As a kid growing up in the Tri-State area, I have to admit I am biased when it comes to pizza, bagels and pasta. The half-Jew part of me weeps with joy at the prospect of consuming a halfway decent bagel with gravlox. Oy.
The reason why I’ve gathered you all here today is to underscore the fact that I can be an absolute idiot when it comes to leaving the safety of the peninsula. I’m the equivalent to the person that lives in the City who thinks that life ceases to exist once you leave the 212 area code. What is there that’s really all that worthwhile for me that isn’t within biking distance of my house?
In a word: plenty.
I have lived in Charleston for long enough at this point in my life that I should have ventured to Park Circle before 5 weeks ago. The first time was for Sesame Burger and unfortunately I did not make it a blogging occasion. I have to say that in my head I had set the bar so low that I didn’t deem it good enough to merit a blog post. I am such a snob. On said occasion, I dined with MC and ordered a turkey burger. While not the most fantastic burger I have ever had the liberty of noshing on, it was a revelation within the realm of turkey burgers. The sweet potato fries were an absolutely perfect crispy texture and their homemade mayonnaise was tasty enough that I felt indulgent enough to dredge my fries through it. All in all, I feel incredibly sheepish and am willing to admit that I was wrong about Park Circle. It is most definitely worth the short trip up I-26 to get a great turkey burger.
Now that I’ve properly prefaced my recent foray into food outside of downtown, I will delve further into the true purpose behind my post and also the brief discussion about pizza.
I went to EVO.
Nationally renowned for their thin crust and delicious locally sourced ingredients, EVO is situated right in the middle of the Park Circle restaurant scene. Naturally I was simultaneously curious, excited, and skeptical of this “new” restaurant. While I’ve heard literally nothing other than glowing reviews about this establishment, they were still a foreign bird to me. I always try to maintain an open mind when trying new places but it’s usually really easy to slip into snarky critic mode. This next question is rhetorically posed to anyone that’s ever written a critical statement before: Is it not so much more satisfying to write a bad review of a restaurant/book/movie than a good one? I know according to Thomas Hobbes we are all inherently evil but I refuse to fully subscribe to his point of view. While I do thoroughly enjoy delivering harsh criticism when it is due, conversely, I also relish the opportunity to heap praise upon those that are deserving of recognition. While many of my contemporaries are cynics, not naming names here people, I like to think of myself as a positive realist.
Any potentially negative thoughts (if any) that I may harbor about the place are secondary and irrelevant; EVO is thoroughly and undeniably fantastic on all fronts. Very rarely do I dine at a restaurant and leave raving like a crazy woman for weeks about how spot on my food was.
The lovely Patty purchased me a wonderful iPad for my birthday and dear lord does it take absolutely fabulous photos. Hence ^. Also, let’s talk for a brief moment about the subject of said picture. This, darlings, is Kale Caesar Salad. Kale is far more dense and less water-soluble than, say, romaine or arugula. Therefore, this works far better when the lettuce is shredded to smaller, more bite-sized pieces. Seeing as how we are still very much in winter, kale is in season for the time being. When life hands you lemons, y’all. Being the type of person that very much enjoys both Caesar and kale, I was obviously drawn to this bizarre salad. This dish had an incredibly successful payoff with a creamy Caesar dressing that wasn’t too garlicky as so many of them can be. The golden beets and cherry tomatoes lightened up the density of the dish with crispy little punches among the leafy, dark green legumes. I would handily recommend this and most definitely would order it again.
This, I was less impressed with. While I did and I always do consistently appreciate fresh veggies in salads, and especially fresh produce in general, I think the dressing was substantially weaker with this dish. Granted, I am comparing what is essentially a very good salad to a particularly fantastic one, truly one of the best that I’ve experienced in Charleston. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t like it, it just wasn’t on par with the craftsmanship exemplified by the Kale Caesar. Not a failure but not nearly as memorable.
I know that you want to hear about the pizzas but you’ll have to be patient through two more FANTASTIC appetizers first. Bear with me, we’re diving in together on this one.
This was something fun that I’m not sure is even on the menu. Patty and Trudi are good friends with the people that own EVO so we got some awesome stuff that’s indicative of the fresh, tasty dishes that regularly come out of their kitchen. The bruschetta was nothing short of delicious. The mozzarella was sinfully creamy and fresh, the tomatoes tasted like they were end-of-the-summer quality, and the pesto was most likely their famous pistachio pesto, normally used in a perfectly excessive way on their famous pizza. I wish this was on the menu because it was sublime perfection.
And this, oohhhh this. The baguettes with smoked meatballs were possibly my favorite thing up to this point. So moist with such a robust, meaty flavor – the opposite of those crumbly, dried out “mama’s” meatballs that I grew up “enjoying” at many a mom and pop Italian place in New Jersey. They should take a lesson from some southerners that make really fantastic New York style pizza: keep them meatballs juicy! Looking back, I feel like the excessive use of breadcrumbs to hold together meatballs that I’d eaten in my youth seems, well, excessive. Yes, I sound redundant but I’m mostly surprised. Why can a southerner make better meatballs than any I’ve had in New York OR New Jersey?
Oh, yeah, there was pizza too. This was one of my favorites, topped with arugula, feta, parmesean, and mozzarella. It had an almost wet texture with the mozzarella but it didn’t effect the crispy crust whatsoever; it still held up beautifully under the pressure of supporting all that melty cheese and wilty arugula. Still, not the best pizza of the evening, but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed for eating crackers.
This was half of a tie for first place for me, the other coming up in just a minute. The combined flavors and textures of mushrooms, pine nut pesto, havarti, and parmesean do a memorable pizza make. I cannot express how much I LOVED this pizza. It was hearty and delicate at the same time while also containing elements that usually make my mouth water: funghi and pesto. It was stellar and hands down the best thing I’d eaten at that meal until I tried the following…
I KNOW, RIGHT. When have I EVER been attracted to the “less is more” theory when it comes to pizza? The answer is never. I am not that person that calls up a pizza place and says “give me your best plain pie”. I’m more the “house special” person who dies a little at the prospect of maximum topping overload. Give me meats on my veggies, 3 cheeses, olives, and pesto. DONE. However, this pizza had none of that. It was elegant in its simplicity and it snuck up on me. I thought for a fact that my ultimate pizza match would have been the “pork trifecta” pizza and that was the beginning, middle, and end of it. Not so fast, chief. While the pork trifecta was indeed delicious, it was too flashy. I appreciate sausage, pepperoni, and bacon with great fervor. But I’m being honest with you, there was no topping this pizza. Even the allure of more than one pork product on a pizza couldn’t take away from the silkiness in flavor and texture exhibited by the Margherita. I appreciate the restraint shown here; to call this pizza “plain” would be an affront.
I would like to finish with an open statement to EVO:
After having eaten several of your delicious confections, I have come to a conclusion about what it is that your company represents. Your pathos is excellence in simplicity and not only do I fully appreciate and enjoy what you do, I will make it my business to inform as many as I can that you have, without a doubt, created a perfect pizza. Your passion for what you do does not go unnoticed and I thank you for bestowing upon me a culinary gift that I legitimately cherish.