The marketing ploy worked.

The owners of Pies & Pints hoped the sign they put up prior to opening their new restaurant would create a buzz.

It did. People wondered if the name referred to pizza and beer or to dessert and milk?

"We left it vague on purpose," co-owner Chris Chmelka said. "We want people to come in and see what it is and let the place speak for itself. If they come in the door looking for chocolate pie, then great."

Diners, however, won't find chocolate pie.

Instead, they will discover some better-than-good homemade pizza and a choice of 90-plus beers.

Pies & Pints opened May 25 on North Eighth Street in the Haymarket. It's located in the basement beneath Maggie's Vegetarian Wraps in the spot once occupied by Suite One.

The sports bar is owned by Chmelka, Jason Ortmeier and Jim Waterbury. Their idea is simple: Do one thing and do it right.

Pies & Pints specializes in pizza and nothing else, other than breadsticks.

Food

Let's start with the pizza sauce. It's not sweet. In fact, the only sweetener used is honey, Chmelka said.

"We make an ‘adult' sauce,'" he said. "Kids might not like it."

It has a little kick to it. I guessed cayenne pepper. Chmelka admitted he tried cayenne, but found it made the homemade sauce too spicy. He's keeping  secret what he uses.

Whatever the spice, the sauce is very good. It's the first thing my wife and I enjoyed about the pizza, especially since I've never been a fan of sweet sauces.

The crusts also are homemade -- thin, but not crispy.

Diners can build their own pies from the 17 ingredients available, but they may want to try one of the specialty or deluxe pizzas, which is what my wife and I did.

We ordered the mini "Bald Guy Special" (love the name) and "Clucking Good." Pizzas come in five sizes: 8, 10, 12, 14 and 18 inches. Prices range from $3.99 to $18.99 depending on size and ingredients.

The "Bald Guy" featured pepperoni, hamburger, mushrooms, sausage and the homemade sauce. The "Clucking Good" -- Chmelka's favorite -- is a rich pizza with chicken, ham, bacon, mushrooms and an Alfredo sauce.

Other unique pizzas include those made with habaneros ("Flaming Head"), shrimp and crab ("Catch of the Day") and macaroni and cheddar sauce ("Wisconsin's Best).

The pizza is good. I put it on par with The Isles and Piezano's, and that's saying something. Grade: B-plus (More topping choices would push this to an "A.")

Atmosphere

Those who remember Suite One will notice a difference here, a big one. The owners spent three months cleaning and renovating the space. There's new paint -- a blue/gray color scheme -- and new carpeting.

Tall tables and a bar, each with stools, make up the seating. Each table bears a logo of a Big Ten school, which is a great idea since the football and baseball stadiums are nearby as will be the new arena.

The bar has 14 big-screen TVs. Management had DirecTV installed this week for Sunday NFL games.

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I would place a few shorter tables with chairs around the dining room to give an option to those who find the big tables uncomfortable. Grade: B

Service

We caught Pies & Pints during a rough lunch. The server had called in sick, so Chmelka was working the floor, admitting his serving skills were lacking. He didn't notice us -- I teased my wife for picking the Indiana table instead of Nebraska -- until I approached him at the bar.

I know Chmelka from a golf league, so I cut him some slack. But other diners may not have been so understanding. First impressions are important.

The restaurant uses a conveyor oven, which bakes like a deck oven. Cook time is 12 to 13 minutes, which is a little longer than pies prepared at chain restaurants. Why? Pies & Pints prefers to bake their pies longer on a lower heat setting to keep the ingredients from turning to mush, Chmelka said.

The lunch special is a good deal. Diners can enjoy two slices of hamburger, pepperoni or cheese pizzas and a soda for $5. The turn-around is fast for this.

Pizzas also are available for takeout. The restaurant advertises citywide delivery. This also is worth noting: The restaurant plans to sell pizza only by the slice on Husker football game days. Grade: B

Vegetarian friendly

Don't be surprised if more toppings are added. The menu features green peppers, onions, black and green olives, pineapple, mushrooms, jalapenos and tomatoes.

Artichoke hearts?

"I think you're the fifth person to ask me about them," Chmelka said. "I'm looking into it."

I would love to see a few more pepper choices. Adding a few more cheeses, including blue and feta, would be a good idea, too. Grade: B-minus

​Reach Jeff Korbelik at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSjeffkorbelik.

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