Wednesday, March 23, 2016
When I told my girlfriend that I had been asked to write an article about Spartanburg’s pizza scene, she crunched her face into a quizzical smirk and asked, “What pizza scene?” The attitude was expected. My girlfriend is a bona fide Yank—born and raised just outside of New York City—which means, among other things, that she maintains a steadfast discrimination toward any pizza that hasn’t been hand-tossed and oven-baked north of the Potomac.
For her and every other Northeasterner, pizza isn’t just food; it’s cultural identity, a sacred matter of craft. It’s a thin layer of tomato sauce topped with authentic mozzarella, dashed with oregano and red pepper flakes, all of it spread across a huge high-gluten crust that folds in half. Anything less is not to be taken seriously. But I have news for her: the pizza makers of Sparkle City are more than just serious—they’re seriously good. Whether you’re a local or just passing through town, do your stomach a favor and gorge yourself silly at any one of these Upstate pizza powerhouses.
The paint has faded from the floor tile and the dining room tables wobble and shake, but let’s be real—you’re not worried about interior design when you’re looking for great pizza. While the appearance of Venus Pie doesn’t seem like much, “much” is precisely what you’ll get from their pizza.
Located on East Main across the road from the stately First Presbyterian Church, this street-corner pizzeria doles out equally hefty portions of NY-style goodness and southern hospitality. Those with smaller appetites will be patting their bellies after one enormous slice, while others will be challenged to finish. Take-home boxes are not unusual around here. A full pie is the size of a stop sign. The cheese is plentiful and melty; the toppings copious, the crust soft and foldable. Add a frosty draft beer to the mix and a full and happy feeling is a sure bet. But pizza is only half the charm of Venus Pie. The waitresses are bubbly, the pizza cooks full of sass and jokes. For the optimum experience, slip a few quarters into the vintage arcade machine in the back.
Bring your A-game appetite to Gerhard’s Café: the pies are thick and stacked, the toppings more than generous. This Euro-themed biergarten restaurant is located on East Main near Fresh Market. Don’t let the location fool you. The pies at Gerhard’s are as stellar as any you’ll find in the heart of downtown. Your pizza might look small on its personal-sized tray, but it comes fully-loaded with a buffet of fixings.
Your best bet is the Greek or Hungarian pie. The Greek is piled with Kalamata olives, roasted garlic, ground lamb, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. The Hungarian is a veritable gut-buster, joyously laden with pepperoni, big flaps of salami, and tons of cheese. There’s also a healthy selection of beer, local and imported, and plenty of soups, salads and starters to choose from. Gerhard’s warm “old country” décor, complete with black and white portraits of Bavarian huntsmen and rusty farm equipment, provides a cozy backdrop while you relax and stuff your face.
Rounding out our list of Hub City pizza pros is the Brickhouse Pizzeria on Daniel Morgan Avenue, just behind the Hub City Bookshop. A roomy family-style restaurant with an attached pub in the back (the locally-renowned Upstairs Bar), this classic joint sells pizza for all tastes.
Among regulars, the meat lover’s pie is considered an institution, but other not-to-be-missed signatures include the bacon cheeseburger, the Bronx Bomber, and the Buffalo Chicken, which comes with sautéed onions, bleu cheese crumbles, and a secret spicy sauce. Be warned: the Brickhouse wait staff believes beer and pizza to be a natural matrimony, and you’re likely to face some good-natured pressure to enjoy both while you dine.
Also worth noting is the always trusty Mellow Mushroom, part of a funky chain that stretches from Salt Lake City to Fort Lauderdale. With outdoor seating and a full menu of pies, this reliable option is just a mile down the road from downtown Spartanburg.
Spartanburg is truly a pizza town—east, west, north, and south. There are more than a dozen other spots that didn’t make this article, so get out there and explore the local fare.
Tim Marsh, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Tim Marsh is a former writer in residence with the Hub City Writers Project. He is a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Wales Aberystwyth and teaches English at Wofford College.