For Northerners Looking For That True Slice of Life, There Is Hope
By: Jeff Walker, Business Writer
Many would agree Charleston, South Carolina is a food town. To those who live here and to those who visit the Holy City, Charleston is known for four things, tourism, history, hospitality, and great food. While Charleston is primarily known for it's seafood, shrimp & grits, soul food, and barbecue, throuughout the 20th century pocketed areas of mediterranean, asian, jewish, and hispanic eateries emerged with many being among the best Charleston has to offer.
However Italian and more specifically pizza was the late comer to the food and drink industry. Granted there are a few restaurants (local & chains) that offer up decent Italian fare, with pizza it's a different story altogether. Folks raised in the south and in the low country of South Carolina grew up chowing down on national and regional fast food pizza, which as most northerners and midwest people know is not authentic pizza. Not discounting their place in the fast food world, but they are not real pizza.
True pizza was born out of Europe and Italy and made popular by those immigrating to America in the early 1900's. Italians settling in the bigger cities on the east coast gave birth to thin crust pizza and pizzerias. That is why communities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia & Baltimore are teeming with street corner pizzerias, often with pizza lovers backed up at the counter.
There is something about the water and the local ingredients in the northeast that combine to make a great pizza. Whether it's the Charles & Mystic in Bean Town, the East & Hudson in the Big Apple, or the Delaware River surrounding Philly, the water makes a big difference. True pizza connoisseurs (someone who knows taste) understand pizza is all about three elements, the crust, the perfect marinara sauce, and the cheese. And it's the right mixture and ratio of the three that make the perfect pizza.
It wasn't until the 1980's that northerners began to introduce real pizza to Charleston. Scampy's in Goose Creek with Philadelphia heritage gave low country residents a taste of real pizza. While Scampy's closed down the same group are now known for their award winning cheesesteaks at Philly's in the Oakbrook area of Summerville. The Castellucci family were some of the first to bring real pizza to Charleston. Sadly they do not serve up pizza anymore, but you can get the best cheesesteak in Charleston at their location on Dorchester @ Ladson Roads as well stick to your ribs lasagne.
Circling back to pizza. A few more pizzerias popped up in the 1980's but it was the 1990's that saw the real explosion of authentic Italian American pizza here in Charleston.
Husband and wife team David and Beth Clark relocated from upstate New York in 1996 opening A Dough Re Mi in Mt. Pleasant. They quickly gained favor with locals east of the Cooper due to their authenticity and streamlined menu. Located at 2700 Hwy 17N (Brickyard Plantation), A Dough Re Mi concentrate on the Italian staples, ie pizza, pasta, salads, and subs.
As a kicker A Dough Re Mi offers up Greek style gyros. A good addition to an already great menu. I've eaten there many times and highly recommend them. Not the thinnest crust in town but for overall taste they knock it out of the park. Similar to the 'Do Re Mi' scales that are music to the ears, A Dough Re Mi pizzeria is magic to the taste buds. Close to Snee Farms & Long Point Road neighborhoods.
Over at 1150 Hungryneck Blvd. near the IOP connector you'll find Pizza Prospero. They are just as billed, an 'authentic New York style pizzeria'. Run by the Stelluti family from West Chester NY, with young Anthony overseeing the operation. At Prospero you can get it all. Killer pasta, salads, subs, sides aka 'hand held street eats' such as pepperoni rolls, garlic knots, & meatballs.
Prospero make everything by hand and use Pecorino Romano as well as fresh mozzarella on all their pizzas. The cheese slice and the pepperoni slice stack up. Strong reviews on most review sites. If you live on IOP, Wild Dunes or along the Mount Pleasant Towne Center border including Rifle Range than Prospero is a must seek out destination.
Up on Hwy 41 near Dunes West you'll find Rivertowne Pizza & Deli. Owner Ryan Brett hails from upstate New York as well, and he's been slinging pizzas since he was a teenager. Ryan like myself believes pizzerias are more about character and feel, rather than glitz & glamour. I've sampled his plain cheese and pepperoni slice and they are flat out awesome. His deli sandwiches further cement his 'A Plus' status. I recommend the Meatball Sub, or the Sicilian or Italian Combo.
Like many of the competitors Rivertowne Pizza slay an awesome calzone or stromboli. If you live near Dunes West, Rivertowne, or along Clements Ferry Road I would suggest dropping by. Ryan majored in finance but his real degree is in pizza chemistry.
The Sea Island Shopping Center on Ben Sawyer Boulevard is home to Baroni's New York Pizza. Owner Marty Baker has a second location on Magwood Drive in West Ashley. Both pizzerias serve up thin crust pizzas that would make a true New Yorker proud. Baroni's even serves up slices during dinner hours, which is a plus in my book. Their jumbo cheese slice ($2.59) is impressive but I prefer the pepperoni slice. Wherever they are getting their cured meats from is exceptional. Check out their array of salads, subs, wraps, and pasta. Baroni's is your neighborhood pizzeria in Mt. Pleasant & West Ashley.
Those fortunate to live on Sullivans Island there's no need to venture back onto the mainland. You can get your pizza fix at The 450 Pizza Joint. In this scenario the term pizza joint doubles for the word pizzeria. It's a combination pizzeria and morning coffee & espresso bar. But primarily 450's focus is on New York style pizza. They serve up one of the tastiest crusts around. An equal amount of crisp and chewy, the kind of crust you can devour completely. Nice amount of oil saturating the plate. Thankfully 450 serve up slices all day long, much to the delight of the surfer dudes making their way off the beach late in the day.
If you hail from the Motor City, 450 serves up Detroit style pizza as well, typically a thicker yet crispy crust crafted in square & rectangular pans with cheese overflowing to the edge, acting as a secondary crust. Since they live do business on Sullivans Island and cater to beach traffic half the year, 450 has an ice cream window out front and is open early for a quick breakfast sandwich and a cup of joe in the early morning hours.
If you happen to drop by Matt's, also known as Matt's Pizza Dept. at the corner of Hwy 41 & 17N in Mt. Pleasant than you'll be pleasantly surprised. Matt's like the others east of the Cooper stacks up nicely. They serve up a thin cheese slice ($2.29), as well as an awesome thin sliced pepperoni if that's your topping of choice. Available for lunch until 3pm.
The crust is near perfect, equal parts crispy and flaky, and slightly charred on the bottom to add extra soft crunch at the end of the meal. I would opt for the whole XX-large pie, which runs you $17.99. Matt's has a second location off Berlin G. Myers Parkway near Hwy 78 in Summerville. Same great pizza and pizzeria favorites covering the two fastest growing communities in greater Charleston. Smart decision.
Over at 433 West Coleman in Mt. Pleasant you'll find Benny Palmetto's, home of one of the biggest pizzas and pizza slices in greater Charleston. An ample over-sized slice oozing with cheese, the kind that burns the roof of your mouth. That's real pizza. Don't go in looking for lots of menu items, because Benny Palmetto's and their sister location Benny Ravello's at 520 King Street downtown Charleston focus on pizza, pizza slices, and beverages, including wine and beer.
Benny Palmetto's & Ravello's adopt the age old adage, KISS aka 'keep it simple stupid'. The ideal foldable slice presented over two paper plates. Grab a gigantic slice for $4.50 or take home a giant pie for the family or your next TV sports gathering. One slice might fill you up, however a whole pie will easily feed a small army.
Just up the street at the corner of King and Calhoun behind Moe's is Sabatino's NY Style Pizza, the definition of a neighborhood pizzeria. It's a clean, small hole in the wall with a few tables that serve up incredible New York style pizza. A CofC grad Sabatino Covollo honed his skill in Bronx New York before finding his way south to attend school. Covollo has educated himself on the art of the slice and knows pizza is all about the dough. Sabatino's is in the running for the thinnest slice in all of Charleston. Another one of my personal favorites in downtown Charleston.
Much like A Dough Re Mi, Andolini's started wowing low country pizza lovers in the early 1990's. Andolini's has had its share of ebbs and flows, growing to five Charleston area locations before settling on two, Oakbrook of Summerville and their current flagship pizzeria located at 1940 Sam Rittenberg Ave. What Queens, New York native Michael Rubin first imagined in 1992 is now trusted in the ownership of Dave and Mindy Odle. He is from Pittsburgh and she from Columbia, SC, yet both embody the family owned pizzeria concept.
It is from their spacious West Ashley location, that Andolini's and the Odle's serve up authentic hand tossed New York style pizza pies and slices. Thin slices with an equal amount of sauce and cheese, oven baked to perfection on top a flaky crust. Andolini's have pizza down to a science which is why they've been voted 'Best Pizza' over 20 years running. The NYC landscape decor with hints of America and Elvis Presley, combined with a primal pizzeria ambiance, add to the overall mystique. With a 100 seat meeting space and with a quaint sports bar that opens to the covered patio, Andolini's offers up great Italian fare with a neighborhood flair.
Those of you from Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania who now reside on Daniel Island or off Clements Ferry Road can find northern style pizza at Orlando's in down town Daniel Island. Open since 2004 on the island, David the owner who hails from south Jersey said he simply saw an opportunity to bring authentic pizza to vastly growing area. With spaghetti & meatballs as the only pasta dish, and a few signature salads on the menu, Orlando's concentrates on serving up what the sign outside indicates, PIZZA! Plenty of tables inside with a few on the oversized sidewalk.
While Orlando's like many of his competitors, offers up designer pies to appease eclectic tastes, David like myself believes in not over thinking pizza. Enjoy a simple cheese slice or maybe a pie with a couple of toppings. Orlando's is just one of two local pizzerias utilizing a carousel brick oven. It simply allows them to make more pizzas at the same time, which when diners fill up the place for lunch looking for couple of slices, provides quicker turn around time. Now 15 years later with a loyal customer base Orlando's is about to open a second location in the old Mama Goldberg's on Mathis Ferry Road near Johnny Dodd's. Orlando's pizzeria is about as real as you can get.
Smack dab in the heart of the Olde Village of North Charleston you'll come across Park Pizza Co. I would call them a pizzeria plus. They may be small in size but they do a huge business, with sandwiches, salads, and calzones aplenty. As soon as you step inside the aroma of pizza fills your sensory organs. Just three bar stools, and couple of tables inside with cafe seating on the street when weather permits.
Park Pizza is more a take out or get it delivered kind of pizzeria. Adam who hails an hour south of Boston and Leigh Ann (local girl) serve up NY style with a slight variation. The crust is a tad thicker, but since they know how to bake it to perfection, it's a soft and chewy breadstick at the end of your slice. Find them at 1028 East Montague.
Finding your way in Goose Creek and discovering you have hankering for pizza, than I would recommend Vinny's Pizza on St. James Avenue near Crowfield. Locals like to call Vinny the Pizza Physician of Goose Creek, because he likes to doctor the dough himself. You know Vinny's is laid back because he's operating a pizzeria in Goose Creek. A northern boy, pizza is in his blood. Signature New York style thin crust pizza, slices during lunch (until 4pm), a few pasta dishes, and sub sandwiches crafted with Boar's Head meat and cheeses, pretty much the industry gold standard. A cheese slice will run you $2.50 or save $5 and get the whole 18" pie (8 slices) for $14.99.
Out in Summerville you have several choices and three of them belong to Famulari's. Brothers Jason and Justin Famulari teamed up with longtime friends Josh and Brandon back in 2008 opening their first location in on Trolley Road in Oakbrook. Quick success lead to a second pizzeria near Azalea Square, with a third site at the entrance of Cane Bay serving Summerville, Goose Creek, and Moncks Corner addresses. For nearly a decade they've been voted best pizza in Flowertown, and the nod is well deserved.
Famulari's motto is 'Respect the Slice'and that speaks volumes, especially since they serve slices all day long. The perfect foldable slice, cripsy crust, with cheese that oozes and oil that drips. Not only do they celebrate New York style pizza but the guys pay tribute to the Windy City with a deep dish Chicago style. Hoping to bring their unique brand of New York style to the ever growing low country, Famulari's has locations on Hwy 61 West Ashley and on James Island. It's nice to know if you're in a part of greater Charleston and crave real pizza, Famulari's is nearby.
Italian Bistro is the epitome of a neighborhood pizzeria. Tucked in the Sangaree Plaza off 17A in Summerville it serves up Italian favorites six days a week (closed Mondays). Their pizza is respectable, however the slice is a tad smaller than most places, but New York style nonetheless. Better to get their whole pie. What Italian Bistro excel in is pasta dishes and a killer meatball sub. Run by the Valentino family, Italian Bistro has a loyal following including locals and transients who have settled in historic Flowertown east of I-26.
For those northerners who live along the Ladson Road corrider, between Hwy 78 and Dorchester Road, you can satisfy your NY style cravings at King's Pizza. Certainly not the thinnest crust in the low country, but inviting nonetheless. At King's they blend both NY and Philly style together, offering up a slightly thicker crust and a heaping helping of cheese. They are just as billed, a pizzeria that doubles as an Italian ristorante, serving hot & cold subs, two dozen pasta dishes, gourmet salads, and Italian desserts. Mangia!
There is no rhyme or reason, but clearly Mount Pleasant and Summerville have the bulk of the low country pizzerias, and with a slew of them there is still room for more. In the Big Apple there is a pizzeria for about every four city blocks. Many of the establishments I've profiled in this article serve up great pasta dishes, hot & cold subs, calzones, stromboli, anti-pasta (salads), garlic knots, desserts, and more.
Several of aforementioned offer beer and wine as well. You can take this to the bank, there is nothing like a hot Italian thin crust New York style pizza and a cold brew. Pizza and beer go togehter like fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and cold milk. It's a marriage made in food & drink heaven.
New York style pizza can be simply described as a thin slice you can fold in half, cheese oozing, and a hint of oil decorating your plate. NY style pizza is always best when you order a whole pie, and that first slice should burn the roof of your mouth just so. The crust should be just soft enough with a bit of crunch to enjoy at the end of your meal, and God forbid you never need a fork to eat a New York Style pizza.
Real pizza is not complicated, it's great dough, great cheese, and great sauce. If you're pizza order comes with Buffalo chicken drizzled with barbecue sauce, or has the word margarita in the title, than you're ordering a gourmet pizza, or what I call a designer pizza pot pie, but you sure the hell aren't getting a NY style pizza found on every street corner in Manhattan. Of course the Charleston area pizzerias make and have gourmet pizzas on their menu, just to cater to those not from the north.
For those who grew up in the south, you were no doubt introduced to pizza through Godfather's, the Hut, or maybe pizza named after a small Roman leader. If that's what you're used to than understandably it's hard to make the switch. But with more and more northerners, including New Yorkers, folks from Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New England, as well as the midwest (Ohio, Michigan) moving and or retiring in the low country, they might find it hard to give up on the pizza they grew up on.
New York style pizza is discretionary even to northerners. Some prefer a slightly thicker crust, more or less cheese, while some seek the right blend of sauce. With the tri-county area growing as fast as it is, maybe more pizzerias will pop up. We can only hope. Until such time that is where the list of pizzerias in this article comes in handy. Search and enjoy. Mangia!