Coming from Chicago, I have high expectations when it comes to pizza. And I really didn’t know what to expect of the Charlotte pizza scene. When you hear Chicago-style pizza, most people immediately think of deep-dish, which many describe as more of a casserole than a pizza. If you look up pizza styles though, you’ll find two distinct entities dominating the area, the second type being tavern-style, a thin pizza, usually with a crispy crust and cut into small squares.
But what comes up when you search Charlotte-style pizza? Mostly a bunch of spots that are trying to deliver on other styles from around the country. We’re a transplant city, after all.
I knew once I moved to the Queen City, I had to find a spot to satiate the craving. Thus began what I call the Charlotte Pizza Prize Fight, my journey to find the best local pizza spots. I discovered three pizza joints in different parts of town that seemed worth checking out. I ate at two of them in person before the pandemic hit, then ordered takeout from the third contender.
That’s the great thing about pizza — you can order out if you’re uncomfortable dining in and you don’t lose much in the translation. I encourage everyone to continue supporting your favorites while giving a new place a try.
Inizio Pizza Napoletana in Dilworth was the first stop on my trek. They offer Neapolitan pizzas in two sizes, which can run you anywhere from $10 to $15 for the regular, and $15 to $22 for the large. The first thing I noticed upon walking in is that you wait in line at the front and order at the register. Then you find a table and the pizza will be brought to you.
I decided to go with a large Diavola, which included spicy salami, Calabrian pepper, San Marzano tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and pecorino served on a huge rectangular pizza tin. Safe to say my pizza was as pretty as a picture.
At first bite, my wife exclaimed, “Very spicy.”
I had to agree, though it didn’t bother me. One bite was salty, and my wife got a few bites that tasted the same. The pizza had a very soft crust that collapsed in the middle, and there was less salami than I would have liked.
The final impression was, “It’s okay.”
Looks can be deceiving – imagine going out with someone you find attractive, but after talking for a while, you notice they lack substance. Another try is in the cards though, as a lot of people seem to like them.
Next on the list was Pure Pizza, a local staple in the pizza-heavy Plaza Midwood that prides itself on sourcing ingredients from local farmers. Their classic pizzas run $10 for 10 inches and $18 for 16 inches, while their craft pizzas go for $12 for 10 inches and $21 for 16 inches.
I decided to go with a large Pepperoni Supreme with tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, pickled red peppers, pepperoncini, chopped garlic and red onions on top of a classic Neapolitan crust.
They mentioned it’s on the thin side and I would agree. It reminded me to be a cross between the tavern style from Chicago and classic Neapolitan, though it was sliced New York style where you can fold it over to eat.
I enjoyed the first bite, with ingredients mingling well together. The pizza had a nice chew making it a worthy contender.
Pure Pizza also offered an unexpected companion for their pizza — honey. I had never heard of that before in all the places I had ventured for pizza. The honey comes from Cloister Honey and the spicy variety is killer. For those that don’t enjoy the crust, here’s a game changer: dip them in the honey. I guarantee that will change your mind.
The last stop on the journey was at Pizzeria Omaggio in Midtown. They serve a classic Neapolitan pizza which I ordered for carryout. Their pizzas run from $9 up to $16.50 and they have a nice small outside area to enjoy if you are up for it.
Trying to eat healthier, and with some arm twisting from my wife, I ordered the Vegetariana, which includes tomato sauce, whole milk mozzarella, roasted red peppers, roasted red onions, fresh garlic and fresh mushrooms.
With the first bite, came the taste of garlic and a surprising hint of sweetness that paired well with the roasted red peppers. I enjoyed the resulting flavor, and my wife couldn’t help but agree.
I would have liked the crust a little more charred, giving it the satisfying crunch I usually expect from Neapolitan pizza. My wife echoed my concerns with, “It’s a soft crust and there’s nothing to it.”
The range in flavors, however, had us itching to try other menu items once we feel ready to dine in.
After three pizzas and lots of very scientific, very serious deliberation … the winner is … Pure Pizza –– followed by Pizzeria Omaggio, with Inizio coming in third.
With Charlotte pizza spots seemingly opening up every month, I know my journey is far from over. There are other places on my list that I can’t wait to check out and write about in the future. Feel free to send any suggestions for your favorite spot over my way.