Pizza Di Cicco / Instagram

What A Charlotte Chef Learned After Eating 24 Pizzas in 24 Days

The James Beard Award finalist has some strong opinions about pizza and names three must-try restaurants in the Queen City.

Chef Sam Hart, owner and operator of two acclaimed Charlotte restaurants, admits he has an addiction: pizza. His mission—to try 24 Charlotte-area pizzas in 24 days—wasn’t professional research and development, he says.

“In reality, [this] was the best excuse to feed my addiction to this culinary pinnacle,” Hart wrote for the Charlotte Observer.

Hart, a James Beard Award finalist who owns the restaurants Counter and Biblio, didn’t use his research to inform personal Charlotte-area-pizzeria rankings. Instead, he highlighted three independent pizzerias and created an award for each. The result is a travelogue of sorts that says as much about the state of pizza in North Carolina’s largest city as it does about the pizzerias themselves.

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“During my excursions I’ve learned three elements separate the remedial and the supreme,” Hart wrote. “Those three elements are: ingredients, cookery and patience.”

Hart details how his analysis is not rooted in buzzworthy trends like cheese pulls and grease drips, but rather examines which pizza is most passionately constructed and, as a result, tastes the best. “Going through a rigorous process of tasting hundreds of samples from distributors, thousands of hours of ‘getting it down’ and being willing to let the yeast gods do their bidding on your crust is not for the meek,” he wrote of the pizza-making process. “This list will highlight those peel-wielding warriors who bleed marinara.”

Hart nominated Pizzeria Di Cicco, a food truck, as “the pizza you’ll love forever.” The truck is owned by the Di Cicco family, a California couple with roots in two disparate places: the Philippines and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Why they moved to Waxhaw [20 minutes south of Charlotte] after living over a decade in Philadelphia, I don’t know,” Hart wrote of the family. “But I’m so glad they did.”

“Most high-level pizzerias are so focused on temperature control they have separate dough rooms that are temperature- and humidity-controlled,” Hart wrote about Pizzeria Di Cicco. “Not here. This pizza is wild. The sourdough ‘biga’ is bubbling away while shaped doughs are hanging out in the retarding cabinet. Di Cicco also has a built-in pizza oven that I didn’t care to ask about the expense, because I would balk.”

Hart dubbed Geno D’s “the pie you’ll tell everyone about,” singing the praises of the pizzeria’s New Jersey-style pies, saying that he’s convinced New Jersey pizza is the variety Americans love the most, even if they don’t know it. “These pies are thin-crust without being a cracker, crispy without being rock hard, and tangy without being overly acidic.”

Photo shows a New Jersey-style square pie with various white, red, and green sauces.
Geno D’s Pizza @genodspizza

“Geno has perfected the thin semolina crust to such a degree that I start there and finish on the San Marzano tomatoes,” Hart wrote. “I’m unsure of the oven they use, but it has been sprinkled with fairy dust. The ability to crisp up the pepperoni without burning the other toppings or destroying that majestic crust will one day nominate them for a Nobel Prize of Science.”

Finally, Hart calls Bird Pizzeria the “Pizza You’ll Rethink Life Over.”

Related: Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana added to Michelin Guide

Photo shows a Bird Pizzeria pie with pepperoni and herbs.
Bird Pizzeria @birdpizzeria

“[Owners] Kerrel and Nkem, what you have done is the impossible: made me put Chicago and best pizza in the same sentence,” Hart wrote. “Thankfully, it’s not the pizza-casserole-of-deep-dish, instead this is the Frankenstein child of tavern-style, Neapolitan, New Haven and Jersey-style pies. You can see the thought process when you open the box.”

Hart admits one of the reasons he enjoyed Bird Pizzeria so much is due to the restaurant’s choice of tomato: The shop uses Alta Cucina tomatoes, “which should forever be the pizza tomato (come at me, San Marzano purists).”

In conclusion, Hart writes a rallying cry for readers to support local businesses, something any pizza operator in the U.S. can appreciate. He speaks of the local Charlotte community, but his words could apply to so many pizza cities in the U.S.

“[My] most important takeaway is that Charlotte is a Grade-A pizza town,” Hart wrote. “Natives and transplants alike bash the Queen City’s food scene constantly. Yes, we have room to grow…but we should take a moment to embrace what we do have. The families making the staple of every home are worthy of a special journey. Go support them. You won’t leave disappointed.”