white truffle and mushroom pizza, the reply was “absolutely amazing.” “The crust is perfect,” she says, “and the honey for dipping is a welcome and unique touch.”

UPSCALE AND ARTISAN

Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar opened last April to high expectations from a discerning SouthPark clientele. Locals were curious and hungry to lay claim to designer pizzas developed by one of the most recognizable culinary names on the planet.

“One of the primary elements that differentiates great pizza from good pizza is that it is memorable,” says Reinhart. “What you find here is really well thought out, artisan house-made dough that produces a crisp outer crust and an interior ‘crumb’ that is tender and flaky.”

Reinhart and Executive Chef Scott Wallen squared off in preparing Reinhart’s litmus test for pizza evaluation—the classic Margherita. Simple but elegant San Marzano Tomato Sauce, roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and delicate basil combined in perfect unison, leaving Reinhart and our crew in pizza heaven.

More than a dozen specialty pies are available here with an emphasis on locally-sourced cheeses, meats, vegetables and herbs. And don’t miss the house-made lamb sausage pie with roasted pepper, eggplant and cumin, one of Chef Wallen’s favorites.

NEIGHBORHOOD CLASSIC

Luisa’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in Madison Park has been firing pizzas in the same colossal brick oven for the last 22 years. Owner Jeff Russell proudly updates the pizza count weekly with a recent count coming in at 1,123,951 pizzas, most of which were likely enjoyed by a devoted neighborhood fan base.

“They offer a classic New York style pizza with a nice char on their crust,” says Reinhart. “I am a big fan of the Fiorentina which has spinach, garlic, fontina, parmegiano, and mozzarella cheese.”

The full house weekday lunch crowd takes advantage of the special pizza buffet, which features up to ten different pies daily. On your next visit, look for the best-selling Luisa featuring tomatoes, pesto, ricotta cheese, garlic, and mozzarella.

FAMILY FAVORITE

Mellow Mushroom franchise owner Marc Kieffer sells several thousand pizzas from his Selwyn Avenue restaurant each week. “We have an unbelievably loyal following,” says Kieffer. “When we opened our Ballantyne location we had two hour wait times, it was crazy. A third location near the uptown ballpark is planned to be opened by October.”

One of Reinhart’s co-workers swears by the restaurant, which is simply “adored” by her daughters and he agreed they offer a winning formula.

“The dough has molasses which feeds the yeast and gives it a nice sweetness in the finish,” says Reinhart. “The fresh and creative ingredient parings make for some fun and unusual pies.” And the Kosmic Karma placed on our table was no exception. Topped with a red sauce, feta and mozzarella cheeses, spinach, sundried and Roma tomatoes, and finished off with a pesto swirl, it disappeared within minutes of arrival.

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