Pizza was long a favorite in Italy's poorer
sections. In the early 18th century Italian emigrants
brought their favorite comfort food to the United States but it
remained mostly a local dish served in Italian communities.
Pizza popularity grew with the returning WW2 soldiers who had
occupied Italy and discovered pizza as a welcome change for
rations during the war. For the first time, restaurants serving
pizza and chains specializing in the delectable pies sprang up
outside of the old Italian neighborhoods and were welcomed with
open arms. Here are a few fantastic pizza places I have visited
Luigi's in Augusta, Georgia
When I visited Luigi's I expected to find
great Greek specials. What I was happily surprised to find was
their fantastic pizza. I was curious as to why when original
founder, Nicholas "Papou Nick" Ballas, opened Luigi's in 1949,
he billed it an "Italian Restaurant." It's still owned by the
Ballas family. Debi Ballas, wife of Nick's grandson, Chuck,
explained that people were not as used to Greek food then, so
Nick felt the Italian food with a sprinkling of his native Greek
dishes would work best. Today, it is Augusta's oldest Italian
Restaurant so he must have known what he was doing.
After Nick passed away, his son Chuck, Sr.
and his wife, Penny, took over. Since Chuck was a big fan of
Augusta's primary sporting event, The Masters, he began giving
away tickets to friends and customers. Many of the golfers dined
at Luigi's. Tradition is still a big part of Luigi's. A portrait
of Nick hangs in its place of honor over the front door. A
bulletin board of Masters Badges are placed in a prominent place
neat the front of the restaurant.. Other traditions are
maintained. The pizza sauce served is still the original recipe
from Nick's family. Golfers as well as famous visitors still
come to Luigi's. Debi told us golfers still come to dine there.
"We're open six days a week but during the Masters, we open on
Sundays too." Pictures of the golfers who had dined there adorn
the walls. Debi is proud to mention the golfers who frequent
Luigi's, "there's Ben Crenshaw, John Daly, Bob Murphy, Fred
Couples, Davis Love III and Tom Kite. Jack Nicklaus family dines
here every year but he cannot go our easily without being
recognized." Some of the other celebrities who have dined there
are Jackie Gleason, Dan Marino and Randy Quaid.
The pizza there is good enough to explain
the restaurant's longevity. In fact, they bill themselves as
"Home of Augusta's Original Pizza Pie." Their traditional pizza
has a Greek twist. It is topped with pepperoni, homemade Italian
sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and feta
cheese. You can order a traditional Italian pizza with a variety
of the usual toppings. Either way, they will come to your table
hot and loaded and oh so good.
Pies and Pints in Fayetteville,
usually don't write about franchises but Pies and Pints is
different. They are just starting a franchise and have no desire
to cover the globe with cardboard-style frozen pizza. Just the
opposite; owners David Bailey and Kimberly Shingledecker want to
bring the freshest and most original pizza's to more people. As
I write they have eight locations over West Virginia, Ohio and
Kentucky, not counting the original restaurant which will never
be part of the franchise.
I visited the original restaurant in Fayetteville, West
Virginia and was blown away by the variety and originality of
Their pies begin with a homemade
hand-tossed crust coated with garlic oil and a bit of kosher
salt. Cover this with a generous amount of mozzarella provolone
and your choice of tomato sauce–or not. From there, the sky's
the limit. Pretty much anything you can imagine topping a pizza
is available. Picture red grapes, gorgonzola and rosemary
topping your pie. Maybe you are a seafood lover. If so the Thai
Pizza is going to be your idea of heaven with shrimp, coconut
and curry sauce. There are quite a few vegetarian choices. As I
said, almost any combination you can think up is found here. All
Manager, Angie Bard told us one of the
things that make Pies and Pints different, "Everything is fresh.
There is no microwave or freezer in Pies and Pints."
To compliment the pizzas, there is the
other half of the name, "pints." You will find different choices
in the beers depending on the locations because Pies and Pints
tries to bring you locally brewed beers and ales and imports
from all over the world as well as the usual big name beers. At
the Fayetteville location some of popular choices come from
Bridge Brew Works, a small local brewer.
You'll also find cider
Lupi's Pizza in Chattanooga
Dorris Shober opened Lupi's in 1996 as
Chattanooga's first New York style pizzeria. She had no
experience in the restaurant field or any other business but she
had kids that were willing to test her recipes. Kids always know
good pizza and they were right. Dorris still owns Lupi's when
had grown to five locations in Chattanooga and the surrounding
Lupi's was voted
best Pizza in Chattanooga by the
Times Free Press's
"Best of the Best" for the last five years, and
"Best Pizza" for the past ten years. Customers continue to vote
it the best by their regular attendance. Lupi's Signature Pizza
is one reason why. Its tasty handmade crust is covered
with tangy tomato sauce, dripping cheese, Italian sausage,
roasted peppers and garlic, red onions, and fresh basil.
Lupi's believes the best ingredients are
local ones. From the flour to the pork sausages and all
in-between, the ingredients come from within a hundred miles of
the restaurant. They are truly green. The leftovers and scraps
go back to local farmers to help feed the same pigs that produce
the sausage. That is one really great circle. The pies at Lupi's
are another great circle.
Lennie's in Bloomington, Indiana
This truly unique restaurant grew out of
Bloomington's Indiana University culture.
As anyone knows. no one loves good pizza more than college
students. Lennie Busch and Jeff Mease were among those students
in 1980. Drawn together as students, as adults they married in
1983. Pizza was important in their lives from the beginning.
Jeff already was the
proprietor of another pizza place before the marriage. They
opened Lennie's together in 1989. If this sounds like the start
of a romance novel, what comes next is stranger than fiction.
Jeff and Lennie divorced in the early 90's but continued their
business partnership and have remained friends.
College towns always have pizza but
Lennie's introduced the campus and residents of Bloomington to
gourmet pizza. College relationships factored again into making
Lennie's the best possible pizza when a former dorm mate of
Jeff's, Fred Manion, came to work at Lennie's as chef almost 20
years ago. Not your average story but then Lennie's is not your
average pizza restaurant. It is one of Bloomington's best and
most popular ones./p>
To accompany the pizza, Jeff and Lennie
with a great team established Bloomington Brewing Company,
located next door to the restaurant, to craft the best possible
brews to accompany that perfect pizza. For non-alcoholic choices
try their root beer it ranks with the best I have ever tasted.
Perillo's Pizzeria in North Salem, Indiana
This is as close as you get to Sicilian
pizza unless you travel to Sicily. Damiano Perillo emigrated
here from a small town in Sicily. He studied at a culinary
school in Palermo, Sicily's capital. Damiano grew up helping his
grandmother cooking in the family kitchen and it is a part of
his life. He says, "Culinary to me is always love. It's
something you carry in your blood."
Another thing that makes Perillo's Pizzas
special is his love of fresh herbs and all natural cooking. When
we visited, he recalled the wild oregano that grew in the
mountains near his childhood home and why no other oregano is
quite as good. To maintain that level of freshness, his family
has a farm from which much of the produce used in Perillo's food
You will find many other Italian foods at
Perillo's but do have the pizza. You won't regret it. This pizza
is real Sicilian. The salami is smoked salami. The cheeses are
Parmesan, Mozzarella and he allows some Wisconsin cheese as well
as the Sicilian varieties. As for the finished products, Damiano
states, "Everything you see here, we make it here."
Be sure you arrive early for lunch if you
want that authentic pizza because, as Damiano explains, "Every
morning we make our Sicilian pizza dough and serve it until we
run out. When we sell out, we wait until the next day."
When it comes to food, Damiano has some
good old fashioned values. "I'm against fast food. It's bad for
small businesses. It's bad for future generations. It's bad for
the environment." When it comes to food, Perillo's may not be
fast food but they sure have good food.
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