Can we fit another pizza joint into downtown Charleston? The peninsula surely contains its fair share, with Mellow Mushroom and Andolini's leading the pack, tossing dough and cheese with an irreverent hand and a creative touch. With pie that good in town, only a true innovator could find a competitive niche — and several people have. John Marshall creates little gourmet Italian "pizzettas" over at Al Di La and several other restaurants have jumped on the "wood-oven" theme with varied success. But not since Mellow Mushroom challenged Andolini's a few years back has anyone really successfully stepped into the cardboard box arena. That is until now. D'Allesandro's is tossing some good dough from the cheap seats and putting the 'hood on the dining scene map.
You need to be brave, or at least a bit naive, to eat in the ghetto. A shooting was reported not too far from D'Alessandro's St. Philip Street location late in the evening of my visit (not exactly cool with your one-year-old daughter in tow). It's definitely not a five-star neighborhood up there yet. But don't let that dissuade you from the pie. If anything, it speaks to the authenticity of the effort. This is no fancy joint with big dollars and corporate executives — these guys are for real, they know their way around pizzas and calzones, and they obviously intend to stick around. By subscribing to the "build it and they will come" philosophy, they created the perfect college pizza joint just ahead of the impending wave of student inundation that will undoubtedly turn Bogard Street's bullets to beer, and that is pure genius.
With a ho-hum address comes lower prices, but with free delivery, even the wary can take advantage of D'Allesandro's wares. A 16" gourmet pizza, fresh and hot from the rotary oven in the corner of the joint, flies out for a measly $13.50. The "Supreme" (combining pepperoni, sausage, green pepper, mushrooms, and onions) beats any delivery pizza available in town, a freshly-made thin crust shattering beneath the layers of veggies and meat. The "In Bianco" is also very tasty; sporting huge globs of fresh ricotta plopped down among stringy mozzarella, garlic, and fresh spinach — a demure gooey delight. Delicious calzones come filled with two meats and three vegetables of your choosing, and with 28 items, even the pickiest of eaters can find satisfaction. These guys stick to what they know, and they do it right.
For those brave enough to venture uptown at night, the place shapes up as a great corner beer joint. The chicken wings (10 for $5.50) go down easy at the bar, a long galley arrangement culminating in the oven at one end. They come hot and steaming, slathered with the traditional concoction of butter and hot sauce, not too spicy but bold enough to warm your gullet. The friendly staff serves an ample selection of beers; a TV blares the night's game. It may be in a gritty part of town, but it's a part of town that promises change. D'Allesandro's corner store location represents one of those out-of-the-way places that makes Chucktown shine, a watering hole where the local color outweighs any need for laminated menus and shapely beer glasses. Trips here are more likely to produce beer goggles. The uptown area teems with the type of innovation that King Street rents disallow and produces some of the most distinctive fare in the city. Eventually the wave of gentrification will probably force places like D'Allesandro's into the mainstream (and good for them if they strike it rich). Until then, good pizza comes hot to your door, singing a splendid song, for a price any big kid can afford.