The same love for pizza and beer that fueled three college students in 1974 transformed their lives as they expanded their business from one rundown building in Atlanta to 100 Mellow Mushroom restaurants across 15 states today. Each eatery owes its individual style to each location's being locally owned and operated, much like impressionist painters owed their individual style to their number of ears. In the kitchens, grilled and deli-style hoagies are assembled and calzones and pizzas baked in stone hearths using dough made with natural spring water. Though many of the restaurant's dishes have remained on the menu since its inception, the culinary crew frequently devises new, often gluten-free, dishes to keep senior-ranking pepperonis from becoming too powerful. Servers pair dishes with their location's own set of local brews, which fit into a collection of up to 100 microbrewed and imported beers on tap and in bottles. Brewers such as Bell's, Abita, and Dogfish Head are also featured in regular beer events.
At La Bocca Urban Pizzeria, preparations for pizza crusts start a full day before they hit the brick oven. Chefs knead organic dough by hand, watch it rise for 24 hours, and then top the crusts with gourmet, locally procured ingredients such as Queen Creek Olive Mill olives, Schreiner’s Fine Sausages meat, and housemade pulled pork.
The rest of the Mediterranean-inspired menu proves equally indulgent. Chefs layer bruschetta planks with fig and smoked prosciutto and toss pastas with housemade sauces and meatballs molded from grass-fed beef. To grant molars breaks from the rigors of chewing, servers are happy to recommend pairings from the drink menu, which features handcrafted cocktails, European and Arizonan wines, and award-winning sangria.
Named one of the area's top five restaurants by the author of Food Lovers' Guide to Phoenix and Scottsdale and dubbed best neighborhood pizza by Phoenix New Times, Classic Italian Pizza lavishes diners with a slew of dough-based Italian specialties. Swirls of heat from piping hot pies float through the air of the eatery, where patrons can watch as their pizzas and calzones emerge from the arched opening of an oversized brick oven in a puff of savory aromas and Caribbean vacation photos. Artfully selected topping combinations preen atop crusts in classic arrangements, or customized from the menu's slate of 25 gourmet toppings. Meanwhile, palates stay balanced with Italian soda, imported beer, or almost two dozen wine options.
Pizza Pit serves up a hunger-sating menu of Quad City-style pizzas and calzones using a 50-year-old specialty recipe. Grub architects can construct their own piescrapers with a cornucopia of toppings, including salami, jalapeños, sauerkraut, pepperoncinis, and ricotta cheese. The No Joke sausage pizza ($7.75–$18.75) stuffs teams of professional shuffleboarders with pork sirloin sausage, which is blended and slow-cooked in special spices before being blanketed in mozzarella cheese. Heat-seeking palates can enjoy a spicy buffalo chicken pizza ($9.25–$21.75) or an order of jumbo wings ($4.99 for six), available in mild, medium, hot, honey hot, or honey barbecue. Adventure seekers can discover the taco pizza ($9.75–$22.75), which is packed with seasoned pork, pinto bean spread, mozzarella, and cheddar cheese. Diners too hungry to bother with pizza's complicated fractions can bury their tongues alive with one of the pizzeria's homemade baked calzones, such as the ricotta and mozzarella ($7) or the chicken alfredo, loaded with garlic baked chicken, ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar cheese, and a alfredo white sauce ($8.50).
Though Terry "Joe" Black spent more than two decades in the restaurant and food industries, for many years the notion of opening his own pizzeria remained a wistful one. Smitten with the restaurant business during his college years, he spent the first 15 years of his career working for national chains, then another 10 in food distribution. It wasn’t until Black met and befriended Nick Heddings, owner of Arizona Pizza Company in Tucson, that the gears were set in motion to allow Black to make the leap to ownership, spurred in part by Heddings's support and pizza recipe. Black and his wife, Mary, kept the concept simple: a limited menu centered around tasty, New York–style pizza. They resolved to be fanatical about their customers’ experience and to create a welcoming, neighborhood feel. To further that goal, Black and his family—including the son after whom the restaurant is half named—remain active with local schools and organizations to this day.
Their focus on quality and friendliness has paid off. Of Jimmy & Joe’s signature "Serious Slice," blogger Michele Laudig said—as part of the Phoenix New Times’ 100 Favorite Dishes series in 2010—"It's super thin and crisp on the bottom, with puffy, chewy edges." Each gigantic slice is cut from the 24-inch Big Jimmy, arrives on its own metal pan, and, like a celebrity’s engagement ring, is bigger than the average person's head. As testament to its food’s deliciousness, the restaurant has won multiple awards, including the Reader Pick for Best Pizzeria in the East Valley Tribune's 2011 Best of East Valley.