Then there’s the dispute over which thickness of crust is best: thin crust (crispy texture) or thick crust (softer doughy texture.) Then there’s the shape of the pie itself: round Neopolitan, square Sicilian, hand-formed Aegean or rectangular like the Italians prepare it.
Then there are disputes over what kind of toppings could or indeed should be used, ranging from classics like just-pepperoni by itself to the avant garde like sliced foie gras with fresh raspberries and mint leaves. For as many pizza styles, doughs and toppings as you could possibly imagine, there are just as many new pizza restaurants joining the fray.
My dining partner discovered one such new pizza restaurant while driving through Elizabethton last week. The name is Pizza-Ria, and it is just finishing its sixth month as the latest contender in the Tri-Cities pizza competition.
The manager of Pizza-Ria is Mr. Mike Hatcher, a Florida native transplanted to East Tennessee by way of Illinois. Outgoing and very personable, Hatcher greeted my dining partner and I personally when we arrived for supper. Hatcher also introduced us to April, the Pizza-Ria’s cook & pizza maker.
Pizza-Ria occupies the white two-story structure on West G Street formerly occupied by E-Town Pizza. The building is sporting a bright new paint job and clean windows with proper signage. The minor amount of clutter currently visible outside is due to the renovation still underway inside.
Pizza Ria has a compact dining area containing just four spacious booths seating a total of 16 diners. There are also four take-out seating chairs in place near front counter. Inside, there is evidence that the building’s current renovation is still in progress – Hatcher related that they’d just had new plumbing installed. A recent major expansion found their cooking appliances (pizza ovens, grill, walk-in, freezer, pot sink, etc.) all re-installed in the newly-built kitchen area at the rear of the building. Centrally located to the dining room, the restaurant’s bathrooms are clean and tidy. Overall, the inside appearance is well-ordered comfortable in a sort of “Renovation Modern” way, with seating & tables clean and in good order, Pizza-Ria menus currently serving as place markers on each table.
After looking the menu over, my dining partner and I decided to avail ourselves of the posted Pizza-Ria daily special. By ordering one of Pizza-Ria’s large sixteen-inch specialty pizzas, the “Ria” ($16) we also received a free order of cheese sticks, a $6.99 value.
While waiting for our pizza to bake, my dining partner and I shared a Pizza-Ria house side salad ($3.99) made from very fresh, cold romaine lettuce, fresh sliced onions and tomatoes and lots of shredded mozzarella cheese on top w/ good, crunchy fresh garlic croutons. The Caesar dressing I ordered was scratch-made (not bottled) and delicious.
A pleasant surprise was Hatcher bringing us a sampling of Pizza-Ria garlic knots to enjoy with our salad (normally $2.99 for six). Pizza-Ria’s garlic knots are made from same ingredients as their pizza dough, just given a longer proofing to make the dough rise a little more. Once properly risen, the dough is baked until golden brown and brushed with the house garlic butter. Thus prepared, our garlic knots were a very tasty accompaniment to our salad.
The free-with-the-order cheese sticks were next. Start with a twelve-inch pizza pie dough that is covered with garlic-infused olive oil. Add shredded mozzarella cheese and Italian spices, thoroughly bake and then slice the pie into six-inch strips. Very tasty indeed, though I would advise you to wait before digging in because the garlic’ed olive oil and the melted mozzarella cheese are both hot just out of the oven.
“Ria” – Signature pizza
Our pizza order arrived after twenty minutes or so, the mozzarella cheese and house-made pizza sauce still bubbling away on the pie. Upon placing it in front of us, Hatcher said that pizza maker April makes it a point to use fresh ingredients that are locally-sourced; this applies especially to the vegetables and even some of the cheeses.
The “Ria” pizza’s crust was excellent; hand-thrown, hand-patted thin on the pan and then baked to a delightful crispiness on the bottom while still retaining its moistness and flexibility. The crust edge was also crispy on the outside and crunchy inside, a small but crucial detail in the proper making of the classic New York-style pizza crust. The “Ria” pizza’s listed meatball topping was not presented as whole meatballs or even as sliced meatballs. Rather, the meatballs appeared as chopped up beef meatballs having a texture coarser than the usual ground beef you’d normally think of as pizza topping. This inconsistency was mitigated by there being a good quantity of the coarse-chopped Ria meatballs scattered across the pizza for us to enjoy. Dollops of melted ricotta cheese were evident as well, and the whole of the pizza was topped with melted mozzarella cheese to complement all the elements of our pizza along with the right amount of oregano and other spices.
What with garlic knots, salad and cheese sticks already in our tummies, my dining partner and I were only able to manage a slice or two each of our “Ria” signature pizza. Not to worry, Mike Hatcher had a take-home box handy for our use. Hatcher said that Pizza-Ria does takeouts, with their delivery area covering Elizabethton and the south side of Johnson City including the Tree Streets and ETSU campus. As we were leaving, Hatcher said for us to call and check first if we decided to have our next Pizza-Ria pizza home-delivered.
How do I know that Pizza-Ria makes a superb pizza? Because my dining partner, who judges the quality of pizza by how good as leftovers it is, decided to have some of our “Ria” signature pizza warmed-up for lunch the next day. I received a phone call from her telling me 1) that there was no leftover pizza for my lunch and 2) how good all of it tasted.
Next week, the Mystery Diner enjoys food for the soul as well as the body.
1435A W. G Street
Sun-Thu 11 a.m. -10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m. -11 p.m.
Available on Facebook & social media
Credit cards accepted