Mountain Fresh Pizza
I was nonplussed when I got the assignment to review Mountain Fresh Grocery’s pizza.
Don’t get me wrong – I adore Mountain Fresh Grocery.
The owners have transformed what was once a sleepy purveyor of over-priced garlic paste and sad cantaloupes into a bustling emporium of gourmet foodstuffs, exotic olive oils, killer ice cream (try some of their Vietnamese Cinnamon), and pastries as irresistible as they are belt-busting.
In fact, when out-of-town guests worry about me living in a town of 987, I take them to Mountain Fresh as a gentle retort. That and the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival. They get the message.
With the installation of a truly dazzling grille for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Mountain Fresh has established itself as something of a social center as well, where couples can visit and map out their day or friends can compare notes about the state of the world.
So clearly I like the place and enjoy the ambience of a trendy big-city destination in my little town.
I’ve consumed 11,568 pizzas over the course of my decades. Some have been extraordinary. Some have represented a tragic waste of the human spirit. Most have been shoveled in, in an attempt to fill my gut with something, anything.
So I was clearly not expecting much from a pizza, even one from Mountain Fresh. On top of that, I was in the first pangs of hanger (getting angry from hunger – what my departed mother would have called “cranky”). That’s not a condition to be in if you’re gonna be reviewing a meal.
Still, when we showed up I was beguiled by the choices. As you’d expect, the Mountain Fresh crew has put a lot of thought into this part of the business and it shows in the two varieties of their American Pies – Wood Fired Neapolitan and New York Style.
Wood Fired is baked in a classic hickory-fired oven – this is the way the first pizzas were prepared, before they crossed the Atlantic. New York Style is a little more substantial, maybe with a little less tomato sauce.
As with any couple, my sweetie and I have entirely divergent views on pizza. I like tradition, so naturally I gravitate to Wood Fired Neapolitan.
And she, well, she’s wrong. It’s not enough to permanently damage our relationship – but come on!
(Seriously – we wouldn’t split up over pizza. That’d be foolish. In contrast, the former Mrs. Osteen and I parted over religious differences – she thought she was God and I disagreed.)
I ended up ordering the Buffalo Chicken Neapolitan – it was shaped with pulled chicken drizzled with buffalo sauce, grande Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, caramelized onion and Italian Cream.
I chose this because the greatest pizza I ever had was Buffalo Chicken Neapolitan, served at The El Toro Bar & Grill in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1978. In bed at night, lying half-asleep, I can still recall that pizza.
Tricia ordered Ham and Pineapple New York Style because, well, I don’t know why. Taste of the Islands? I guess Sicily is an island.
Anyway, we placed our order, and this is where the fun starts. And this is what you have to see if you order a Mountain Fresh Pizza. The men and women staffing the Pizza Counter are absolute masters at constructing your pie. They knead the dough so carefully, with such precision.
Working for Laurel, I’ve interviewed hundreds of artists. I know the world-class musicians who perform at the Chamber Music Festival.
These guys are artists. They bring to their task that same level of mastery and concentration. It’s breathtaking. Do not miss this show!
As a result, their finished products are masterpieces of flavor and, this is critical, texture. The pinnacle of 200 years of Italian culinary technique.
We both devoured our pies and allowed one another to sample our choices. At the end of the evening I was no longer cranky and I’d come to realize one more reason to adore my sweetheart. She understands pizza, too.