La Pizzeria Pizza 976 Houston Northcutt Blvd., Mt. Pleasant (843) 375-4607 Entrées: $15-$20 Lunch & Dinner, Mon-Sat; Dinner, Sun.
Don't judge a book by its cover, especially when talking about strip center restaurants in Charleston. Some of the Lowcountry's best treasures reside in these staples of suburbia. Mount Pleasant's La Pizzeria is no exception.
Tucked in a corner of Northcutt Plaza, this former bagel haven has been transformed into an up-and-coming tour de force on the local pizza circuit. Opening earlier in the year and with its second set of owners, a European vibe subtly oozes from every crevice. No surprise here, the owners are Milanese.
Patio seating complete with torch lights mark the entrance to the joint and help provide an Old World feel to an otherwise sterile space. Inside, faux bronze ceiling tiles, a few pictures, and a brick wall mingle with wood tables and chairs. An adjoining enclosed patio lends additional seating and strands of white lights draped throughout the room add ambiance and charm. The sounds of Italy flow from the speakers, but the Italian accents behind the counter make it the real deal.
Minimal service and a simple, straightforward menu provide a relaxed and easy dining experience. A handful of beer and wine choices top off a traditional pizzeria menu. Fried calamari ($9), garlic knots ($5), and fried mozzarella ($6) make up the appetizer section. Salad choices include a tomato ($6), spinach ($7), and classic Caesar ($6). The traditional Caprese ($7) containing creamy mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, basil, and drizzled with olive oil is a simple and good start.
The panini include a large section of parmigianas, as well as sausage and peppers ($7) and chicken or Philly cheesesteaks ($6). The sausage and pepper panino is slathered in homemade tomato sauce and loaded with spicy sausage, sautéed peppers, and melted mozzarella. The meatball parmigiana is also smothered with tomato sauce and mozzarella but contains some of the juiciest and most flavorful meatballs I have ever put in my mouth. Although the panini are served on grilled hoagie rolls and not the traditional ciabata, the fillings still make these tasty treats.
As at most pizzerias, calzones ($7), and strombolis ($7) are offered. A large selection of gourmet pizzas rounds out the menu, including the usual create-your-own options.
The pizzas are baked in a brick oven and are said to follow purist's standards in terms of cooking method and fresh ingredients (although I would question this on a few things). Most pizzas are available in multiple sizes including pizzette, medium, large, and square. We sampled a selection of pizzettes, and one pizzette is more than enough for two. The Neopolitan ($7) is covered with La Pizzeria's fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The sauce, which contains only fresh tomatoes and no paste, is flavorful with the perfect amount of garlic and seasoning. Combine that with chewy, crispy crust made from imported flour and all I can say is mama mia!
Mild ricotta, salty mozzarella, and nutty parmigiano make up the Bianco ($8). The Quattro Gusti ($11) is overflowing with cubes of ham, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, black olives, spicy sausage, mozzarella, and that delectable homemade sauce. We also sampled the Capriciosa ($11), which also contains cubes of ham, olives, and mushrooms, but is finished with some pretty salty and fishy anchovies and topped with sauce and cheese.
Desserts consist of cannoli ($2.75) and tiramisu ($5), as well as a daily dessert special. Although not the best I have ever tasted, the cannoli, with its crispy shell filled with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips, was a pleasant ending to our experience.
La Pizzeria is a welcome addition to the local pizza scene and would benefit from capitalizing on what makes this place special. Italian roots and love for the food... What more could you ask for?