January 2011

For The Love Of Pizza

Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

I broke a bar stool at my favorite pizza joint on my 21st birthday. I mean I didn’t smack it over the top of someone’s head or recklessly toss it at a bouncer. Rather, in the heat of celebration, I may have stumbled a little, and the stool took the brunt of my fall. I’ll argue that it was on its last legs (pun intended) anyway.

Why am I telling you this? Well, if you had been paying attention you would have noticed that I spent my 21st birthday at a pizza joint. Not in New York City, not in Vegas, not at a classy restaurant where the champagne flowed like water.

Nope. I was at the Saw Mill, on the Seaside Boardwalk, New Jersey. (Yes, home to the first season of MTV’s Jersey Shore.) The Saw Mill had dollar drafts and the biggest slices of greasy Jersey pizza you could get your hands on.

Any way you slice it, America’s love affair with pizza is hot, saucy, and laden with temptation. 93 percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. (100 percent of the Americans in my household eat it once a week.) Why the obsession?

Ancient Greeks used to top their breads with olive oils and spices, yet it is the Italians who get the lion’s share of credit for pizza. More specifically, they are responsible for bringing the tempting treat to the United States, in the early 1900s, when they traveled here seeking a better life on American soil.

The first pizza joint in the United States, Lombardi’s, opened its doors in Lower Manhattan, in 1905. The scent of garlic and oregano wafting from the windows signaled the dish as “foreign food” that would likely upset the stomach and, as such, it didn’t catch on. In fact, most middle-class Americans stuck to boiled fish and toast.

It wasn’t until the 1940s, that pizza in its modern form flourished in the United States and became popular across all cultures, no longer limited to Italian immigrants. American Heritage magazine, in a 2006 article on the history of pizza, points to the 1943 opening of Pizzeria Uno in Chicago as the moment when the tides turned. Chicago-style deep-dish pizza was born, and a nation was changed.

When I was young, Friday night was pizza night. We would stand at “Pizza Charlie’s” counter, boxes stacked to the ceiling, Charlie’s red hair frizzed from the heat of the ovens, a line out the front door, while the whole town waited to pick up our orders. Back then, there were only so many choices, and Charlie was our guy. I later fell in love with Pete & Elda. Their thin crust and sweet sauce still haunts me today. In fact, when I go back home to visit, I almost always pay Pete & Elda a visit. The Saw Mill was a dive bar on the boardwalk, one I didn’t discover until I was of legal age (coincidence?), and there was no better summer night than one that included a cold beer, a huge slice, an off-kilter bar stool, and the smell of the ocean. All have left an indelible mark on my senses.

Maybe I am spoiled, having grown up in a pizza-centric region of the country. And I know I am finicky. All pizza is not created equal. And all pizza is not fit for these lips. Yet, it remains my favorite food.

It is possible that I am biased, so I thought it only fair to seek the opinion of a food expert. I called on my friend Gail Simmons, Food & Wine magazine’s special projects director and BRAVO TV’s “Top Chef” judge and host. She said, “I believe pizza may just be the world’s most perfect food—piping hot, smothered in cheese, fresh tomatoes and herbs, or your choice of endless toppings, a crispy crust with just a bit of chew, that you can pick up and eat entirely with your hands! It is so delicious and ingenious, I would argue it is Italy’s greatest contribution to modern civilization; forget art or architecture. Pizza (made with love, good ingredients and a 700-degree oven) will never go out of style.”

Well, it is certainly not going out of style here anytime soon. The stretch between Bluffton and Hilton Head is burgeoning with pizza business. Whether your taste buds seek a California pie, Chicago-style, New York pizza, or a gourmet concoction that you eat with your pinky in the air, your bases are covered here.

But, pizza isn’t just about the pizza. Pizza is history. Pizza is tradition. Pizza is camaraderie. I’ll argue that there is nothing better than sitting around the table with your friends and sharing a pizza. A group of friends, who may debate sports and dispute politics, will come together and agree on their pizza toppings. And, in synchronized harmony, they’ll lean forward and grab a slice from a community pie. The cheese stretches, the sauce steams, the grease drips, and they each tilt their head to the side to take that first bite. That’s amore!

Now that you are good and hungry for PIZZA – here’s where you can get it!

Upper Crust
Upper Crust has been around since 1980, which makes it one of the Lowcountry’s oldest established pizza shops/ restaurant. The true secret of the Upper Crust’s success is the family recipes – all food is made fresh in house on a daily basis.
In Bluffton:
Moss Creek Village
1533 Fording Island Rd. – Suite 326
(Next to Southern Drawl Bait & Tackle Shop)

NEW location in Okatie:
30 William Pope Drive – Suite 105

Sunset Pizzeria
Although pizza is their specialty, this pizza joint offers an extended menu with everything from salads and sandwiches to spaghetti & meatballs and fish tacos. They call their sodas “sarsaparillas” and we like that.
Sunset Pizzeria
140 Okatie Highway
Ridgeland, SC

Giuseppi’s – TWO locations!
For over 20 years, the Hilton Head Giuseppi’s has been a staple for pizza lovers– and now they are getting a facelift! For some fun renovation pics, visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/giuseppispizza?v=wall. They are expected to re-open with a brand new look sometime this month. The Bluffton location (Kitties Crossing) is more than happy to handle the overflow from the Island until then, with the same great menu options!
Hilton Head
Shelter Cove Plaza

Kitties Crossing

Mellow Mushroom
This groovy pizza joint is about to open up a Bluffton location, which is good news for everyone on the mainland. Of course we love the pizza, but what makes “the mushroom” special is the fact that you are probably going to run into someone you know at the bar – it’s a great place to watch football and down a few local brews. And eat pizza.
Hilton Head
33 Office Park Rd (next to Harris Teeter)

TJ’s Take & Bake
The name is self explanatory – they make it fresh, you make it hot. Pick up one of their signature pizza’s (we like the “Bella,” with Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, fresh Basil, Red Onions, Roma Tomatoes and fresh Garlic) on the way home from work and bake it when you are ready to eat. Craving a salad or wings with your pizza? You can grab those at TJ’s too.
Publix Shopping Center
(Behind Starbucks)

Bada Bings Pizza Pasta & Panini
68 Bluffton Rd. Ste. 1

Bella Italia
Port Royal Plaza

Bravo! Pizza
1-B New Orleans Rd
(Next to Blockbuster)

Fat Baby’s Pizza & Subs
120 Arrow Rd. – Ste. B

Giuseppi’s Pizza
Sea Pines Center

Il Carpaccio Ristorante & Pizzeria
Pineland Station

Jake’s Pizza
South Beach Village

1107 Main Street

Monster Pizza
142-A Burnt Church Rd.

New York City Pizza
81 Pope Avenue (Heritage Plaza)

Paulie’s Pizza
102 Buckwalter Pkwy.

Romeo’s Pizza
Kitties Crossing

  1. Jersey Joe’s has THE BEST pizza in Bluffton, Hands Down! Sad to see it’s not on here!

    — Laura    Jan 3, 05:05 pm   

  2. Are you referencing Seaside Heights? My parents use to take us there as little kids and the tradition continued as I got older. I was there for the MTV’s Summer Show back in 1998. The slices are incredibly huge and cheap! Best Pizza ever! Mellow Mushroom is my favorite around here! I am was born and raised in Phila., so you probably know all about us “food snobs”. LOL. Great article!

    — Philly Girl    Jan 4, 10:17 pm   

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