As I do every year, I spent the late afternoon and early evening strolling around the downtown area, Sixth Street and East Austin. The crowds are usually somewhat slimmer during the Interactive part of the festival, but there were still a lot of people on 6th. A & E Network had erected a complete replica of the Bates Motel near the Convention Center, and next door Samsung had erected a huge venue which unfortunately had already closed for the day. I finally made my way over to East Austin to enjoy a dinner at Via 313 Detroit-Style Pizza, which is just about the best pizza in Austin. Down on 5th, I came to the former Progress Coffee location, which has become Wright Brothers Brew & Brew, featuring both gourmet coffee and craft beers. While I was enjoying a breve there, I noticed that there was something called the Downtown NOLA Party at a venue called Lucky’s on West 5th. It was a bit of a walk, but I decided to head over there, as anything New Orleans always grabs my attention.
Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizzas opened in East Memphis on Ridgeway Road about a week ago after one of the longest and most anticipated openings in Memphis history. There was talk about Pyro’s as far back as June, so yesterday a friend and I headed down to check it out.
Pyro’s is a wood-fired pizza restaurant, which is one of my favorite concepts, although it is a concept that has not really caught on in the Memphis market. The ill-fated Fire N Stone Pizzeria was a personal favorite of mine until it closed abruptly. But Pyro’s has some unique features that should give them an edge over previous wood-oven pizza restaurants or other pizza places in general. We were immediately impressed with the reasonably low prices that seem to include all the pizza toppings, which you watch employees put on your pizza at each stage of the creative process before they are placed into the gargantuan oven. It’s also worth noting that pizzas can be made with an Alfredo sauce base, and that’s the first time we’ve seen that in Memphis. Soft drinks come from one of the new Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, so guests have their choice of about 120 flavors of drink. And after the main course, there’s also a dessert menu featuring sweets called “bites” and there’s an espresso bar too. We might also mention that the attractive bar features beer on tap, including Memphis’ new Wiseacres beer, and that there is a flat screen TV for watching those big games. What more could you want? Well, back home we read online about how there’s no tipping at Pyro’s because it pays its employees above minimum wage and provides them with healthcare, so you can feel good about eating at Pyro’s. Their Union Avenue location opens in Midtown in December.
I am invariably attracted to restaurant that mention wood-fired grills or ovens in their name, even more so when they are pizza restaurants, because in my opinion, there’s simply no better way to bake a pizza. So, needless to say, I was eager to try Cincinnati’s relatively-new M Wood Fired Oven in Hyde Park. The relatively small place is dark, warm and inviting, with the ambiance dominated by the large wood-burning oven. The menu, however, is somewhat limited and rather strange. The pizzas definitely lean toward the gourmet and New American end of things, although I learned that they will make a more traditional pizza out of ingredients that they list on their regular menu options. And the pizzas are definitely a hit. The menu also features a burger, and a few other entrees and sandwiches. So although I’d like to see more traditional pizza offerings like pepperoni, M Wood Fired Oven satisfied me. When in Cincinnati, I’ll be back.
My jazz trio got hired to play for a ribbon-cutting at a nursing home in Corinth, Mississippi last Thursday, and when it was over, we were hungry. Using my Yelp app on the iPhone, I looked at several dining options and we finally settled on Pizza Grocery, which proved to be an inspired choice. The Pizza Grocery is a cozy brick building on Cruise Street in downtown Corinth, and, as the name suggests, the restaurant features Italian cuisine, especially gourmet pizzas. The menu allows you to choose from any number of sauces and toppings, so I created an alfredo cheddar mushroom pepperoni and bacon pizza, which was really good, and so rich that I had to take half of it home in a box! My fellow musicians were also pleased with their pizzas, and also had to take some home for later. Service was pleasant and efficient, and prices, while not inexpensive, were not unreasonable. Highly recommended.
On the lake end of Esplanade Avenue near City Park and the Fairgrounds sits Nonna Mia Cafe & Pizzeria, a charming Italian cafe in a beautiful old house surrounded by trees and flowers. While Nonna Mia offers a lot of menu items other than pizzas, it is the pizzas that stand out as some of the best in New Orleans, and the outdoor seating is a lot of fun in pleasant weather.
At the end of the rara procession in Little Haiti, I was quite hungry, but fortunately, there was a brick oven pizzeria less than 5 minutes away called Andiamo, and although they were about to close for the night, they were gracious enough to let me place my order. I had chosen Andiamo because it was close to Little Haiti and because I had seen it earlier, but I didn’t know until I got inside that at least one national restaurant reviewer included it within a national list of the best pizza restaurants in America. I concur. I had a pizza made with pepperoni, prosciutto, mushrooms, mozzarella and gorgonzola cheese, and I was thrilled with how quickly it came out, and how good it was. My only gentle quibble- on a Friday or Saturday night they should stay open an hour later or so.
After Easter morning services at my church, Easter Sunday proved to be dull indeed. I have no relatives in Memphis, my best friend had to work, and a lot of restaurants were closed. But I had seen on Facebook that Windy City Grille in Como, Mississippi would be open, and with evening church and choir practice canceled due to the holiday, I decided to drive down and have a leisurely lunch. Perhaps afterwards I could find a blues picnic, car show or something else to get into. I have to mention that Windy City Grille is an amazing restaurant with an incredible pizza recipe that is said to be similar to Uno’s in Chicago. Having never had Uno’s, I can’t say how Windy City compares, but it’s good enough that Memphis people used to occasionally make the drive to Como for it. More recently, a location has opened closer to Memphis in Hernando, and the food there is just as good, but I still prefer the Como location’s ambiance, and the town of Como itself. Next to the grille, I noticed a poster for a group called the Como Mamas, which I had never heard of until I was reading an article about Mississippi artists at South By Southwest. The three gospel singers are signed to Daptone Records, the same label that earlier had released the excellent Como Now compilation.
After lunch, I saw signs around the town of Como for a car show at a place called LP’s Ball Park, but try as I might, I could not find it. While trying to find it, I found something else, the beautiful Davis Chapel Church from 1851 on the Old Panola Road west of Sardis. When I finally stopped at the convenience store in Como and asked about the car show, I was told it had been postponed a week due to the weather. There was a Lightning Malcolm birthday party scheduled for 7 PM in Clarksdale, but that was still three hours away, and I couldn’t think of how I’d possibly kill three hours in Clarksdale on Easter Sunday. So I reluctantly drove on back to Memphis.
East Austin is traditionally the “hood” in Austin, but the in-migration of artists and hipsters has created a strange sort of hybrid neighborhood. Old cultural institutions like the George Washington Carver Center or Huston-Tillotson University stand across the street from condos, hip new bistros, boutiques or food trucks. Fortunately, many of the new businesses moving in are funky and hip in a way that complements the neighborhood’s legacy rather than detracting from it. Such is the case with East Side Pies and Trailer Space Records, two businesses that share the 1401 Rosewood Avenue address across from the Carver Community Center. I have yet to try East Side Pies, although I mean to each year and somehow don’t, but Trailer Space Records is really cool, and although much of the inventory leans to hardcore styles, there’s a decent avant-garde jazz section that is really worth browsing. A word of warning however- the Trailer Space is a venue for music showcases during SXSW and often fills to capacity. Nobody is allowed in if that happens, even to browse or purchase records.
Fuel Pizza is a popular pizza chain in Charlotte and Washington DC, but it’s one that I had somehow always missed out on, opting for the more upscale Brixx Wood-Fired Pizzas. This time, I was determined to try Fuel, and I’m glad I did, because Fuel has very good pizza indeed, at fairly low prices compared to their competitors. They also feature sandwiches, as well as garlic or cinnamon knots. I was always impressed with the decor, which, as the name suggests, derives from gasoline stations and oil companies. The logo for Fuel Pizza is based on the old orange-and-blue circular sign for Gulf Oil Company, and indoors, old signage for various failed and still-operating oil companies is on the wall. Best of all, Fuel Pizza Cafe is easy on the wallet. Definitely worth a visit.
The Lost Pizza Company began a few years back as the Lost Dog Pizza Company in Cleveland, Mississippi on Highway 61 North (almost in Renova). I heard good things about it back then, but in the years since, they lost the “dog” and expanded into Indianola, Tupelo and Grenada. Now they have entered the Memphis metropolitan area, opening a location at Snowden Grove in Southaven, so I had to take a ride out there this weekend to investigate. As befits any restaurant chain based in Cleveland, the decor of Lost Pizza Company is themed around blues, with bottlecap guitars on the walls, blues and jazz artwork prominently displayed, and a wall of blues and rock concert posters. A secondary theme seems to be hippies, so there are also Woodstock posters and surfboards. Of course decor is fine, but you go to a restaurant for the food. Well, I can honestly say that Lost Pizza Company makes a tasty pizza, with thin or thick crust, and I especially liked the 8-inch individual size option, which a lot of pizzerias just don’t offer. You can design your own pizza with any of Lost’s amazing toppings, and I opted for a thin crust of pepperoni, bacon and mushrooms. It came out fairly quickly, piping hot, and all at a reasonable price. So when you’re wanting really good pizza, get lost! Lost Pizza Company, that is. Don’t live near a location? Well, they franchise, but if you’re not the entrepreneurial type, you can also visit them at http://www.lostpizza.com/