Rarely do things live up to hype. I remember New Year’s Eve 1999 – talk about huge hype, that was lots of fun seeing people scramble to buy truckloads of water and other goods for the coming of the digital zombie apocalypse. But ultimately, the year 2000 came and went without much of that hype being good for anything other than a few people’s lifetime supply of purified water and beef jerky.
There have been plenty of other times in my life where something has been so hyped up that even when I actually got to the point of experiencing whatever it was, I’d be disappointed because the advertisement and buzz created a sense of excitement that could never be fulfilled.
Pies & Pints had a lot of buzz, and I had heard several firsthand accounts of its amazing pizzas and beers. People would wait for two hours for seating and would still come out happy. That is a LOT of buildup to have to live up to, and I was a bit weary finally making it into their Capitol Street location. I decided it would be best to experience it with others and was able to coordinate a few of my coworkers to join me for the adventure.
But today had its own hype in the form of a wintry storm. There were a few times today where I looked outside my office window and made faces at the snow that was falling as quickly as rain. I thought there was no way that it would stick, but by the end of the day walking out to my car felt like someone had spilled a water silo filled with slurpees onto the parking lot.
This led to a few of my further away coworkers to back out, but I was determined to go anyway. I had looked at Pies & Pints menu and had already selected everything I wanted. After such extensive time planning what I was going to eat hours in advance, I decided I would attach a small sled to my cat and have her take me to the restaurant if I had to.
Sadly, that did not happen as the hype of the weather turned out to be just hype. The slurpee had obviously just fallen into the parking lot at work, the roads were clear, and I probably could have even taken my bike. But I knew what I was ordering and knew I would need my car to take my leftovers home with me.
The atmosphere at Pies & Pints is contemporary. There is a narrow hall to a rear portion of the restaurant that opens it up a bit, but they have done well with their space restrictions (although not as good as the Domestic Transformer). A pleasant fountain is also in the back part of the building, so those looking for a more intimate setting may want to ask to sit there. However, don’t be too picky as I know from hearing stories that if you arrive during dinner time typically you should plan to spend time waiting. In fact, that is the biggest complaint I have about Pies & Pints. A restaurant that is so obviously popular should have reservations, or the little vibrating beeper things like you see at chain restaurants.
Surprisingly I was most excited by their claims at having draft root beer. Any time you see this on the menu – skip getting a glass. Just get a pitcher. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I got a pint of it and instantly after sipping it I am sure the irises of my eyes expanded in acknowledgment of total taste bud bliss. Our waiter, who was outstanding, kindly gave me a pitcher soon afterward.
It is a testament to its dark vanilla earthiness that I ended up drinking almost the entire pitcher. I shared some with my colleagues, but I was happy that they allowed me to nurse the thing to the point where my bladder had a major issue with my decision making abilities. Seriously – this beverage kept me from having a draft beer and that is unheard of!
Then came the appetizer. One of my friends had arrived first and ordered their cheesy garlic bread. She had saved a few pieces for the rest of us for which I was thankful. The bread was crisp, the garlic balanced with the wonderfully cheesy topping and the marinara sauce was just ever so slightly chunky. It was a great beginning that was followed by one of the most amazing appetizers I think I have ever had (short of something I had at Disneyland once – but Disney uses magic and that’s hard to beat).
Rosemary and Roasted Garlic Flatbread. It could almost be a meal in itself. These wedge sliced pieces of divinity were covered in a garlicky sauce that looked a bit like sweet potato. On top of this was drizzled a balsamic reduction sauce, and it was served with a small bowl of warm goat cheese with the consistency of whipped cream. It actually looked so much like a dessert that our last colleague to arrive thought it actually was dessert! She didn’t even seem to fully believe us when we told her what it actually was, and I don’t blame her. The mix of flavors in the bread and topping itself would have astounded anyone, but the goat cheese was so delicious I wouldn’t let the waiter take the leftovers away (I put some on my pizza later which was an excellent idea if I do say so myself).
I ordered a large pizza with half Thai Pie and half Mediterranean Shrimp Pie. I had never been exposed to shrimp on pizza, so why not double up? Both recipes have shrimp, and it turns out that they must do something to saute and cook them in butter first because they have a soft and flavorful consistency that removes the fishiness and just leaves you with an overall satisfying flavor that blends into the respective ingredients of the pie.
The Thai Pie is made with a curry/coconut sauce that is such a perfect color of orange, I thought it might be cheddar cheese for a moment. It also has a mix of freshly cut cilantro and basil generously tossed on top. It had a mild flavor overall with just a hint of Thai spiciness. Those of you who have read some of my other reviews know that I like a decent amount of heat with my spice, but surprisingly it worked well within a pizza. It was like every so often I would be reminded that there was spice, but it was humble enough to allow the other flavors to have their time on my palate. The coconut was subdued by the other flavors, however, and I wish it had stood out a bit more.
The Mediterranean Shrimp Pie was a bit tastier in my opinion (although as you can see, I thought both were excellent). The combination of artichoke hearts with the aforementioned buttery shrimp and a good portion of garlic just all fit together like the a final puzzle piece. I am not sure what that means in culinary terms, really, but I think it might mean it was tasty. When I added goat cheese, it put the flavor profile over the top. I suppose it could be that goat cheese is one of those super ingredients, but I think it more likely that it just is at home in the Mediterranean.
I love it when the hype turns out to be true and the long lines and waiting turn out to be false (pro tip – go during a snowstorm and you’ll be fine). Overall, I would rank Pies & Pints as one of the best pizza places I have ever been. There is one in Oregon that might give them a run for their money, but that place lacks draft root beer.
I ended up going back tonight. One of my coworkers who I went with yesterday ended up inviting me to join her and other friends. She mentioned that people she had not seen for years she had been running in to at Pies & Pints and I believe it. It really is like everyone in Kanawha valley and beyond has decided they need to have some of their pizza.
Tonight, I was almost going to go for a salad (what was I thinking?) but ended up instead trying out the Grape Pie. It was mild and will appeal to anyone who prefers mild cheeses and subtle sweet flavors. Cheese and grapes go well together, so it is a natural sort of combination when I think about it. It was a bit too mild for me so I added some red pepper flakes, ground pepper and parmesan cheese on top and it made it even more delicious than it already was.
I tried one of the Bridge Brew Works Oatmeal Stout draft pints instead of the root beer. It was an okay stout, but nothing exciting about it. I almost wished I had gotten another root beer!
And at lunch I tried a piece of leftover Black Bean Pie my colleague gave me last night. It is hard to review something that is reheated, but it is easy to identify that if the pizza were fresh on the pan it would be an easy pizza win that would fit in with any of the others I was able to try over the past two evenings!