Ah, pizza. So coveted, yet so elusive.
While we still can’t compete with NYC, Chicago (eh), New Haven or Detroit (my personal favorite), there have been some very noteworthy additions to the pizza scene in recent years.
Toro serves a brief, focused menu of red and white pizzas, salads and antipasti. The menu changes frequently and is meant to reflect the seasons. Pizzas are cooked in a large wood-burning oven, the crust is thin and the tables are communal.
Popular menu choices include the kale salad – served with fresh parmesan, pine nuts and chiles – and a pizza with brussels sprouts, pancetta and cippolini. The dining room tends to have a lively, energetic vibe due to the buzz and enthusiasm surrounding Toro’s arrival in town.
I find the pizza crust to be really tasty – soft and chewy and cooked just right, with sea salt sparingly applied to give it a unique extra kick of flavor. Several of the pizzas are home runs, while a couple of the others need some work to reach the same level. This is a great new local haunt with room to grow.
Many locals know Lilly’s Pizza as a funky downtown Raleigh hangout with local art on the walls and organic ingredients on the pizzas. Last summer, Lilly’s expanded to downtown Durham, opening up in the space formerly occupied by Pop’s.
The Durham space lacks the homey grunginess of the Raleigh location, but there’s plenty of seating, a solid brew list and the same fun menu that draws a crowd in Raleigh. Lilly’s is vegetarian friendly and surprisingly has some of the best salads in town. Service is often laid back, reflecting the hippy vibe and occasionally irking the very hungry.
Pizza combinations are unique – try the Big Star with pesto, four cheeses, roasted red peppers and pistachios. Unlike Toro, Lilly’s also provides the option to create with your own pizza combination. The pizza crust is soft and somewhat doughy.
The Triangle also has not one but two pizza-focused food trucks making the rounds. Durham’s Pie Pushers serves hand-tossed pizza with a thin crust by the slice (full pies also available). Toppings are eclectic and seasonal. Slices currently in the rotation include the “Bacon and Peppas,” complete with bacon, banana peppers, goat cheese, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Concoctions often have a local flair, using ingredients from area vendors like Farmhand Foods.
Although usually found in Raleigh, Klausie’s Pizza also makes appearances in the Bull City. Klausie's is probably the only Detroit-style pizza you’ll find in the Triangle. For those who aren’t familiar, Detroit-style pizza is typically square, deep-dish pan pizza with generous marinara sauce on top and a chewy, twice-baked crust. Klausie’s does a great job recreating the pizza I grew up on in suburban Detroit. Warning: this can be a tough slice to eat while standing or sitting on a street corner.
Like Pie Pushers, Klausie’s sells its pizza in whole pies or by the slice. Both trucks can be tracked via Twitter.