Pizza, pizza! Top slices, personal pies, and surprises around town


Pies from Tip Top, Sal's Caffe Italia, and Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard. Photo: Preston Long Pies from Tip Top, Sal's Caffe Italia, and Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard. Photo: Preston Long

The New York pizza slice, for years the pizza gold standard, inspired a lot of wasted effort and money, what with people trying to reproduce NYC pizza parlors, replete with transported ovens, in places like Kansas or Albuquerque or (gack) San Francisco. Pizza everywhere was measured against some non-specific New York City pie. If you pressed New Yorkers as to where one could go to procure this mythical slice, no two people—not even two natives of the same ’hood—would name the same place. Foodies theorize about what makes this supposed world’s-greatest-pizza so special. One compelling posit is the water argument, which runs thus: New York City tap water is divinely endowed with unnamed pizza-perfect minerals not found elsewhere, which, hence, precludes the New York slice from being replicated anywhere else. The same has been said for whatever it is that deifies the NYC bagel.

Well, it’s all a bunch of hooey. I’m writing this from New York City and I can find nothing in any New York pizza that isn’t equaled or surpassed pretty much anywhere else in the States. The water seems to have much less to do with the reputation of the NY slice than does the amount of beer consumed prior to the impossibly late hour at which it was gobbled down in three bites. And most Charlottesvillians find laughable the notion that they need look any farther than Bodo’s for a world-class bagel.

Many cities eschewed the NY pizza style from the get-go and perfected their own thing, like Chicago’s deep dish, or Detroit’s Greek-influenced, square-cut sheet pie, with a buttery crisp crust and the sauce on top of the cheese. The style doesn’t matter a lick just so long your effort produces an earnest product of the combination of the unique factors that make your town a singular entity.

Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, out North Garden way, with its vegan and whole wheat offerings, kooky topping combos, and all-around consistently solid pizza, well represents that New Age-agrarian bent that encapsulates Albemarle’s culinary ethos. Thomas Jefferson himself would most certainly approve of a Ho’s pie, so long as it was done up with foie gras and brie.

But everybody knows Ho’s. So let’s consider alternatives.

The pie at the Tip Top on Pantops is well beyond what you would expect from a big menu diner because the College Inn owners modified their Corner classic pan pizza for a more diner-appropriate pie. The 10″ Ala Greca, decked out with feta, fresh spinach, black olives, and sun-dried tomatoes, is top-notch. If you want to build your own, they have a great list of toppings, including hot peppers.

I mention peppers because as good as the personal pizza at Sal’s Caffe Italia is, the Downtown Mall spot has a short list of fixings. Mine came with pepperoni and anchovies. And that’s about as crazy as the options run here. But the crust is stout, buttery, and fluffy. The mozzarella cuts off clean and isn’t stringy. The sauce is tasty, if not a tad conservative on the tangy scale.

Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards, another North Garden destination, serves specialty pies, with a haute touch, from a wood-fired brick oven. A couple Sundays ago, they served a limited run of small pizzas tricked out with barn sausage, sage, artichoke, some fancy cheese, and a balsamic drizzle. The juicy and delectably seasoned sausage put this thing over the top. All of these elements worked together very well without a hint of disharmony. Somebody here must know what she’s doing.

All these pies are great, but when you need a quick fix, and can’t commit to an entire pizza, the choices boil down to Christian’s and Vita Nova, both on the Mall, both New York-style. I have done repeated cold slice samplings (the only way to evaluate the true flavor) of both of these cheese pizzas. Vita Nova took over Christian’s old space, next to C-VILLE Weekly, in 1997, buying out Christian’s remaining lease with a non-compete clause, which prohibited Christian’s from re-opening until the lease expired. Vita Nova gradually morphed Christian’s recipe into its own concoction only to watch Christian’s re-emerge at its present location, in 2000, immediately after the expiration of the non-compete agreement.

Christian’s generally does a brisker business. Location, location, right? The Vita slice has a better crust. It’s dense and hearty. Christian’s sauce, especially accentuated at room temperature, has that pure tomato delicateness, very light on the condensed paste element. It’s a push, but go Vita Nova. We enjoy the company at the lonely end of the Mall.

  • Reader

    This guy is atrocious. Seriously, this is your food writer? It’s embarrassing. I’ve let previous poor efforts go but I just can’t help but respond to this ill-informed approach to pizza. You really think the pizza here (or in other states, save those that have developed their own, completely different styles, and shouldn’t be compared) is as good as New York pizza? You make this claim from New York, yet don’t mention the pizza places you’ve visited? Let me guess: You’re in Times Square, where everything — not just pizza — is watered down for the tourist’s palate.

  • Casual Reader

    Preston, you’re 24 – so I can’t really fault you for your opinions. You are too young (and apparently too new to Cville) to really tread into interesting waters. The most interesting thing in this article is the bit about Vita Nova taking over the Christian’s lease. But that was so concise and well organized I can’t really believe you wrote it. Plus, you’re 24. In 1997 you were 8 years old and apparently not living here.

    +1 for Dr. Ho’s. Even if I don’t really agree with you for them having a ‘New Age agrarian-bent’. But then I have to give you a -10 for bad mouthing San Francisco pizza.

    I still don’t understand why everyone compares Charlottesville to New York City. Why can’t something just be good HERE? New York obviously has many millions of things that Charlottesville will never have, including some of the best food of every kind in the world. But Charlottesville also has many many things that New York will never have – a vibrant small town culture with a cool city vibe just minutes from the mountains, and an ego that extends far beyond our borders!

    Preston I will again extend my offer to show you some interesting and quite unique places here. I’ve got a few good ones for you.

  • Jasper

    We are living in the golden age of pizza right now, with excellent neapolitan-style pizza places springing up throughout our great country. We don’t have one in Cville yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

    I’m not sure I understand why the author thinks there’s no good pizza in San Francisco; it is, most pizza nerds will tell you, an exceptional pizza town.

    Sigh. I feel like I bought into this trolling article by even commenting. I lose.

  • Shame on CNN

    How much Pizza has the writer consumed in San Francisco? How much time has the writer spent in San Francisco?

    As for pizza in Charlottesville, an overlooked spot with excellent, excellent pie is Belmont Pizza. The crust, sauce and toppings are all top rate. It’s off the beaten path, but worth it.

    I will say good on this writer for choosing Vita Nova, but I would disagree about his sauce evaluation. Vita Nova’s marinara is delectable. Christian’s is inoffensive at best. Let Christian’s have the North Face vest wearing crowd, discerning palate’s know the best pie on the mall is at Vita Nova’s.

  • Esteban

    Pippen Hill? Really? This is your list? Doctor Ho’s is an excellent pie, so I’ll give you props for that, but another that’s just as good is Slice in the Barrack Road shopping center. Very good pie that’s nestled in-between the Happy Cook and Barnes and Noble and run by a good family. However, you really need to get out more, if you’re unable to find a good pie in New York, you’re not doing your job…

    • Esteban

      Also try the pie down at Mona Lisa in Preston square, very good, and another one you missed…

  • Tony

    I am guessing the focus of this article is local pizza places. I am surprised Mellow Mushroom is not mentioned. Granted, they are a chain but primarily found in college towns. I still find there are many people in Charlottesville who don’t know how great and unique their pies can be. It’s often seen as a college spot with late teens/early 20s but I don’t see many places in town that can match them

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