Tuesday, July 17, 2012

restaurant review: durham pizza

Everyone loves a good pizza, right?

When I first moved to Durham in 2009, I was introduced to the Mellow Mushroom.  I became a fan instantly.  A few weeks ago, Lilly’s Pizza opened in Durham (previously it only had a Raleigh location), so I decided I needed to taste test Lilly’s and compare/contrast the two.  I know there is other great pizza in Durham (The Loop, for starters! ...and Scott is a sucker for Pizza Hut, even if that's not really gourmet), but I'm only going to focus on these two spots!

I think my favorite part about the Mellow Mushroom is the crust.  It is crusted with Parmesan cheese and is a great texture.  My gluten free friends also have good things to say about the gluten free crust.  I’ve tried several different types of pizzas there over the years, and I’d say my favorites are the Funky Q Chicken Pizza and the Red Skin Potato Pie.   I also really enjoy the Magical Mystery TourThe Funky Q Chicken has "BBQ Chicken, Mozzarella, Cheddar, Caramelized Onions, Applewood Smoke Bacon and a BBQ sauce swirl."  This pizza is amazing.  I love BBQ.  I love caramelized onions.  Everything about it is just awesome.  The Red Skin Potato pie has "Olive Oil and Garlic base pizza loaded with Red Potato, Applewood Smoke Bacon, Caramelized Onions, Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese, sprinkled with Chives and drizzled with Sour Cream and spicy Ranch dressing."   The spicy Ranch dressing always surprises me, and sometimes I wish it was regular Ranch instead of spicy.  I do love spice, but it definitely catches me off guard with this pizza which makes me think it doesn't quite belong.  However, the combination of potatoes, caramelized onions, bacon, and chives is great.  The Magical Mystery Tour is a "Pesto base pizza and crush with Button and Portobello Mushrooms, Mozzarella, Spinach, Feta, and Jalapenos."  This pizza was good - it had a nice kick with the jalapenos but they didn't overwhelm the other flavors.  I always love the combination of mushrooms and spinach, and the pesto is delicious.

 On my first trip to Lilly’s I split two 10 inch pizzas with my friend J.  We had a really tough time deciding what two to order – there were about 7 of their specialty pizzas I was interested in.  We finally settled on The Aristocrat and Thai Bhut.  The Aristocrat has EVOO, roasted garlic, cremini mushrooms, sharp cheddar, mozzarella, roasted organic tomatoes, roasted organic yellow onions, roasted potatoes & parmesan.  It was delicious.  The cheddar flavor really stood out, and I loved the mushrooms with the potatoes.  The Thai Bhut had Homemade Thai curry sauce, all-natural grilled chicken, roasted garlic, chili pepper, baby corn, straw mushrooms, organic carrots, sharp cheddar, parmesan, fresh ginger & scallions.  It didn’t have too much of a kick, so if you like Thai but not spicy, this is a great option.  The baby corn was delicious.  As for other pizzas, the Buddha and the Sir Walter have been recommended to me (and look incredible), so they are next on my list!  The pizza here is made largely of locally grown organic ingredients, and I love how fresh the pizza tasted.  The crust was fantastic, although it was fairly large (as in, large compared to the size of the pizza – it cooks up fairly large and sort of overpowers the pizza a little bit).  The crust is a little bit sweet and very flavorful… yummy!
Overall, I’d say I definitely like both restaurants, but if I had to pick only one to eat at for the rest of eternity, I’d have to go with Lilly’s!  Their crust is sweet and savory, and has a wheat-y taste whereas Mellow Mushroom’s tastes more like cheesy bread.  Both are great, but I’d give the edge to Lilly’s.  Also, Lilly’s has over 70 toppings (many of which are locally grown and organic), including 14 options for cheeses and 10 different sauces, which makes the possibility of pizza combinations nearly endless.  To be fair, Mellow Mushroom has 4 sauce options, 9 cheese options, and about 60 total toppings – so it is definitely comes close in variety/options… plus their crust is very different from Lilly’s and very delicious.
Both locations have a wide variety of beers including local brews - not necessarily unique in Durham, but definitely a pro for both places!
I haven't had dessert at Lilly's, but it definitely doesn't look like a place you'd order dessert - it only has three options on the menu.  Mellow Mushroom has great cookie and brownie sundaes if you have room after all the pizza!  Both locations also have salads and calzones, but I haven't had the chance to sample them myself enough to report back!

What's your favorite pizza place?  Any fun or crazy pizza topping combos out there?

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