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Chapel Hill Pizza Update

Though I have been walking Franklin Street for quite a few years, I had never tried Peppers. I had once stopped in for a slice, but some tattooed teenage snot gave me a hard time and I walked out (this kind of thing happens a lot downtown: I once had the philistine audacity to rent "The O.C." at Visart Video and the clerk frisbeed my credit card at my face). In any case, the reopened Peppers a few doors down seems to have toned down the punk rock attitude considerably, and I decided to give it a proper try. The result was complete disappointment. The music was loud and grating; the plates were filthy; and my request for an "extra crispy" pie yielded a distinctly underbaked pie, pale and doughy. The pie was comparable to those served at Franklin Street's three other mediocre pizzerias. Too much cheese glopped atop a heavy and cardboardy crust.

A while ago I took the advice of Suse (I believe) and headed to Bocci near Southpoint. I have come to share her opinion that while not exemplary, Bocci's pizza is the best in the area. The NY Style edges out Alfredo's, but I like even better the brick-oven style, which is lighter and crispier and redolent of garlic. The crust is a tad cardboardy where it should be gluteny but otherwise it's a fine pizza. Bocci is not going to erase a yearning for Wooster Square or the North End, but it makes the best of a bad situation.

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  1. Have you tried Amante's Pizza in Carrborro (and Durham, and Cary)? It's my personal delivery choice here (for basic, not-fancy 'za). I've heard other people (young UNC grads) speak fondly of Peppers, but I never saw the attraction.

    Amante Gourmet Pizza
    300 E Main St Ste F, Carrboro, NC 27510

    3 Replies
    1. re: ksherk

      Peppers is all about the scene, not about the pizza (thoroughly mediocre). Amante, particularly their "Specialty Gourmet Pizzas" are ok. Amante seems to be the default for most UNC departments.

      I like Alfredos (whole pies much better than slices) but love IP3. Part of it is that I like the people and that they air soccer matches but Angelo and Vinnie also make a really good pizza. It isn't anything pretentious or fancy, just good, simple pizza.

      Alfredo's Pizza Villa
      201 S Estes Dr, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

      Italian Pizzeria III
      508 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

      1. re: brokegradstudent

        Numerous people have extolled Italian Pizzeria III on this board. I can appreciate that the atmosphere is appealingly unpretentious and authentically northeastern feeling, but I found the pie to be not that different from the pies at Franklin St. Pizzeria and NY Pizza. It all tastes the same to me: nondescript cheese and characterless crust. Alfredo's stands slightly apart by virtue of its crust, which has some texture and spring. The rule of thumb is that pizza crust must succeed by the standards of bread; it cannot be a mere cheese-delivery device.

        Easily the best pizza in town -- though belonging to an entirely different tradition and price category -- is served at Panzanella. Amante never thrilled me; among other problems, it has a weird flavor.


        1. re: Sinophile

          I *really* like the pizza at Panzanelle (which I believe you first pointed me to), especially the pesto one. I do find that the tomatoes or eggplant can make it a little soggy though. Still and all, a great pie.

          And I'm an Alfredo fan for when I just want a good, bendy slice of pizza.

    2. David,

      have you tried Mellow Mushroom's pizza? I declare it my favorite pizza joint now. The crust is definitely not NY style. It has a nice chewy texture with a nutty, sourdoughy flavor. But what sets their pizzas apart are the toppings. Very fresh and they don't skimp. The American Tobacco location has to be one of if not the most attractive pizza restaurant in the Triangle.

      And their salads and subs are good too.

      1. I'm a big fan of Pepper's "House Stromboli" (no peppers & add mushrooms). But yeah, I think the main draw is the punk/indy atmosphere.

        1. I like a couple of Peppers' specialty slices because of the ingredients, but their standard pie isn't anything more than average.

          If I want good pizza, I head to Sal's at the corner of MLK and Homestead. They will make the crust extra crispy if you ask, and it's good. Order pepperoni and garlic... yum.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Graig

            Agreed, Sal's is way better than anything on Franklin!

            I am a big fan of Ciao Bella at Cole Park Plaza between CH and Pittsboro. I hate 'zza with too much cheese, and their slices have just a slight sprinkle of cheese, and the topping you select is featured more prominently.

            And...AND! It's far enough out of the way so that it's not overrun with tarhooligan athletic event attendees on gamedays.

          2. I for one like Peppers quite a bit. I think their red sauce is what makes it. They or IPIII is where I end up for a slice depending on which side of Franklin I'm on at the time.

            1. I hear CiCi's crafts a mighty fine pie...

              Cici's Pizza
              4600 Old Chapel Hill Rd, Durham, NC 27707

              2 Replies
              1. re: SenorSuarez

                BAN HIM! Cici's???? It's the American equivalent of the Chinese dumpling-from-cardboard story. Just with more salt.

                Good thing I know you're kidding. At least I think you are...

                1. re: peetoteeto

                  lol... they are indeed a step down from what i used to get in high school ;)

              2. I'll go try Bocci then.

                It is as hard to get great pizza in NC as it is to get great BBQ outside of eastern NC. Chicago style just doesn't do it for me, alas, otherwise I'd order from Taste of Chicago (or whatever it is they're actually called).

                Real NY style or Boston pies are what I crave. Lombardi's has become a must stop in The City, and I'd be thrilled if even a Bertucci's opened up around here.

                We finally gave up locally, and the spouse makes great homemade pizza, from the crust up.

                The problem seems to be that pizza is a simple thing that you can't skimp on. The crust must be made consistently, it must be whole milk mozzeralla, the sauce is . . well, the sauce is as individual as chili is, but again it has to be consistent where you go to get it, the toppings MUST be fresh and high quality. Cheap pepperoni isn't gonna buy you any friends, old bitter garlic can ruin a whole pizza. To make a good pizza, like so many other things in this world, you have to have pride in what you are doing.

                4 Replies
                1. re: fussycouple

                  I like Lombardi's, too and since Sinophile mentioned my Bocci recommendation I thought I'd send you a shout out before you try Bocci. This is why I recommended it in the first place: my husband is pizza guy- he makes a mean pizza, but he still tries everybody else's pizza. If we're having a "food-for-fuel" night - i.e. don't want to dine, but too lazy to cook - he'll happily suggest Bocci's and for their brick-oven pie (not the NY style!) and a side of sauteed spinach, which we love to pile on the pizza - we're wierd like that. I grew up in the South and Bocci sort of reminds me of the old-style, inauthentic Italian places like Capri's (anybody remember those?). It doesn't really pretend to be authentic Italian, it's just unpretentiously Americanized Italian. So I guess it's a kind of retro experience for me. The za is not always the same and every now and then the crust has a little burny edge to it, but that's because it's brick oven and hotter than all get out.

                  1. re: suse

                    I grew up eating pizza at Darryls (the original before it was ruined by franchising many years later) on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, so I think I have an inkling about what you're talking about here.

                    That being said, thanks for the recommendation, and we're going to try it tonight (the brick oven style for me, thank you!).

                    1. re: fussycouple

                      I'll me curious to hear what you thought.

                      1. re: suse

                        We had 3 salads: 2 caesar and 1 house, grilled scallops with proscuito, and an x-large brick oven style pizza with pepperoni & roasted peppers.

                        The salads were fine & the dressings were good. The grilled scallops were fine for where we were, and the pizza was imo quite good, easily the best local pizza I've had in years.

                        The prices are darn decent too, especially considering what you get.

                        Oh and we had 2 small canolis for dessert after a conversation that went like this: "What do you make here? "Oh nothing, it's all pre-ordered" "Who makes the cannoli's then? "OH well we make those Here (titters). It's the only one we actually make here" "Ok, we'll have 2 small ones then".

                        The wine list is more than passingly acceptable (again considering where you are), and their wines by the glass have a nice variety of styles to them.

                        We'll be going back, soon.

                2. Y'all... no one mentioned the Loop (or Brixx - sister restaurant) ... am I the only fan of these two out there?

                  (and, as a UNC grad, I love Pepper's for one thing only... atmosphere and nostalgia --- though, as someone else noted, the stromboli "ain't" that bad!)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Tehama

                    Both Brixx and The Loop are perfectly fine, in my opinion. (Just don't order salmon on your salad at Brixx's....bleych!)

                    But I doubt any fan of NY or Boston pie will claim either as great institutions of pizza. I kind of know where they're coming from, having grown up in the Philly area.

                    I went through a stage where I loved Anna Maria's pizza in Carrboro. I haven't been in a while, but last time I went it was still "all that." Other opinions?

                    1. re: peetoteeto

                      i like anna maria's quite a bit, but it is second to alfredos for sure.