Crank up those big pizza ovens: Fall’s coming (despite the lingering heat) and three relatively new spots continue to expand the pie options around town. Here’s a breakdown:
Pure Pizza in Plaza Midwood: The original, in 7th Street Public Market, has always seemed like the kind of place that should be housed in a funky little house in the vicinity of Plaza Midwood, and now it’s expanded there, into the defunct-and-missed Lulu digs. Check the cool bike rack/sculpture/child magnet (we watched its inexorable pull on kids small and large) and the local-centric beer list. Pure offers a crust made with organic, unbleached/unbromated flour; one that employs quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and more in what it calls “sprouted ancient grain”; and a gluten-free version of the latter. I’ve tried and loved all three at the original location; on my visit here, the ancient grain fell a little flat, though the regular-flour version fared fine, and the Tuck n Rolls (essentially, a little pinwheel with your choice of grilled chicken with Buffalo sauce, pepperoni or vegetables) were great. I’ve long been a fan of the chorizo-radish-cilantro-lime creation at Pure; that is in the “craft” category, along with the sentimental Lulu (ground beef, bacon, tomato, jalapeno, mozzarella and pimento cheeses), She-Rex (mozz, mushroom, onion, peppers), wild mushroom (with truffle oil) and more. Make-your-own toppings range from arugula and egg to country ham and pesto, along with the more routine. Servers are quick, expert and warm; sit anywhere except the table that’s directly in front of the air conditioner (directly!) and you’ll be comfy.
1911 Central Ave.; 980-430-1701; purepizzaclt.com. Customized pizzas start at $7 for a small (10-inch) cheese, $15 for a large (16-inch); ancient grain and gluten-free only come in small; “classic” combos are $10 and $18; “craft” $12 and $21.
Benny Pennello’s in NoDa: Sure, it’s a chain, but the kind that renames itself in each location (is there a Benny Name Generator online?) and posts pictures on its website of people looking remarkably awkward biting into its massive slices. Which is relatively easy, since unless you are a professional athlete of noteworthy stature, it’s impossible not to look awkward with slices this big. Also, all they sell: slices, for $4 and $5 – or the entire 28-inch pizzas, for $30 to $38. Well, there’s beer, too. And King of Pops Popsicles for dessert. But that’s it.
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So they’re a meal. Just not a particularly tasty one, on our visit. Thin, bland crust, with toppings that were neither skimpy nor generous, and although I had one of the day’s specials, I had to look in my notes to recall what it was. (It was chorizo. Unmemorable.)
Short local beer list and an unfinished-art, warehouse-y feel win points; counter people who are a little too busy to take your order when there’s only one table of two eating lose them. I still think this can be cool, but it will take some attention.
2909 N. Davidson St.; 980-949-8398; www.bennysva.com/BennyPennellos. Slices are $4 (cheese) and $5 (pepperoni, sausage or the daily specials, which might be Philly cheesesteak and such); whole pies are $30 and $38.
Pizzeria Omaggio in Midtown: Going into a location that’s held a few pizza restaurants before, this is billed as an homage (“omaggio”) to Italy. Servers, from the counterperson taking orders to the men pulling pizzas from the oven, were warmly engaging, and I loved the host speaking Italian with an older woman who’d come in with a younger one. You can watch pizzas being put together (yes, there’s the throwing of the dough, particularly entrancing for kids). This is also a diverse menu, from appetizers to salads to sandwiches and pizzas.
But the pizza on this visit lacked depth of flavor (in either toppings or crust) and was undercooked; sauce and cheese were palely bland. Bruschetta were made with toasted bread that had gone hard, though one, with sardines and aioli, was palatable. A Caesar salad was plain but serviceable; an antipasto plate was also OK, though pricy for what’s offered, at $13.
I’ll give it another try for panini, and the warm welcome.
1055 Metropolitan Ave.; 704-370-0777; www.pizzeriaomaggio.com. Pizzas are individual pies (roughly 10-11 inches across) and run $9 to $15, with additional toppings for $1.50-$2 (toppings on half are charged for full; whole-wheat crust is an option); salads $7-$8, panini $7-$9.