Salvio’s Pizzeria (Cary, NC)

Salvio’s in Cary appears, in nearly all respects, to be a prototypical (e.g. boring) strip-mall pizza joint.  It’s all there – the nondescript signage, the incongruous burger+fries or wings specials, the bare bones interior.  But it just takes one taste of the pies and to know this is someplace special.

The inside features a number of large booths, a few tables, and a couple of large TVs tuned to ESPN.  A recent remodeling has added a tasteful air to the simple accommodations: fresh black paint and new marble table tops are a step up from the old plain wooden booths.  It’s still a counter service restaurant where you get your own drink, so it’s best for take-out or a quick lunch.

The menu covers all of the standards – pizzas, subs, wings, Italian classics.  Since it’s pretty close to where I work, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Salvio’s numerous times, but I’ve only tried the pies.  For a quick meal, you can order pre-made “gourmet” slices from the counter window display, of which there are generally a half-dozen or so choices.  On a recent visit I chose a slice of mozzarella/feta/spinach/tomatoes and a slice of ricotta/parsley, which, with a soda, came to just $5.75.   The slices are enormous – I can’t imagine eating more than two.  The friendly staff pops them back into the oven, and, a few minutes later, you’ve got piping hot pizza delivered to you (on paper plates).

Salvio’s crust is exceptional – thin and super crisp, you can just about pick up a whole piece without it collapsing.  The crust gives a satisfyingly shatter-like crack, and the crumb still has a nice chew to it.  Toppings are generous but don’t stand out for exceptional quality, the way they do at, say, Bella Mia.  Both pieces were very good, but the winner was the one with soft mounds of delicious ricotta.  It was a fantastic lunch.

Among NY style pizza in the area, Salvio’s stands head and shoulders above a place like Fuhgeddaboutit.  In fact, Salvio’s comes in behind only the aforementioned Bella Mia in my Triangle pizza hierarchy.  And compared to your average strip-mall pizza place, it is awesome.

Bella Mia Pizza (Cary, NC) – revisited

Our second visit to Bella Mia Pizza in Cary confirmed what we experienced the first time around: if you haven’t been yet, you need to go. Their pizza blows other Triangle pizzas right out of the water (or oven). The crust, charred from the coal-fired oven, is incredible. We ordered a “Houston St.” pie ($12) and a “Canal St.” calzone ($11). The pie had smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil. It tasted excellent, but suffered a little on the following two counts. First, the crust, though crispy on the edges, was super thin and soggy in the center of the pie. This made it very difficult to eat, because I couldn’t even quite pick it up without the toppings sliding off. Second, there’s a lot of extra crust space where it’s just bread. On the other hand, the calzone might be my choice from now on.  As I noted after our first trip to Bella Mia several months ago, it is amazing – one of the finest things I’ve eaten in the Triangle – and for only $11!  Stuffed simply but amply with sausage and ricotta, you just can’t stop eating it. We also tried the lemon-rosemary roasted chicken wings ($8 for a small order of about 6-8 wings). These were also delicious, served with some very sweet caramelized onions.

To summarize, you can get other good pizzas in the Triangle, but this is the only great pizza I’ve had in the area.  I look forward to many future visits.

Maximillian’s Pizza Kitchen (Cary, NC)

We don’t often eat pizza in a restaurant.  We prefer to get take out, to make our own, or to get the occasional delivery.  Sure, pizza is best piping hot, but sometimes there are other reasons for not dining in.  Maximillian’s Pizza Kitchen provides a perfect example of this.  To be blunt, the space is very dark and a bit dingy.  The cavernous ceilings and marble table tops offer no comfort.  Worse, the weathered dark wood paneled walls and especially the tables didn’t seem entirely clean.  The restaurant looks like it has seen better days.  Service was not really inviting either, and my wife’s order of hot tea was essentially forgotten.  Well, to clarify, a cup and teabag came to the table, but no hot water (until we reminded the waitress much later).

But on to the pies.  We ordered two individual pies, a “Bianca” (fontina, asiago, mozzarella, ricotta, $10.95) and a “Maximo” (sausage, pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms, olives, $11.95).  Each was just about big enough to split between two adults.  A note on the menu: many of the pies listed on the website (including some of the most tempting) were not on the menu.  In fact, while there are a handful of entrees to choose from, I felt that the array of menu choices was rather limited.

The Bianca was surprisingly delicate in flavor.  The ricotta was nice, but there was too much cheese, and not enough “sun-dried tomato/pesto drizzle”.  The latter was more like a few drops here and there.  The result was somewhat bland.  Moreover, the pie left an uncomfortably big puddle of oil on the serving platter.  The hand-tossed crust was pillowy and soft, but otherwise unremarkable.  The Maximo had a distinct sweet taste, which must have come from the sauce.  It was strewn with giant chunks of sausage, but the pepperoni and the mushrooms were quite flavorless.  I did like that the peppers were roasted.  I much preferred the thick crust on the Bianca to the thin crust that we opted for on this pie.  It was cracker-like on the edges but far too thin to support the toppings in the middle. In the end, neither pie was bad, but the Bianca was the better choice.

The dessert list is extensive, and includes a $9 (!) tiramisu.  We had a coupon that obliged us to spend a minimum of $30, so we opted for a slice of key lime pie ($5.95) to go.  It had an almond laced crust and was pretty good, but you can make a better version at home.

I had been to Maximillian’s once before, a couple of years ago, and recalled their distinctively flaky, pastry-like crust then.  Apparently the dough recipe has changed since then.  I got take-out that time, and, if I ever go back, I’ll get take-out again.