11 Easy Pieces 

A look at Memphis’ pizza landscape.

Forget blueberries and kale. We would argue that pizza is the original superfood.

Got a crowd? Everybody loves pizza! Picky eaters? Everybody loves pizza! Pizza is something that even vegetarians and your hardcore carnivores can agree on.

Think about it: Before there was UberEats or Postmates in the area, piping hot pizza came right to your door. And leftover cold pizza for breakfast? Just what the doctor ordered.

Even not-so-good pizza is a-okay in our books. Sometimes even the cheapest pizza that tastes like cardboard can hit the spot.

If there's a Memphis-style pizza lingering among the Chicagos and New Yorks, we couldn't say. Topping a pizza with barbecue seems like cheating, though more than fine for eating.

In this week's cover story, we cover the tried-and-true and a few new faces on the block. We don't just like pizza, we love it. Just like you. Enjoy!

click to enlarge Pete & Sam’s - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Pete & Sam’s

Around the World, Pete & Sam's

Pete & Sam's is the first place I ever tried thin-crust pizza. It's always going to be my standard for any thin-crust pizza. This isn't that cracker crust you get with some pies; this is pizza dough.

And when I think of Pete & Sam's pizza, I think of the restaurant's Around the World pizza. Each slice is different. It's actually a sampler. My server, Noah Turnage, identified the pieces: ground beef, mushroom, sausage, bell pepper, bacon, onion, and pepperoni.

This pizza also is beautiful to look at. It could be a painting, an edible painting.

Years ago, I interviewed the late Sam Bomarito, who owned the restaurant. His partner was Pete Romeo, but Romeo only stayed with the restaurant a year. Bomarito told me he went to Chicago for a couple of weeks in 1951 to learn to make pizzas. Coletta's restaurant was already making them. Bomarito learned to make them at The Flamingo Lounge, a restaurant owned by Romeo's brother.

Thin-crust pizzas are known as "tavern pizzas," says Michael Bomarito, one of Sam's sons. I could never imagine a deep dish Pete & Sam's pizza.

Also on the Pete & Sam's menu under "Pizzas" are Classic BBQ Pork (in-house hickory-smoked pork tossed in Mr. Sam's barbecue sauce), Everything, Shrimp, BBQ Chicken (with Sam's barbecue sauce), Vegetarian, All Meat (no shrimp or chicken), Cheese, and One Topping.

Michael Donahue

Pete & Sam's, 3886 Park; peteandsams.com

click to enlarge Dodo Pizza - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Dodo Pizza

Supreme, Dodo Pizza

In 1984, Mirage Studios published a comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird about four mutated teen turtles who waged a war on crime from New York's sewers. Oh, and they freakin' loved pizza. Thanks to two live-action movies and a cartoon series, the nation's brief mania for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was in its heyday when I was in elementary school, so I have always blamed my lifelong pizza appreciation on too many cartoons in my formative years.

Why should turtles love pizza, though? Who knows? Why should the dodo, an extinct flightless bird, be the mascot for the self-billed artisan pizza delivery place Dodo Pizza? Frankly, I didn't ask. I was too busy wondering why more pizza places don't include bacon on their supreme pizza as a standard practice. Bacon, right there on the pizza as if I'd ordered it special.

The crust was crisp, as were the spears of onions and green peppers. The toppings kept threatening to slide off the slice under their own weight, heavy with mushrooms, pepperoni, and oversized bites of sausage. That's what this pizza lover would call a good problem, though. All in all, Dodo's supreme succeeds by excelling at the basics — and adding a splash of pizzazz with the bonus bacon. It's the kind of pizza the Turtles would have eaten, and I can think of no higher standard. — Jesse Davis

Dodo's Pizza, 6155 Poplar; dodopizza.com

click to enlarge Boscos - BRUCE VANWYNGARDEN
  • Bruce Vanwyngarden
  • Boscos

The Palermo, Boscos

Boscos was the first craft brewery in Memphis — and in Tennessee for that matter. It opened in 1992, and their Overton Square location is still bumping after all these years. Getting a seat at the bar can take a minute, but it's worth the wait.

The Palermo Pizza at Boscos has been a menu staple forever, and there's a reason: It's spectacularly tasty. Though it's a small-ish pizza, 10 inches or so, and not available by the slice, they stack a lot of toppings on this thing: sweet Italian sausage, big pepperoni rounds, portabella mushroom chunks, whole milk mozzarella, and a tangy red sauce. The Palermo is baked in Boscos' wood-fired brick oven, so the outer crust is thin, crisp, and lightly toasted. It all holds together beautifully — a smoky, savory blend of flavors and textures.

If you're hungry, you can eat the whole thing, but I like to pair it with an order of the Gorgonzola Pear Salad (gorgonzola cheese, sliced pear, cranberries, and spiced walnuts on lettuce, with raspberry vinaigrette). Add one of Boscos signature brews to the mix, and you've got the perfect casual dinner for two.

Bruce VanWyngarden

Boscos, 2120 Madison; boscosbeer.com

click to enlarge Garibaldi’s - JAKE CARTER
  • Jake Carter
  • Garibaldi’s

Bar-B-Que, Garibaldi's

Sometimes you find that perfectly simple yet perfectly delicious slice of pie — the proper cheese to sauce ratio, an ample portion of toppings, and a crust that's pillowy with just the right amount of bite. Enter Garibaldi's, whose team has been tossing house-made dough in the flagship U of M location on Walker Avenue since 1975 (and now in East Memphis and Germantown).

The cheeseburger pizza, with ground beef, diced yellow onion, shredded cheddar, and mozz, is damn good, but nine times out of 10, I'm going with the pork barbecue pizza. Not to be cliché with the Memphis/barbecue thing, but it's a hell of a slice. The lovely little morsels of smoked pork have soaked in a slightly sweet barbecue sauce, and after a trip through the oven, they crisp up in places for a burnt-ends crunch. The pizza's base sauce, however, is tomato, so this isn't a sweet 'cue overload. It's a magical blend of flavor and texture, almost as if these ingredients belonged on a pizza together since the beginning of time.

Shara Clark

Garibaldi's, 3530 Walker, 7521 Queens Ct., 764 Mt. Moriah;

garibaldispizza.com

click to enlarge Slice of Soul - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • Slice of Soul

Bar-BQ-Kays, Slice of Soul

What exactly does soul taste like? Well, if I had to guess, I'd say it tastes like a piece of the Bar-BQ-Kays pizza from Slice of Soul Pizza Lounge.

This pizza is everything pizza should be and so much more. It's cheesy, crispy, and bold with Memphis written all over it.

It comes out sizzling hot, cheese bubbling. Perfect pizza aromas fill the air.

I was already sold. And with one taste, I saw this thin-crust, square pizza is anything but square. It's sweet, tangy, and meaty. A delightful layer of the restaurant's signature Memphis-style barbeque sauce coats the crispy foundation. On top of that is cheesy goodness topped with chicken, drizzled with more of their signature sauce, and completed with an added bonus — bacon. Everything's better with bacon, right?

The correct answer is yes. If you disagree, I'm just not sure you are human (sorry).

There's no shortage of toppings on the pizza either. Bits of bacon rained from a slice as I bit into it. Globs of velvety cheese went with it.

I tasted soul in every bite down to the last bacon bit. It was glorious. I think my taste buds might still be rejoicing.

Maya Smith

Slice of Soul, 1299 Madison; sospizzalounge.com

click to enlarge Venice Kitchen - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Venice Kitchen

John Wayne, Venice Kitchen

Every Wednesday, I leave the Flyer editorial meeting with a heck of a hunger. Last week, that rumble in my middle compelled me to drive out east to sample a slice (or three) from Venice Kitchen, the restaurant formerly known as Old Venice Pizza Company.

Inside, the remodeled restaurant has been given room to breathe, with an open dining area, a cool, quiet spot to kick back with a slice and contemplate a work assignment.

I opted for the John Wayne, Venice Kitchen's take on the classic barbecue chicken model. Every pizza joint in town has a variation on the barbecue pizza, but only the true masters pull it off perfectly. Since sugar is used as a catalyst to cause yeast to make dough rise, and since barbecue sauce is sweet, this pie serves as an effective reminder that cooking is chemistry — too much of a certain variable can throw off the whole equation. Balance is where the cooks at Venice Kitchen shine, though. The dough was only slightly thicker than New York-style, which leaves room for the sauce to do its sweet, tangy, smoky thing. The mozzarella and the dash of cheddar coexist peacefully, and the cheddar complements the smoke in the sauce. No doubt about it, the John Wayne is a straight shooter with true grit — and Venice Kitchen is pizza pie El Dorado. Too many John Wayne references? Cry me a (red) river. — Jesse Davis

Venice Kitchen, 368 Perkins Extd.; venice-kitchen.com

click to enlarge Memphis Pizza Cafe - LAURA JEAN HOCKING
  • Laura Jean Hocking
  • Memphis Pizza Cafe

BLT, Memphis Pizza Cafe

Memphis Pizza Cafe has dominated the Best of Memphis pizza category for more than 20 years—and not just because it has "pizza" in its name. The beloved restaurant has been on the cutting edge of the M-town pie game since it opened in the early 1990s.

What has always set MPC apart from its competitors is the crust. It's a West Coast-style crust; wafer-thin, and more cracker-like than the thick, bready New York-style crust. Just like any other pizzeria, you can get it how you like it: pepperoni only, or any combo of the 29 toppings on the menu.

But Memphis Pizza Cafe has a selection of specialty pizzas not seen anywhere else in the city. The classic example is the Alternative, a pizza whose name harkens back to the music of the '80s and '90s. The light pie has a garlic olive oil base with a sprinkling of fresh cherry tomatoes.

The Alt has been on the menu since the beginning, but there are two outstanding, and relatively new specialty pizzas on the MPC menu spawned by the classic recipe. The first is the BLT, inspired by the classic sandwich of the same name. It builds on the Alt's garlic olive oil base with chunks of hickory smoked bacon in melted mozzarella and cheddar. Then, the cooked pizza is topped with lettuce, fresh onion, and a drizzle of ranch dressing. It's one of those strange combinations of pizza toppings that unexpectedly works.

The second sublime slice is the buffalo chicken. The bird is marinated in Frank's Red Hot sauce and cooked in the pizza oven. The spicy chicken is spread on a garlic olive oil base and melted with cheddar and mozzarella, then sprinkled with more Frank's and a bit of ranch dressing. Can't decide between pizza and wings tonight? Why not both, at Memphis Pizza Cafe?

Chris McCoy

Memphis Pizza Cafe, 2087 Madison, 5061 Park, 7604 W. Farmington;

memphispizzacafe.com

click to enlarge Aldo’s Pizza Pies - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Aldo’s Pizza Pies

Gina Bellina, Aldo's Pizza Pies

"We worked a whole summer coming up with this recipe," says John Pearson, head chef at Aldo's Pizza Pies Downtown. "We were working 15-hour days. It was pretty brutal, but it was fun. All we would do all day is just toss pizzas and throw 'em in the oven. People were living on our pizzas."

People still do, it seems, flocking to the Main Street location like clockwork every day. "It's been so nice out, we've been really busy this spring. It's a good spot," Pearson says. And it's a great pizza. To this day, the dedicated dough room shows how seriously Aldo's takes its crust. Pearson says it starts with their ingredients. "We use a blend for the dough. This is what most New York-style pizza uses, high-gluten flour. It's a good product. But this is a great product: Caputo. It's a fine, double zero flour from Naples."

Mixed with ice water, it rises overnight at 34 degrees for delayed fermentation, before being kneaded in the dough room, where Pearson can be seen toiling most days. Aside from a fine marinara, he makes a vodka sauce and a poblano cream. But when I visit, he presents me with the daily special: "An Alfredo sauce, with garlic and parmesan, then Roma tomatoes, carmelized onions, spinach, and fresh basil." Atop a lightly browned crust both crunchy and chewy, with a slight sourdough tang, it is divine.

Alex Greene

Aldo's Pizza Pies, 100 S. Main, 752 Cooper;

aldospizzapies.com

click to enlarge Broadway Pizza - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Broadway Pizza

Sausage All Around the World, Broadway Pizza

Broadway Pizza, which boasts two Memphis locations, may sound like a national chain, but it is a local enterprise, founded in 1977 by Lana Jeanette Cox, member of a Native American family from Arkansas and an Elvis fan second to none. As testament to that fact, the interior walls of the original storefront on Broad (a second location is on Mendenhall) are covered with portraits of the King. The place has a neighborhood feel to it, and on a typical weeknight it fills up quickly with equal numbers of black and white patrons, groups in the main. The homespun look of things is furthered by a row of plump, fresh-looking layer cakes on display as dessert options in transparent containers along a counter at the rear of the main eating area.

The pizzas themselves are thickly layered, with the toppings united in a no-nonsense hearty meld on top of a generously thick crust. Several specialty types are available, including cheeseburger-style (which is what it sounds like, with hunks of cooked ground beef mixed with pickles and onions) and a non-porker meaty version featuring hearty portions of beef, chicken, and turkey. Given the heavy customer traffic at Broadway, you may have to wait a bit to get your pizza, but, regardless of the size you order, you can be sure there will be something left over that you'll want to take home with you for later on. Sandwiches and appetizers are available. Prices range from $8 for a 9-inch cheese pizza to 16-inch specialty versions in the low $30s.

Jackson Baker

Broadway Pizza, 2581 Broad, 629 S. Mendenhall;

broadwaypizzamemphis.com

click to enlarge Fox Ridge - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Fox Ridge

Vegetarian, Fox Ridge

Not unexpectedly, Fox Ridge Pizza, on Germantown Parkway in Cordova, has a suburban feel to it, a fact attested to by a row of video games in a hallway to one side of the main dining room. Like Broadway Pizza, it was founded by a local owner in 1977; it offers appetizers, burgers, specialty sandwiches, and such unexpected possibilities as a catfish basket, pork chops, and a common, all-American grilled cheese sandwich.

The vegetarian pizza is an interesting entree, offering your choice of veggie options from a long list, including artichokes (laid on in strips), olives (either black or green, in whole-olive form), and pineapple, an ingredient normally found only on the so-called "Hawaiian" style. All of this, with a layer of mozzarella cheese. There are enough available ingredients to challenge (in every sense of that word) your creativity. The establishment offers all the usual, more conventional types of pizza as well. Service is quick and efficient, and a nice touch is the offer of a freshly poured non-alcoholic drink of your choice in a large cup to take home with you, gratis. Prices range from $6.90 for a 9-inch cheese pizza to 16-inch specialty versions in the low $20 range. — Jackson Baker

Fox Ridge Pizza, 1769 N. Germantown Pkwy. foxridgepizza.com

click to enlarge Elemento - JON SPARKS
  • Jon Sparks
  • Elemento

New City, Elemento Neapolitan Pizza

Elemento Neapolitan Pizza, in the corner of Crosstown Concourse next door to Next Door Eatery, will thrill your tongue if you desire. But it is a spare place that loves its angles, cool hues, shiny metal, and stark furniture and delivers a serious typeface. There will be no Shakey's Dixieland piano on the premises. So, too, does it deliver its pies with careful attention to ingredients that dare not offend. The tomatoes, your discerning palate will observe, are San Marzano tomatoes that will allow you to purr with approval. Its New City signature dish (Napoli from the Greek neapolis, which your well-earned degree will tell you means "new city") is a lovely thing to behold, with seven, maybe eight, dollops of burrata arranged around the disc suffused with pecorino, parmesan, oregano, and garlic, and then balsamic reduction playfully squirted in a crisscross pattern. The outside crust is hefty, the inside portion is thin as Japanese rice paper, so you might wish to use (oh, dear) a fork. The flavors are subtle as befits the diner who prefers but token excitement. The $13 concoction, however, will assuredly fill you up.

Jon Sparks

Elemento Neapolitan Pizza, Crosstown Concourse, elementopizza.com

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