From Alaska to Natchez and Everywhere In Between: Chef Regina Charboneau lives life to the fullest and loves every minute.

EDM Feb 2014eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2014
Article and photos

Imagine being the mother of a daughter in her early twenties and one day receiving a collect phone call from –of all places – Alaska. Your daughter informs you that she’s taking a job as a cook for eight men at a construction camp in the middle of nowhere. Thirty-five years ago, chef and Natchez  native Regina Charboneau made such a call to her own mother.

“This was before email and cell phones. There was really nothing she could do about it,” she says.

Charboneau grew up in a family that loved to entertain and always felt a draw towards cooking. After high school, she attended a few different colleges across the South, but never really found her niche. That is, until one summer when she and a group of friends decided to take a trip to Alaska.

The Tobeluk Consent Decree of 1976, also known as the Molly Hootch Act, had gone into effect a few years earlier. The act required the State of Alaska to build high schools in Alaskan native villages, meaning construction jobs in the area were plentiful at the time. Regina took a job as a waitress in a café in Anchorage.  However, she didn’t work there long before a customer came in and offered her a job cooking at one of the construction camps.

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“It was a great time to be in Alaska,” Charboneau recalls. “Anchorage was only 50 years old at the time. There was so much going on. I really wasn’t qualified to do the job, but there was so much need for help in those days, that they really didn’t care.”

Despite the understandable concern of Charboneau’s mother, that trip would change Charboneau’s life forever. The work was hard, but she learned a lot about cooking. Working in the bush of Alaska meant there weren’t any supermarkets nearby. Fresh food was dropped every 2-3 weeks and had to last until the next drop. Fresh salmon and caribou were usually among the supplies. Charboneau says she became more of a game cook while living in Alaska than she ever did growing up in Mississippi.

“That experience gave me my travel lust,” she explains. “I was in my early 20’s. I felt like the whole world was open and I could do anything.”

While in Alaska, Regina also met her husband Doug. She jokes, “His girlfriend was sweet enough to introduce us.”

Eventually, Charboneau managed to save enough money to put herself through cooking school. She attended Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France, one of the first accredited professional cooking schools in France to offer instruction in both French and English. Afterwards, she returned to Alaska and accepted the position of executive chef at the Tower Club in Anchorage.

In the mid-1980’s Charboneau and her husband decided they were ready to move back to the mainland. The couple was torn between moving to New York or San Francisco, but during a visit to The City by the Bay one clear February night, they knew they had found their new home.

“It was a beautiful night and I told Doug, ‘This is the place,’” she says. “The food scene was just getting going and the timing was perfect.”

Her career in San Francisco began as a cook at the Golden Gate Grille. The restaurant was a popular hangout for singers and had great reviews, but it wasn’t what Charboneau wanted to do. Once again, fate intervened when she was introduced to a group of people opening a restaurant in San Francisco’s Regis Hotel. The opportunity was a huge leap for the young chef.

“People ask me, ‘Weren’t you scared?’ I didn’t know any better. I just dove in feet first.”

Regina’s at the Regis opened in 1985. Because of its proximity to San Francisco’s theatre district, it quickly became a favorite among theatre goers, actors, musicians, and celebrities. Charboneau would go on to open a total of four restaurants in San Francisco, including the famous Burger and Blues, which won the WC Handy award in 1999 as the “Best Blues Club in America.”

Despite her wanderlust, the call to return home to Natchez finally won her over when Charboneau’s father passed away. In 2000, she and her husband returned to Natchez with their two sons, Jean-Luc and Martin.  The couple purchased Twin Oaks, a beautiful 1830’s-era home in the heart of Natchez.

Even though life moves slower in the South, that hasn’t stopped Charboneau. She serves as the culinary director for the American Queen Steamboat Company, where she oversees menu and recipe development; runs a six-bedroom guest house on the Twin Oaks property; and frequently gives tours of her home during the Natchez pilgrimage.

In early 2013, Charboneau and her husband purchased The King’s Tavern, a restaurant housed in the oldest building in Natchez. After several months of renovations, The King’s Tavern reopened in September 2013. The restaurant specializes in hand crafted, wood fired flat breads made in a wood-fired pizza oven on site. A rum distillery is scheduled is open in the spring of 2014.

Looking back, Charboneau is the first to admit that her life has been nothing short of amazing.

“I can honestly say I have loved my life,” she admits. “I have met so many people along the way. People that I cherish and still have life-long friendships with.”

Family, Friends, and Love

ms mag jan 2014Mississippi Magazine
January 2014

It was a chilly, crisp evening in October when friends and family came together to celebrate the engagement of Callie Mounger and Reid Wesson.  However, the atmosphere inside the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Mounger II of Jackson, was warm and inviting.

During her off time, one can frequently find Crisler Boone moonlighting as event planner and wedding coordinator. It’s a skill that proves to be invaluable in her full-time job as head of external affairs at Jackson Prepatory School. Boone previously worked with the Moungers on a capital-raising project for the school, where her abilities to host a good party soon became apparent.

“Cissye [Mrs. Mounger] told me, ‘Whenever one of mine gets engaged, I want you to plan it,” Boone says.

The opportunity finally arose when several of the Mounger’s close friends came together to throw the young couple an engagement party to end all parties. As the initial planning phase began, Boone knew she wanted every aspect of the night to be representative things that were important to the couple – family, friends, good food, and great music.

The role of the Mounger home played a significant role in Callie and Reid’s time together as a couple. In fact, Reid proposed to Callie while sitting by the fire pit in the Mounger’s backyard. Boone used that as the starting point, using the Mounger home not only as the backdrop for the party, but also incorporating it into other elements. Fresh Ink was recruited to design the party invitations. A watercolor print depicting a scene from the Mounger’s backyard was used as the background.

Wendy Putt of Fresh Cut Catering and Floral oversaw the menu and floral arrangements. As guests approached the Mounger’s home, they were greeted by two vibrant topiaries made of apples, oranges, and artichokes flanking either side of the front door. The couple’s initials fashioned with moss-covered letters hung from each of the doors. Before entering, guests could leave their well-wishes on panes of glass in a reclaimed glass window that would later become a priceless memento for the newlyweds.

Once inside, a romantic pomander of delicate peach roses hung from the chandelier in the foyer. Guests then made their way to the beautifully landscaped backyard which overlooked the Mounger’s in-ground swimming pool and picturesque waterfront views just beyond. Floating lanterns, votives, and elegant lanterns provided soft and romantic lighting throughout the property.

Boone incorporated the couple’s initials “C & R” into several details throughout the party – from the cocktail napkins and menu place cards to the water feature in the center of the swimming pool. Neutral linens in bronze and taupe allowed the bright colors in the floral arrangements and surrounding landscape to pop.

Putt also found unique ways to incorporate the couple into the menu selections. The father of the bride provided vension for the wild game table, which was served alongside other unique dishes such as micro-deviled quail eggs and grilled quail legs with bourbon sauce. A s’mores station paid homage to the night the couple got engaged as well as allowed guests to indulge in a favorite childhood pastime. Graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows were on hand, as well as a few gourmet touches such as peanut butter and flaked coconut.

Guests mingled and danced to the soulful sounds of Pryor Graeber and the Tombstones.

“The party was very Callie and Reid,” said Boone. “The Moungers have such big hearts and are so generous in the community.  You could tell that everyone in attendance had a love for the Moungers and this young couple embarking on a life together.”

A Cut (of Beef) Above the Rest: Kathryn’s serves up steakhouse favorites for more than 20 years

Portico Jackson
December 2013

It’s rare that a restaurant stands the test of time for almost a quarter of a century.  Founded in 1989, Kathryn’s Steakhouse has seen generations of hungry metro-area patrons pass through its doors.  Every time they come back, they know they’ll get the same quality food and the same level of service.

Kathryn’s was founded in 1979 under the name Brandi’s Steakhouse.  In 1989, the restaurant moved to its current location and reopened under the name Kathryn’s, after the founder’s daughter. Current owner Kerry Brashear worked under the original owner during the early days of his carrer in the food industry. However, at the young age of 26, Brashear found himself the owner of his own restaurant when he purchased Kathryn’s in 1991.

Brashear attributes several factors to his continued success.  Most importantly, is the food.  Many of the original steakhouse recipes and cooking techniques first developed by longtime chef George Philips back in 1979 are still served today. Phillips passed away in 2000, and the restaurant’s Redfish by George is named in his honor. Kathryn’s is one of the few restaurants in the area to serve prime rib, along with filets, New York strips, and rib eyes.

It was Brashear’s decision to add seafood to the menu.  In addition to redfish, the selection includes shrimp, scallops, halibut, and yellowfin tuna, which won best entrée at Taste of Mississippi in 2012 and 1st place at Blues by Starlight for the last two years. The restaurant’s kitchen was recently remodeled, doubling its size and allowing Brashear to add even more variety to the menu.

Second, Brashear keeps the menu affordable from food to the wine list.  The restaurant has specials every night of the week, including the $15 prime rib entrée on Sunday, which has become a big hit with the after church crowd.

“I want someone to be able to afford to come in, have a good meal, a glass of wine, and have a good time,” Brashear explains. “You get a better value for your money when you eat here.”

Third, the restaurant features live entertainment seven nights a week. Brashear tries to appeal to everyone, so he has featured everything from one-piece solo acts to five-piece bands. He also renovated his bar area to incorporate several flat panel televisions and created a bar and grill menu for patrons who want to grab a bite to eat while watching the game.

Among some of Kathryn’s more popular steakhouse dishes include their green gradoo spinach casserole, Chef Phillips original bleu cheese dressing, broiled tomatoes with cheese, and potatoes au gratin.  As for popular entrees, Brashear says it’s a tie between the filet and the award-winning yellowfin tuna.

Because they have been such a mainstay in the community, Brashear has taken strides to support several local charities.  They frequently participate in events such as Taste of Mississippi, benefiting Stewpot Community Services, and Battle of the Bartenders, which supports The Mississippi Burn Foundation.

“I like to be involved in the community and support charities that keep the money here in our own backyard,” he says.

Over the last two decades, Brashear has watched as his restaurant has grown from steakhouse into the popular bar and grill it has become today. While other eateries come and go, he is confident that Kathryn’s will still be around for the next generation of foodies.

“Our food is better than most, and that is why we have stayed in business for 22 years,” he adds.  “We have something for everybody, whether its steaks, burgers, soup or salad.  People like our staff, so we have a lot of regulars.  We are kind of like the local hangout for this area. Once people come, they are likely to come back because they had a good meal and a good time.”

Play with Your Food: David Leathers

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI861292_589765237737570_1936952674_o
December / January 2013

If asked about his childhood, chef and Mississippi native David Leathers likes to joke, “I had a dad that believed in child labor.”  Beginning at eight years old, Leathers worked in the kitchen of his parent’s barbecue restaurant in Fulton, Miss.

“Even before I became interested in becoming a chef, cooking was always been a part of who I was,” he explains.  “It was our livelihood.”

Leathers attributes the work ethic his father instilled in him at a young age as a contributing factor for his success later in life.  At eighteen, Leathers left small town Mississippi to attend culinary school at the former Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts in Pittsburg.  He admits the move was a bit of a culture shock, but he would later go on to graduate at the top of his class. During his studies, an instructor gave him a bit of advice that would impact his career path.

“This particular instructor told me to find a specialty that makes you different from all the other chefs,” Leathers says.  He was inspired to take up food carving based on a book he owned by famous food sculptor Xiang Wang.  When Leathers discovered that Wang taught classes at The Andy Mannhart Academy in Luzern, Switzerland, he enrolled himself and was on a plane to Europe.

Where Pennsylvania was a culture shock, the young chef quickly fell in love with Switzerland.

“It is a beautiful country,” he adds.  “I didn’t want to leave.”  He did face one unique challenge, however, that most students don’t usually deal with on their first day of class.  Wang only spoke two languages – Mandarin Chinese and Swiss-German.  While it may seem impossible to take instruction from someone who doesn’t speak your language, Leathers discovered that the language barrier wasn’t really a barrier after all.

“It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language,” Leathers recalls, “It was more important that I was able to observe him and see his instruction rather than hear it.”  His experience would later inspire him to release three instructional DVD’s on the art of food carving.

David’s talents have garnered several TV appearances, most notably on TLC’s Extreme Food Sculptures.  During the show, Leathers constructed a life-sized sculpture of a woman in a masquerade mask to serve as the centerpiece for a charity ball in Louisiana.  The entire piece took 72 hours to construct.

Leathers eventually went on to launch his own brand of merchandise through his company Food Stylin.  The product line includes T-shirts and his own line of kid-safe knives.  Today, he frequently uses his talents to teach kids about healthy eating.  He makes frequent visits to elementary schools throughout the year and hopes to combat childhood obesity by finding ways to make eating fruits and vegetables fun.

“We have become a generation of convenience.  It’s not just about eating healthy food; it’s about eating real food.  Not everything comes out of a package.” he says.  “I had a little girl ask me once what my favorite vegetable was.  When I told her asparagus, her response was, ‘Ew, yuck.  Gross!’ I could tell from her response that this little girl had never actually tried asparagus.  I decided I wanted to visit every school in that community and let every kids try asparagus. Once they have the opportunity to try it, they can make their own decision.”

Leathers believes that by allowing kids to be involved in the meal process, it will open them up to trying new foods.  He hopes to be able to share his message with a wider audience through a children’s television show titled Play with Your Food currently in the works with PBS.

“It’s a tactic I use with my own five-year-old son,” he says.  “By giving kids ownership, they take pride in what they are eating.  The most important ingredient is making things fun.”

En pointe: Celebrating 50 years of ballet in Mississippi

MS Mag Nov Dec 2013Mississippi Magazine
November / December 2013

You sit in a darkened auditorium.  Music fills your ears as the curtains part.  Elegant ballet dancers swirl across the stage in beautifully designed costumes.  For a moment, you wonder if somehow you have been magically transported thousands of miles away to New York City.  As the performance ends and the auditorium lights once again fill the room, you realize the performance you just witnessed took place right in your own backyard, in Jackson, Miss.

In 1964, a group of local Jacksonians established the Jackson Ballet Guild to promote an appreciation of dance within the community and cultivate the talents of rising and aspiring local dancers.  Fast forward almost 50 years later, the Jackson Ballet Guild has since transformed into the professional dance school and company now known as Ballet Mississippi.

David Keary has served as artistic director for Ballet Mississippi since 1994.  He began his training as a ballet dancer with the Jackson Ballet under the direction of the guild’s very first artistic directors, Albia Kavan Cooper and her husband Rex Cooper.  Keary would later go on to complete his training at the School of American Ballet, one of the most famous classical ballet schools in the world and the official school of the New York City Ballet.

As the golden anniversary of the founding of Ballet Mississippi approaches, Keary and his staff have begun preparing for a celebration to commemorate the momentous milestone.  Although the official anniversary is not until 2014, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host Stars of American Ballet presented itself as the perfect kickoff to next year’s festivities.

Stars of American Ballet is a New York-based touring group of top ranking principal and soloist dancers hailing from many of the most prestigious ballet companies in the United States.  The group travels across the country to cities where such a caliber of performance is not usually seen. Because the group’s schedule is rigorous and extensive, convincing them to make an unplanned stop is almost impossible.  However, that’s exactly what happened.

“I had been in contact with [Stars of American Ballet founder and director] Daniel Ulbricht off and on for several years,” explains Keary.  “One day he calls me out of the blue and tells me they will be traveling through Jackson on their way to Longview, Texas, from Mobile.  I told him we would make it happen.”

On November 3, Stars of American Ballet will showcase a series of performances, including four pas de deux by George Balanchine, co-founder of the New York City Ballet and its balletmaster for more than 35 years.  Known as the father of American ballet, Balanchine is one of the most renowned choreographers in the history of dance.

The troupe will also perform Jerome Robbins’s masterpiece Fancy Free set to the music of Leonard Bernstein.  Robbins is well-known for his work as a producer, director, and choreographer for everything from classical ballet to contemporary musical theater.  His most recognizable works include the choreography for the 1956 motion picture The King and I and 1961’s West Side Story, for which he received an Academy Award for Best Director.  However Robbins’s original ballet, Fancy Free, is considered to be his most prolific work.  The story centers around three sailors on leave in New York City during World War II.  Both Balanchine and Robbins received Kennedy Center Honors, an annual award that recognizes individuals for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.

“Only a few dance companies in the world have the rights to perform these works,” explains Millie Clanton, associate executive director for Ballet Mississippi.  “Normally you would have to travel to New York City to be able to see such a performance.  This will be a top notch ballet performed right here in Jackson.”

In addition to providing Mississippians with the opportunity to view a world class ballet, the works being presented have special significance to Ballet Mississippi.  Albia Cooper studied at the School of American Ballet and was one of the first dancers to perform with Ballet Caravan and Ballet Society, companies both founded by Balanchine that would later become the New York City Ballet.  She was also close friends with Jerome Robbins.  In addition, Rex Cooper performed in the original 1944 performance of Fancy Free at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

“I grew up hearing stories about George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins when I studied under Albia,” recalls Keary.  “This is a very exciting opportunity to iconic works that have shaped American ballet.”

Immediately following the 4 p.m. performance at Thalia Mara Hall, a special gala reception – Sunday with the Stars – will be held at the Mississippi Museum of Art.  Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the dancers and raise a toast to Ballet Mississippi, kicking off its 50th anniversary celebration.

Adds Keary, “The spring will bring all sorts of wonderful opportunities to shine a spotlight on ballet in Mississippi, not only for our 50th anniversary but also the upcoming International Ballet Competition [in June].  We will be honoring Albia and Rex, in addition to Thalia Mara [Ballet Mississippi’s first artistic director].   All three of these individuals are a part of our legacy and the backbone of everything Ballet Mississippi has been.”

Eerie Eateries

EDM Oct Nov 2013eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
October/ November 2013

If you haven’t already made plans for this Halloween, consider forgoing the costume party and make dinner reservations instead.  It’s common knowledge that Mississippi has its share of haunted houses, so it should come as no surprise that we have a few haunted restaurants as well.  Whether the legends surrounding these establishments are true or not, that’s for you to decide.  Just remember when ordering “spirits” from the bar, it may come with a little something extra.

Weidmann’s Restaurant
Meridian, MS

Weidmann’s Restaurant is one of Meridian’s most well-known restaurants.  It opened in 1870 when the population of this city of over 40,000 people numbered less than 4,000.  After 143 years in operation, it is the oldest continuously operating business in Meridian.

It would be impossible to speculate how many people have come and gone through the doors of Weidmann’s during its long and enduring history.  Henry Weidmann, grandson of the original owner, ran the establishment from 1927 until his death in 1956.  He was known as a kind-hearted entrepreneur, extending business hours to accommodate railroad workers and even opening up the restaurant on Christmas Day to serve servicemen during World War II.

It was Henry’s kindness that surrounds one of the restaurant’s legends.  During the Great Depression, a young couple traveling through the state looking for work stopped into Weidmann’s for a meal.  Henry picked up the tab, telling the couple it was an engagement gift.  The couple promised to return on their first wedding anniversary, never to be seen again.  No one knows exactly what happened to them, but restaurant staff claims to see the ghostly shadows of a young couple sitting at one of the tables.  Doors have also been known to fly open, loud bangs are occasionally heard when nothing in the room is overturned, and footsteps can be heard walking around upstairs when no one is there.

Aunt Jenny’s Catfish
Ocean Springs, MS

Travel down Washington Avenue in Ocean Springs, and you’ll spot an antebellum home dating back to 1852.  Surrounded by stately 500-year-old live oaks, the house has served as the home of Aunt Jenny’s catfish for more than 30 years.  However in a past life, the 160 year-old house served as a sanitarium, marketing its nearby mineral springs as having healing powers.

The establishment’s most noteworthy ghost is that of a gentleman with dark hair wearing dark slacks and a white shirt sitting at the bar in the Julep Lounge.  People who have seen the man claim he is drinking beer from a can, even thought the lounge does not serve beer in a can.  Patrons have also reportedly tried to buy a drink for the stranger, only to come back and discover he has vanished into thin air.

Other ghostly sightings include a face in the second story window and a young girl playing with a ball.  Lights flicker, faucets turn on by themselves, doors fly open, and footsteps can be heard coming from the second floor.

Cedar Grove Mansion Inn and Restaurant
Vicksburg, MS

While Cedar Grove Mansion Inn and Restaurant was built out of love, the house has seen its share of tragedy.  Completed in 1852, the Greek Revival style mansion was built by planter and businessman John Alexander Klein for his young bride Elizabeth.  The couple had a happy marriage and took pride in the upkeep of their home.

During the Civil War, the home was used as a hospital for Union soldiers.  Obviously, some soldiers likely died in the house from their injuries and perhaps their spirits remained.  Later, the Klein’s 17-year-old son accidentally shot and killed himself on the back stairway.  A daughter also died in one of the upstairs bedrooms, while two infants died in the nursery.

Staff members and guests have both reported seeing the apparition of a young girl playing and soldiers dressed in Civil War-era uniforms have been spotted wandering the grounds.  The ghosts of both John and Elizabeth reportedly enjoy checking on their guests and the smell of smoke from John’s pipe can occasionally be detected in the Gentleman’s Parlor.

King’s Tavern
Natchez, MS

Built sometime in the mid-to-late 1700’s, the King’s Tavern is the oldest building in Natchez.  The tavern was originally opened by Richard King, the tavern’s namesake.  The King’s Tavern closed back in early 2012, but was recently bought by chef and Natchez native Regina Charboneau and her husband Doug  The restaurant reopened in September 2013.

The King’s Tavern is probably Mississippi’s most infamous haunted restaurant.  Ask anyone who from Natchez and they can probably tell you about Madeline.  According to legend, Madeline was a young maid who worked in the tavern and was supposedly also having an affair with Richard King.  When King’s wife Esther discovered the nature of their relationship, the jilted wife reportedly had Madeline killed.  The legend goes on to claim that many years later in the 1930’s, the remains of a young woman and two still unidentified men were discovered buried in the wall behind the fireplace.  The only actual confirmed death in the house, however, is that of Elizabeth Postlethwaite, who died in 1860 and whose family owned the building for over 140 years.

Staff and visitors to the tavern have seen full-bodied apparitions of a female walking throughout the tavern.  Footsteps appear across freshly mopped floors.  Jars come flying off the shelves, faucets turn on by themselves, doors open and close when no one is there, and chairs rock and move by themselves.

Pizza Pie: Basil’s 904 Serves up Pizza with Success

Portico October 2013Portico Jackson
October 2013

Jackson native and restaurateur Nathan Glenn pretty much earned his cooking credentials right here in the metro area.  In 1984, when Glenn was nine years old, his father Tim opened Rooster’s Restaurant, which is still home to one of Jackson’s best burgers 29 years later.  Glenn says he has been working in a kitchen ever since.

Fast forward almost three decades and Glenn is now the owner of five restaurants in the Jackson area.  In addition to Rooster’s in Fondren, Congress Street Bar and Grill serves up hamburgers, po boys, and Southern blue plate specials to the lunch crowd in downtown Jackson.  Glenn also opened his popular chain of Italian-inspired restaurants – Basil’s – which has locations in downtown Jackson, Fondren, and Belhaven.

It’s Basil’s Belhaven – now known as Basil’s 904 because of its location at 904 Fortification Street – that has been creating a lot of buzz lately.  After taking back over the restaurant earlier this year, Glenn wanted to revamp the location and make some changes to the menu.  That’s when Glenn’s brother-in-law Matthew Puckett recommended adding homemade pizza to the mix.

Glenn and Puckett go way back.  Long before they became in-laws, Puckett was a baker at Rooster’s for 10 years.  Puckett and his roommate built an outdoor brick oven in the backyard of their Memphis home and frequently enjoyed trying out new pizza recipes.  Turns out, Puckett just so happened to be working on a new recipe for the perfect pizza dough.

Recalls Puckett, “As soon as I saw the deck ovens in the kitchen, I told Nathan, ‘I know what we can do with those.’”

Puckett returned to Jackson and began tweaking his dough recipe for larger scale production.  As soon as the pizzas hit the market, Glenn and Puckett both agree they were an immediate hit.

“We almost weren’t prepared for how quickly they became a success,” says Puckett.  “News got around by word of mouth.  There were a lot of conversations going on about it and the pizzas took off really quickly.”

Adds Glenn, “Adding pizza to the menu really changed the shape of the entire restaurant.”

Glenn and Puckett credit several factors that make their pizzas stand out.  First, the crust is made using Antimo Caputo flour, produced by the Antico Molino Caputo company based in Naples, Italy.  The company sources high quality local ingredients and finely mills its wheat, earning it the reputation of producing some of the world’s highest quality flour.

“Pizza is really all about the crust,” Puckett explains.  “The flour we use creates smoother dough and allows it to become hydrated easier.”

The pizzas are also baked on stones at 600 degrees Fahrenheit.  Baking the pizza at this temperature not only cooks it in a mere six minutes, but it also steams the crust giving it a crunchy texture on the outside, but leaving it soft and chewy on the inside.  Glenn also keeps the pizzas simple, choosing fresh ingredients but not loading up the pizza with too many toppings.  The menu features your standard cheese and pepperoni options.  But there are also some regional favorites like the barbecue chicken pizza made with honey barbecue sauce, caramelized onions, and cilantro.

Finally, each pizza has a distinct oblong shape that is cut in a cross-cut pattern, creating long, thin slices.  Glenn says this ensures that every slice is the same, creating a more consistent bite.

“Pizza really speaks to everyone.  It is affordable and can feed a lot of people,” he adds.  “When we decided to add pizza to the menu, we didn’t just want to create a great pizza.  We wanted a pizza that would knock your socks off.  I think we hit a grand slam.”