Johnny B’s friendly chefs welcome families to relax over a hand-tossed pie, baked wings, and hoagies in a festive, colorful dining room. Families sharing dinner glance over the menu to pick an appetizer such as baked salt-and-pepper wings or garlic-butter pretzel drops as addictive as stealing candy from babies. For pizza, the classic Big Toad is crowded with savory bacon, beef, and ham balanced with crunches of green pepper and black olive. An alternative to traditional mozzarella and tomato sauce, the Frozen Pond pie spreads a base of oil and garlic under tomatoes, onions, and three cheeses to bake a pie as cheesy as an Elvis impersonator raised on a dairy farm. A team of tasty wraps, hoagies, and pockets tempts diners to stray from the pizza list in favor of a buffalo-chicken wrap seasoned with ranch, Bulliard’s hot sauce, and gooey provolone or a Johnny’s club hoagie accepting membership from ham, cheese, turkey, and bacon, if it gets its act together. If diners drop in between Monday and Wednesday, they can split delicious desserts such as the house-favorite cinnamon drops.
In the kitchen at Mario’s Pizza, chefs heap cheese, steak, and sun-dried tomatoes onto oversize New York–style and sicilian pizza crusts. A white pizza covered in ricotta cheese, fresh garlic, and mozzarella reminds taste buds of eating a delicious snowman, and comes in sizes ranging from 10 inches to as large as 19 inches. Baked pasta and sandwiches, such as a philly steak or veal parmigiana, round out the menu.
To craft their braciola (italian beef rollups), Open Kitchen’s chefs begin with a large slice of top beefsteak. They stuff the steak with fresh italian sausage, prosciutto, and genoa salami, then simmer the concoction and serve it with pasta pomodoro. This is just one example of their vast menu of Italian fare, which also includes ravioli parmigiana, pizza, and sub sandwiches. Perhaps the pièce de résistance is Open Kitchen’s mixed Italian cuisine platter—pasta covered with chicken livers, slices of veal, chicken parmigiana, meatballs, and mushrooms for one or two.
According to Villa Antonio's chef, there are only two secret ingredients in romantic fine dining: abundance and flavor. The menu strikes a careful balance between the two, from the New Zealand lamb chops crowned with melted gorgonzola to the mandarin-orange pesto in the grilled diver scallops to the dessert trolley's pilings of cannoli, tiramisu, and italian cheesecake.
That abundance extends to the spirit of the staff—who upholds the restaurant's motto, "Where you are never a stranger twice"—as well as the decor. At the Ballantyne location, a stone rotunda fitted with hand-blown glass looms over the dining area, while a fountain casts shimmers of colored light across the outdoor patio. At the South Boulevard location, eyes are drawn to the bar area via the black-and-gold flower pattern that dominates the floor. Additional audio-visual flavor can be found on Friday and Saturday nights, when live music helps conjure a romantic atmosphere, much like the sound of Barry White cackling like a witch.
Toppers Pizza uses house-made dough whipped up fresh every day to create its eclectic selection of 19 different house-specialty pizzas. Conventional pies such as the Ultimate Pepperoni Topper complement creative pizzas such as the Chicken Tuscano Topper, decorated with spinach, garlic-roasted tomatoes, feta cheese, and grilled chicken. All Toppers’ pizzas are capable of peaceful cohabitation with Topperstix, breadsticks covered in cheese, garlic butter, and toppings that range from bacon to taco meat. Eaters can amplify any 14-inch house pizza by turning it into a TallBoy—a pizza built upon a Topperstix crust. Both Toppers locations are open until at least 1 a.m. seven days a week, making them a convenient way to fuel up for a long night of berating constellations.
Pie Town approaches each pizza as a work of crusted art, with local ingredients weaving in and out of each pie like the woodwinds in a cheese-based concerto. Pie Town uses both classic and 12-grain crusts as doughy circumferences for its pizza creations. Pie Town's pies are cooked for less than three minutes in the 800-degree heat of the restaurant's oven. When pizzas are done cooking, they are immediately brought to the table for inspection by the customer's taste buds. Acclaimed pizzas on Pie Town's dinner menu include the margherita ($12), which employs mozzarella cheese from the Chapel Hill Creamery, and the Bacon and Egg ($13), where the eggs cook atop the piping hot pizza like magnifying-glassed ants on a bacon-and-arugula sidewalk. An assortment of traditional toppings ($2 each), such as pepperoni and Italian sausage, are also available as slingshot ammunition. Pie Town also serves a selection of appetizers ($5–$6), salads ($6–$7), and desserts such as gelato du jour or chocolate fondue with strawberries, marshmallows, and Rice Krispies treats ($7).