EVO was doing local before local was cool 

Simple as Pie

A recent daily pizza special sums up the seasonal approach at EVO: basil pinenut pesto, geechie boy grilled eggplant and grape tomatoes, purple bell peppers, split creek chevre, mozzarella, and parmigiano-reggiano

Jonathan Boncek

A recent daily pizza special sums up the seasonal approach at EVO: basil pinenut pesto, geechie boy grilled eggplant and grape tomatoes, purple bell peppers, split creek chevre, mozzarella, and parmigiano-reggiano

EVO's famed Pork Trifecta is a meaty obsession. It's a Neapolitan-style pizza with a crust that's crisp and lightly charred on the outside, tender in the middle, basted with a traditional tomato sauce, and topped with fresh mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, and, drum roll please, a trio of pork. With ground sausage, Casalingo salami, and crispy pieces of bacon, it's the pie that everyone around town has heard of, dreamed of, and obsessed over, myself included.

Sharing the accolades at EVO is the Pistachio Pesto Pizza, which Food Network Magazine named one of the best pizzas in America and the best in South Carolina. The pesto is an amalgam of ground pistachio, olive oil, and salt, which is then topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, parmigiano-reggiano, and more pistachios — this time ground and toasted. Both of these signature pies are available in 8-inch or 12-inch sizes and are $12 and $14, respectively.

At EVO, the pizzas are cooked in a traditional wood-burning oven and the toppings are of the finest quality. The sauce is made daily, the fresh mozzarella is pulled twice a day, and the sausage is prepared in-house. A handful of toppings are sourced locally, including mushrooms, goat cheese, basil, and arugula. A recent special featured arugula pesto, roasted Geechie Boy cauliflower, bacon, gruyere, fresh mozzarella, and parmigiano-reggiano ($11/$13). It was an unusual combination that worked perfectly.

The pizzas definitely draw the crowds, but the daily specials are what make me come back for more, like the spring panzanella salad ($9) I enjoyed recently. It's a large, cold plate of earthy roasted Mepkin Abbey shiitake mushrooms with grilled Thackeray Farm zucchini, roasted Geechie Boy broccoli and cauliflower, traditional-style pesto croutons, farro, and parmigiano-reggiano, punctuated with a balsamic vinaigrette that created a pleasing harmony of taste and texture ($9).

A popular and oft-recurring special is the wood-fired mac and cheese. Made with creamy onion soubise (béchamel, or white sauce, with onion purée), three-year-old aged cheddar, gruyere, Comte, and parmigiano-reggiano cheeses and rigatoni ($8), this luscious dish is dangerously large and probably meant to be shared. 

Housemade sausages hit the menu often. We tried wood-fired pork sausage with braised Ambrose kale, whole grain mustard, crostini points, and a side of housemade pickles ($9). Mild and juicy, it was a memorable dish. Equally good was a crostini topped with duck confit, arugula, fromage blanc, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and pickled red onion ($7). The menu called this "Beer & A Bite," the "Beer" being a pint of New Belgium Somersault. I subbed a small pour of COAST Boy King, which made for a great pairing.

Though the primary menu rarely changes, the daily specials require flair and creativity, which is currently provided by Executive Chef Blake McCormick. Last summer, co-owners Ricky Hacker and Matt McIntosh brought Matt Russell on board as executive chef. Shortly thereafter, McCormick came on as sous chef, and by May it was time for Russell to move on. So far, so good — the transition has been completely opaque to customers, which in this case is a good thing.

The setting at EVO hasn't changed much in the past few years. There are three tables out front, a handful of tables inside, and a full bar. The wall behind the bar is dark red; the opposing one is dark yellow. What is new are the chalkboards. On the mustard-colored wall, a large board lists the daily specials and desserts. A long, narrow one above the kitchen records all the farms and locally sourced products, and the bar sports a third, listing current draughts available.

EVO may not have the biggest tap list in town, but it's all about quality, not quantity. They have great relationships with area breweries and always have something local. In fact, EVO was the first bar to carry COAST beer. They're also able to bring in quality suds from around the country. On tap the same night as the Boy King was the roasty Great Divide Chocolate Yeti — dessert in a glass. There are six rotation taps, and beers are offered in 11- or 16-ounce pours. They also have flights of four six-ounce pours for $10. In addition to draught beer, EVO has an extensive bottle list. For those not keen on hops and barley, there's wine — 10 or so reds and an equal number of whites. The wine is poured in small 6-ounce cylinder-shaped bistro glasses, but stemware is available upon request.

Desserts aren't made in house, but they do have a history with EVO. John Eric Battles was a sous chef here when he started experimenting with chocolate truffles. The popularity of his treats grew exponentially, so he started Sweeteeth Chocolate and recently opened a storefront right down the street. His artisanal candy bars are still offered at EVO. I particularly liked the Call of the Wild — dark chocolate, port wine, and caramel ($5). Also available are gourmet popsicles courtesy of King of Pops ($4). Think blood orange basil, banana pudding, and coconut lemongrass.

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At EVO, the concept is simple: Keep making the pizzas people love, use fresh, local ingredients, and offer creative daily specials. The menu is short, but it works. The draught beer list is small, but reflects quality. Food and service are consistently excellent, and the specials are some of the best in town. In our over-sized world, the small often soar highest, and the folks at EVO deserve all the praise everyone heaps on them.

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