It's quickly becoming hard to dispute: Hard Knox Pizzeria, located in Western Plaza (with The Fresh Market), is almost certainly the best places to get a pizza in Knoxville or arguably anywhere in the region. The pizzas at Hard Knox are all cooked the Neapolitan way, which means they're fired for under two minutes in a totally wood-fired oven at a searing 800 degrees Fahrenheit after being made entirely by hand. Hard Knox also insists that only their well-trained pizzaiolos, which is Italian for pizza chef, make your pie.
The traditional Neapolitan method of making pizza is exacting, and the staff at Hard Knox went out of their way to make sure that the proper experts, consultants trained in Naples by master pizzaiolos, came in and taught them how to do everything just right. The dough is carefully hand made using a cold fermentation method and premium traditional ingredients, the crust is always hand-tossed to a thickness not exceeding 3 mm in the center of the pie, the ingredients are always freshly picked produce of the highest quality, and the pizzas are always fired in a very hot (800 F) wood-fed oven.
Since the Hard Knox Pizzeria has already seen some coverage on Examiner thanks to the Knoxville Culture & Events Examiner, Sam Mattern-Schain, this article focuses less on the restaurant and more on the incredible pizza that this Examiner enjoyed last week at Hard Knox: The Graziano.
Graziano is not an Italian word with some interestingly apropros meaning here; it's a boy's name. Everything at Hard Knox Pizzeria seems to carry some sort of boxing theme, and The Graziano, a mushroom and sausage pizza that is incredibly good, is presumably named after one of the best knockout artists in American boxing history: Rocky Graziano (T. Rocco Barbella), the boxer whom the fictional Rocky Balboa is most likely modeled after. So if Graziano is a name as opposed to a cleverly chosen word, what's with the title of this article, then? Graziano, like all names, has a meaning, and it means "pleasing," and as for the pizza, "pleasing" is an understatement.
The Hard Knox Pizzeria menu lists the Graziano as being topped with: Fresh mozzarella, roasted Italian sausage, roasted baby portabello and button mushrooms, parm/romano, and olive oil. The ten-inch pizza, cut into quarters, runs $10.95 and is worth every penny.
The experience: The pizza carries an overwhelmingly pleasant scent of fresh, roasted mushrooms, and the flavor of those veggies really stands out since they're cut into large pieces, as is the roasted sausage which makes the perfect complement to the mushrooms. The cheese is superb and obviously the real, fresh stuff, and the sauce is relatively light, orchestrating the entire pizza instead of washing out the flavor with the usual sweetened tomato overwhelm that franchise pizzerias have taught us to expect. The crust couldn't be better -- crispy with just a little pull to it, obvious hot-stone marks along the bottom (contributing just the right amount of that toasted flavor that complements pizza so well), and nicely filling and pleasant on its own, like a nice Italian bread stick, once all the toppings are scarfed down.
Go to Hard Knox Pizza to get what is probably the best pizza that East Tennessee has to offer by visiting their location in Market Square in Knoxville: 4437 Kingston Pike or give them a call at 602-2114. Pay attention to their hours, which are:
Sunday: 12-8 or "until we run out of dough"
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