America is a pizza obsessed nation. Ninety-three percent of us consume at least one slice of pizza per month and collectively, we each eat some 46 slices of pizza per year. According to Pizza Magazine Quarterly, the pizza industry’s number one business magazine and web site, there are nearly 70,000 pizzerias in the United States (or about as many pizzerias as Santa Fe, New Mexico has residents) to sate our love of pizza. Almost two-thirds (or about 46,000) of those pizzerias are independently owned and operated.
With such a large number of pizzerias serving the pizza loving public, creating a list anointing the best pizza or any number of best pizzas in the country is an audacious endeavor (just try picking the definitive pizza in the Duke City). Even defining the criteria for designating the best pizza is a plucky proposition considering the tremendous differences in style between purveyors of the sacrosanct pie. In September, 2012, The Daily Meal recruited an august panel au courant with all things pizza and asked them to compile a list of the best pizzas across the fruited plain. After much deliberation and trimming, five spots were allotted to each of seven regions.
Because the list of America’s thirty-five very best pizzas includes such paragons of pizza perfection as Pizza Mozza (#25) and Pizzeria Bianco (#26), two transformative pizzas reviewed on this blog, the list has great credibility with me. Charleston’s contribution to the list is EVO which was rated number thirty-two on the list, placing it in very exclusive company. Now, Charleston is world renowned for its incomparable Lowcountry cuisine and some of the best seafood in the country, but pizza?
Yes, pizza and it’s not solely the Daily Meal who holds EVO in such high accord. In 2011, USA Today asked local experts to name just one great pizza parlor in each state and the District of Columbia. The one pizza from South Carolina singled out was none other than EVO. Not to be outdone, the Food Network’s Cooking Channel highlighted EVO’s Pistachio Pesto Pizza as one of the ten best pizzas in the fruited plain.
Perhaps the reason EVO is so highly regarded is because it subscribes to many of the tenets which make Lowcountry cuisine so highly regarded. That means seasonal produce from local farmers to give its guests a fresh and fabulous farm-to-table experience. A whopping eighty-five percent of the locally sourced ingredients come from within a twenty mile radius of Charleston. Reading the ingredients on the salad menu is like perusing the vegetable line-up at a farmer’s market.
EVO, which isn’t Rachael Ray misspelling one of her cloying catchphrases, actually stands for “Extra Virgin Oven. EVO’s pizzas are prepared in the namesake wood-fired oven which renders a perfect Neapolitan-style crust, thin and light yet formidable enough to hold up against a cheesy blanket and generously applied ingredients. At 800 degrees, your pizza is ready in less than two and a half minutes. The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy. Best of all, the pizza has the flavor and aroma of just baked bread with the char marks aficionados love.
EVO eschews the rubbery out-of-a-bag glop the chains use, preparing and pulling their own mozzarella twice daily. The pizza dough is also made twice a day and all breads are baked on the premises (or rather in the EVO bakery directly behind the pizzeria). All soups and sauces are prepared slowly and with a lot of care and attention. Add the term “house-made” to describe the restaurant’s sweet sausage, aioli and dressings. You can taste the difference.
If freshness has a flavor, you’ll find it in a steaming bowl of EVO’s roasted carrot, ginger and apple soup garnished with toasted pistachios and creme fraiche. If she-crab soup wasn’t already the signature dish of Charleston, this soup would be a good candidate for that distinction. It’s an absolutely delicious soup. The combination of roasted carrots and apples makes sense in that the carrots provide a pleasant sweetness and the tangy apples serve as a bit of a foil for that sweetness The ginger lends just a bit of assertiveness while the ground toasted pistachios provide a savory quality. Texturally, the soup has a thick, creamy but not gloppy consistency.
My week-long visit to the Charleston area left so many aspects of Lowcountry cuisine unexplored that another visit or more is a must. It took a visit to EVO for me to take in two other Southern staples: housemade pickles and pimento cheese, an appetizer served with the restaurant’s fabulous bread. The housemade pickles include pickled green tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, both of which are spectacular. Pickling isn’t necessarily intended to render vegetables lip-puckering tart. Mission accomplished. Both tomatoes and cucumbers are crisp, fresh and pickled just enough to accentuate their natural flavors without obfuscating them.
Even better is the housemade pimento cheese. If South Carolina’s nickname wasn’t “The Palmetto State,” it should be “The Pimento State.” Pimento cheese is revered in the deep south, but nowhere more than in the Carolinas. Although Cheddar is the traditional foundation for most pimento cheese spreads, EVO occasionally throws a curve ball by using goat cheese to which “personality” is added via cayenne pepper and finely chopped cherry peppers (pimentos). The pimento spreads easily on the bread, but if you eat the entire loaf, you may not have room left for the pizza. That would be criminal.
As chronicled in my review of Melvin’s Legendary Bar-B-Q,in South Carolina pork is king. That doesn’t apply solely to barbecue. EVO’s signature pizza is the magnificent Pork Trifecta, so named because it’s topped with housemade sausage, bacon and pepperoni, three ingredients only a cardiologist (and the Child Bride) wouldn’t love. This is pork candy for the rest of us, the true trifecta of porcine perfection and it’s better than I could possibly describe it. Available on an eight- or twelve-inch size, it’s also topped with red sauce, the house pulled mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano, all in perfect proportion.
Whether or not EVO belongs on the pantheon of America’s thirty-five very best pizzas is debatable. It’s certainly among the five best pizzas I’ve ever experienced. So many great pizzas, so very little time…that’s the problem with trying to rank and rate the very best.
1075 E Montague Ave
North Charleston, South Carolina
LATEST VISIT: 17 April 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pork Trifecta; Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Apple Soup; Assorted housemade pickles, bread, housemade pimento cheese