It seems the road to Pizza Nirvana is winding right along the Coast. The wood-burning ovens and gourmet creations that seemed exotic not long ago are becoming commonplace. A massive bubbling Italian-style pizza, once a hard-to-find treasure, can be found on any end of Beach Boulevard.
Several new pizzerias have sprung up along the Coast, and gourmet pizza has been added to fine-dining restaurants’ menus. Despite their different locales and styles, they all follow the same playbook: focus on homemade pizza and master techniques honed in New York and Italy. And lastly, keep the creativity coming so nobody will care if you punt on the pasta, side dishes and desserts. Most manage to do quite well on the accompaniments, but it’s the pizza that gives rock-star status to these pizzerias.Take our pizza tour and find a favorite spot to master your cravings.
Tony's Wood-Burning PizzeriaGulfport
“First you make a roux,” says pizzeria owner Tony Swigris. These five words typically describe the process of making gumbo, not pizza, but in this case, they’re relevant. It’s the first step in making Gumbo Pizza that is, like its Creole cousin, a hearty combination of thick file roux, Gulf shrimp, crabmeat, Andouille sausage, rustic tomato sauce, sliced okra and thick cheese blend.
Similar to the liquid version, tangy shrimp and crab make one very good topping along with a chunky, spice-heavy sauce covered with a thick blanket of cheese.
The pizza is a signature one at this downtown eatery. Swigris opened his namesake restaurant, Tony’s Wood-Burring Pizzeria, in 2010. Swigris and wife Beth are bringing original food offerings and an opportunity for a great meal past 5 p.m. in downtown Gulfport.
“Making original pizzas with a Coast flair was our goal after learning the area had relatively few authentic pizza restaurants,” Swigris said. “I think we’ve surpassed our initial goal.”
Besides 11 specialty pizzas, the menu contains a plethora of pasta dishes, sandwiches and salads, all made from scratch. But it’s the pizza, namely the fresh-from-the-sea gumbo that keeps ‘em coming back. Chilly Willie's PizzeriaPass Christian
Garbage is on the minds of those who enter Chili Willie’s Pizzeria in search of a memorable pizza experience. An ode to diner’s directives to “put everything on it but the kitchen sink,” Garbage Pizza is the most ambitious newcomer to the pizza menu at this popular Pass Christian restaurant.
Don’t let the less-than-appetizing name fool you; Garbage, a sky-high creation topped with every pizza topping imaginable and then some, is an experience requiring a knife and fork, says owner Richard Orr.
The unassuming restaurant located in an historic wooden house has increased traffic along what was a barren stretch of Davis Avenue after Hurricane Katrina. Diners roll in for a slice of Garbage and other offerings ranging from muffalettas to po-boys.
Garbage starts with homemade dough covered in classic tomato sauce and a coating of house mozzarella. The fun begins with the piling on of double portions of pepperoni, sausage, beef, ham, black and green olives, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes and pineapple. Thick slices of provolone finish the job.
It may be Garbage, but there’s no arguing with the flavor of Orr’s creation. A charred smokiness from the crust melds with the simple sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes and pineapples to subtly permeate the thick helping of meat and cheese.
Sycamore HouseBay St. Louis
Sometimes the best pizzas are less opulent — or at least that’s the philosophy of Stella LeGardeur and Michael Eastham, who take pride in serving simply prepared, made-from-scratch gourmet pizzas in their fine-dining restaurant overlooking Main Street in Bay St. Louis.
One of the most popular varieties, Barbecue Shrimp Pizza, has garnered a following among many that don’t mind sitting at a white-clothed table to get their pizza fix.
Fresh Gulf shrimp are coated in a fresh, spicy barbecue sauce, topped with pepper jack and whole milk mozzarella cheese and baked to a smoky goodness atop a hand-tossed thin crust similar to the ones New York native Eastham enjoyed growing up.
Sycamore House is not really a pizzeria, nor a casual dining spot. It is a restaurant known more for food with a French flair than Italy-inspired pizza. “We began experimenting with different crusts, toppings and combinations when we began getting requests for really good, homemade New York-style pizza,” Eastham says. “We use only the freshest ingredients, and, of course, one of the best is our local Gulf shrimp. It’s delicious any way you prepare it, but especially on pizza.” It’s one of eight varieties on the menu. Uncle Joe’s Pizza and WingsPass Christian
It’s unlikely the restaurant’s name or the title of its specialty pizza will win awards for creativity. Still, the Carnivore at Uncle Joe’s Pizza and Wings is undeniably good: a thin-crusted and just-charred colossal crust loaded down with meat, cheese and vegetables and cooked on a stone in a red-hot pizza oven.
The dough, which comes in traditional or whole wheat, has a faint crunch on the bottom. It pairs well with the contents of the massive pie, which contains freshly grilled steak, pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, ground beef, fried bacon, bell peppers, homemade tomato sauce and hand-shredded mozzarella cheese.
The Carnivore is not for the faint of heart, say owners Tonya and Walter Martin and Susan and Seth Diamond, who opened the casual dining restaurant near Diamondhead in 2007.
The Victory Garden, a lighter choice, is topped with artichokes, broccoli and bell peppers.
Uncle Joe’s wings and dipping sauces, as well as sub sandwiches and appetizers, offer alternatives to the dozen or so pizza varieties on the menu. Uncle Joe’s has been busy since it opened, even expanding to accommodate more customers, some of whom drive 30 miles or so to get their Uncle Joe’s. Brooklyn PizzeriaGulfport
Brooklyn has been firing pizzas the way the Coast likes it for 18 years. While owner Mark Cruthirds can’t say for sure if his pizzeria was the first to offer homemade pizza, he lays claim to the fact that Brooklyn brought “pizza by the slice” to the Coast.
“Some of our customers still order the same slice of pizza they’ve been ordering for 18 years, “ Cruthrids says of the restaurant tucked into Gulfport’s Hardy Court Shopping Center.
Brooklyn’s signature slice still is called the Large Special. Baked on a colossal circular pan in a special pizza oven, each wedge-shaped slice has a radius of more than nine inches. The crispy crust, thin and flat to the very edge, is smoothed over delicately with tomato sauce, showered with pepperoni, sausage, beef, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, bell peppers and extra cheese and baked to a crispy goodness that exudes a smoky flavor.
Slices are as big as a Bassett hound’s ear, but amazingly, not quite as floppy despite the weight of a pound or more of hand-trimmed meat, fresh vegetables and milky cheeses.
Other favorite Brooklyn sides are the famous garlic knots, strombolis and calzones. But year after year, it’s pizza by the slice that keeps locals and tourists alike flocking to Mississippi’s version of Brooklyn. Tom’s Extreme PizzeriaOcean Springs
The most ambitious newcomer to the Coast’s pizza scene is Tom’s Extreme Pizzeria. From the street, the restaurant situated near downtown Ocean Springs has the generic look and feel of a regular diner. But walk inside, and the sights and scents of sizzling pizza fresh from the oven will transport you straight to Naples. Despite the authentically Italian flavor, owner Tom Bennett insists his pizzas, including the fan favorite, the Texas, are “All-American” versions.
“Our pizzas are named after the states and the foods for which they’re famous,” Bennett says. “We’ve Americanized pizza by using New York-style dough and the favorite toppings of our country.”
Tom’s all-American menu includes the Chicago, topped with grilled steak, and the Philly Cheese Steak, named after Pennsylvania. Biloxi Shrimp and a Buttered Crab represent Mississippi.
As big and bold as the state, the Texas starts with either a traditional or whole wheat crust and is topped with a dizzying array of toppings that include meatballs, pepperoni, ham, hamburger, Canadian bacon, fried bacon, Italian sausage, colorful bell peppers, black olives, mushrooms and tomatoes.
It’s an irresistible combination that takes meat-lovers pizza variety to new heights. Bennett credits the hand-tossed dough made fresh each day, along with homemade tomato sauce and the freshest ingredients, with making the difference.
“There are over a billion ways to create a pizza and in America; we’ve discovered most of them,” he says.
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