It's no small feat to whip up one of The Olive Branch Café's gourmet pizzas. The painstaking process begins long before lunchtime, with chefs preparing dough fresh for the day each morning. There's barely a moment to rest before orders begin flying in and the pizza makers spring into action, showering crusts with housemade sauces and high-quality cheeses. Their brows furrowed in concentration, their hands blurs, they layer pizzas with fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and fine spanish olives. Once the pies arrive triumphantly to the dining room, the chefs turn their attention to thick muffuletta subs, plump meatball calzones, and the jambalaya pastas that caught the attention of Gambit’s Best of New Orleans guide.
Out in the casual dining room, beneath warm red walls peppered with abstract art, guests clink glasses, feeling more content than a robot in a microchip factory. There, owner Russell "Rusty" Autry often strolls around the room, greeting newcomers and exchanging jokes with regulars.
Marco's Pizza founder Pasquale "Pat" Giammarco began helping out at his family’s pizzeria when he was just a boy. The eatery provided a taste of home to the Gianmarco clan, who moved to the United States from Italy when Pat was 9 years old. Together with his father, young Pat learned the secrets to creating exceptional pizza sauce: three different types of vine-ripened tomatoes and spices that can only be imported from Italy or the moon. The perfected sauce recipe continues to guide Pat’s kitchen operations, although these days he has considerably more help. Marco's Pizza has 450 locations in more than half the states as well as in the Bahamas, each store tossing fresh pizza dough daily before sprinkling on a trio of fresh cheeses.
Fresco Café and Pizzeria has been serving pizza, pasta, and golden-brown strombolis for more than a decade. Nearly everything on the menu is made in house, including white or whole-wheat pizza crusts, hand-rolled meatballs, and the pasta sauces used to write the daily specials on the wall. Fresco Café's lavash rolls, a unique specialty, are worth a try—they feature roasted eggplant and pesto, pulled pork, or gyro meat rolled into warm lavash flatbread and served with rosemary potatoes. Of course, it wouldn't be Fresco Café if al fresco dining weren't an option—patrons can enjoy their Italian food inside or out on the patio.
Coco Bamboo takes the traditional concept of Italian American pizza joints and whisks it away to a tropical tiki wonderland with a menu full of pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and smoothies. Breaded mozzarella sticks ($5) or a small avocado and asparagus salad served with a slice of pita bread and artichoke hearts ($5.75) pad gullets for the impending deluge of grub or errant falling coconuts. Pizza purists can pummel a classic dough disk, such as the minimalist tomato, basil, and pesto-topped margarita (14", $17.25), and palate pushers can nosh on the muffaletta, mounded with ham, pepperoni, salami, mortadella, and olive mix, and also available with a wheat crust (16", $21). Spinach alfredo lasagna ($11.75) or a voodoo smoked house sandwich stacked with chicken or shrimp, barbecue sauce, onions, and melted cheese ($7.75) appeal to carbo-loaders.
The basic pizza needs no introduction, but Pompeii's menu discloses the secrets of even the most elusive species of pie. Order a large E's Special with barbecue sauce, chicken, pineapple, bacon, jalapeños, and extra cheese (16", $17.95), or go for the large Big Round (chicken, bacon, pepperoni, and extra cheese with a side of ranch, $17.95). Pizza heretics can rejoice with a stromboli (pepperoni, ham, Genoa salami, and cheese inside a doughy cocoon, $7.95), Philly cheesesteak ($7.95), or a huge order of 20 Buffalo wings ($16.95, also available in barbecue flavor). You can also order small, not exactly small, and bigger-than-your-head pies with any of 19 toppings, including black or green olives, anchovies, and shrimp (one-topping 8", $4.50; 12", $9.95; and 16", $13.45; additional charge for premium-topping chicken or shrimp). Wash any solid foods down with a half-liter bottle of Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper soft drinks ($1.25).
Reginelli’s Pizzeria merges a menu of traditional Italian fare with casual, modern décor to forge an Old World dining experience for contemporary feasters. Hand-tossed by a crust master upon request, the Classic Combo pizza bursts forth from kitchens crowned with a panoply of pepperoni and italian sausage, a scepter of fresh veggies, and a gooey cloak of mozzarella ($11.95 for 10”, $16.75 for 14”). The Smokin’ Chicken pie honors its piquant namesake by pairing a spicy smoked-tomato sauce with marinated chicken breast, pancetta, and a snapshot of George Clooney in a chicken suit ($11.95 for 10”, $16.75 for 14”). The Uptowner sandwich’s melty mélange of smoked turkey breast, provolone, and hot-pepper relish ($8.25) proudly represents Reginelli’s focaccia-based capital alongside The Downtowner’s posse of Italian meats, mozzarella, and kalamata-olive pesto ($8.25). Diners can deploy forks into the lush forestry of a refreshing Chicken Salad ($9.75) or navigate the tortellini trees sprouting across the Shrimp Forrest’s loch of spicy red-pepper-cream sauce ($12.50).