* Very important disclaimer at the end of this post!
This choice was obvious. It's a brand new place in Hillsboro that we'd been been eagerly awaiting to open.
Before we start though, I'd like to give a shout out to a new friend, Suzi. She sent a nice email this past week and called Eat and Critique ". . .one of the highlights of my week". I of course, suggested she seek immediate counseling from a certified get-a-life coach. Anyway, she was very sweet and funny, and I always appreciate hearing form you, my loyal fans, as long as you're not one of those freaky nut jobs I occasionally hear from, or a Russian spammer... what is it with those guys anyhow?
Suzi also said "You go to some horrible restaurants. . ." I couldn't completely disagree, but I can assure you this, I may indeed go to some horrible eateries, but this particular place is not one of them, at all.
A few months ago Bobby Munzert's closed its doors. A nice building at the northwest corner of the intersection of Highways 21 and B. Across from the mall (Dollar General).
A few weeks ago we noticed that the Munzert's sign had finally been taken down, but we also noticed a busyness around the place. Then signs and ads started popping up indicating that the spot was about to become Pizza Junction.
Hillsboro doesn't have a pizza joint, unless you count Imo's, which I don't. I was happy to hear that someone would be giving it a shot.
We arrived for lunch on Saturday for reasons I'll explain later*. Angela and I went, Adam was at work.*
The place had not been gutted, there would have been no reason for that, it wasn't in bad shape before. As we entered the foyer we noticed that to the right, which had been the non-smoking dining area, was now an area that could be reserved for parties. In the foyer itself some large arcade machines had been installed. The area on the left, which had been the bar/smoking area was now a bar/dining area. It had been filled in with nice booths, several of them. The motif was brown and black, the walls a neutral cream. Several overhead fans spun quickly. The lighting was muted, but more brightly than Munzert's had been. It smelled much better that I had remembered it, it now carried the narcotic aroma of yeast and garlic.
It wasn't very busy when we arrived so we were told to sit wherever we liked. Two or three wall mounted TV's were on, muted, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I noticed they were not tuned to sports, but rather, the Discovery Channel. Finally, a bar/pizza joint that didn't assume that their patrons need a 24/7 sports fix.
On the back wall was a new-style jukebox, wall mounted, playing something contemporary. I'm not in to the music the kids are into these days, at least it wasn't too loud or offensive.
We sat back against the wall, I turned sideways and took up the entire bench. Sydney brought us the menus.
We snickered. The plain paper menus had been glued to a part of a pizza box lid. Cute.
We ordered our drinks, tea and sweet tea.
The menu was three pages, one for pizza the others dedicated to sandwiches, salads, etc.
I was tempted by the lighter salads, and sandwiches... yeah, right...PIZZA!
There were a few pre-defined pizzas and they looked okay. But the interesting choice of toppings for a free-style was too good to pass up.
I made up my mind on a nine inch, traditional crust, with crab meat, pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers and onions. Yeah, Crab meat!
Angel picked a niner as well, thin crust, because she doesn't understand pizza. She topped it with shrimp, Italian sausage, black olives and mushrooms.
I was tempted to add another interesting option, sauerkraut. I know! Long time fans will realize the karmic irony of this from this review.
We assumed Adam would want some when he got home from work, so we also asked for a twelve inch traditional 'Junction', to-go from the pre-defined list. It contained mostly meats. A twleve incher so we could all share it with him and not have to prepare any meals for the rest of the weekend. Mmmm, breakfast pizza.
While we waited I glanced around, taking in the changes. I liked it. It opens at eleven most days, and offers wi-fi. We wondered aloud about how Adam was doing at his new job. He'd only started the previous weekend, part time, but he seemed to like it.
I also worked at one in Springfield, I don't recall the name. I was officially a delivery driver at both, used my own car to get the mileage reimbursement. I also worked the back and learned a few tips and techniques of the business. The delivery bit also permanently odored my cars with that same delicious smell that I swooned over when I first stepped in this place, yeast and garlic. Lovely, simply lovely.
We watched the muted TV's, closed captioning was enabled. As best we could tell this was one of the newer reality shows devoted to documenting the stupid things rural hicks are willing to do to sustain a reality show.
The pizzas arrived soon enough. They looked great. I knew I'd like mine, I'd already had a sample of one of the Junction's pizza's the weekend before*.
Sure enough it was thick, gooey, generously topped, and very, very cheesy.
It looked bigger than nine inches, but I'm a guy and can't estimate sizes like that very accurately. The toppings and cheese extended all the way to the edges, no cutting of corners here. It seemed massive, I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the whole thing. That's what they make boxes for though.
The tea was okay, it wasn't too old or bitter.(insert wife joke here if you like, I won't. Angel occasionally reads these things.)
Most St. Louis Style shops and pies default to provel, that regionally popular, sweeter cheese blend. It's offered as an option at the junction though. Ours had a more 'traditional' provolone and mozzarella blend. They also have different sauces, but I highly recommend the house sauce.
Sure enough, I only made it halfway through. Angel, probably because of her wafer-thin crust, finished all but one square. We had absolutely nothing to complain about, this was seriously good pizza.
Yeah, that good, better than all the local franchises, by far. There was obvious attention to quality and flavors.
The service was pretty good. I'm going to give them a break on the few minor serving errors. They've only been open a week and they hired the staff less than two weeks ago. The fact that Sydney came back to our table twice to confirm some details about our order I actually appreciated. She seemed to be working hard to get our order right, not just get it over with. She'll work out fine.
One more minor thing, easily fixable. There were no napkins on the tables. This was a problem as pizza, a hand-food, is messy. Especially if it is made well, and this was. We had to ask for napkin refills, but like I said, easily fixable. Angel pointed out that they also didn't offer silverware/plates like some of the snootier pizza joints did. I didn't see it as a problem and frankly, it didn't seem to slow Angel down much.
The bill for the two customized pies and the big take-home standard came to forty seven dollars and change. that sounds like a lot, but remember, breakfast pizza, mmmmmm! We ordered thirty combined inches (9+9+12)of pizza, that comes down to a little more than a buck an inch. Don't make me do the math for you.
I wish I could get there for lunch during the week, they offer a pizza and salad buffet for a very reasonable price.
I highly recommend Pizza Junction. I'm always excited when a new place opens up in my adopted hometown, especially when it works hard to serve quality food at a good price. Pizza Junction succeeds at this, even in their first week.
Yeah, now for all those asterisks.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, I am not a professional journalist. I'm a writer, a clown, and a very emotionally fragile and needy, yet undeniably handsome man. I do have ethics though, so I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Adam's new job is at this very place, Pizza Junction. That's how I'd known it was good pizza, he'd brought some home after the soft-opening the previous weekend. He was in the back on this very day, and probably helped prepare our pies. We never saw him while we were there and we didn't want to skew the experience or interfere with his work, so we did not introduce ourselves. He pretty much guessed it though, six ingredients each on a pair of nine inch pies caught his attention, especially the shrimp and crab toppings. Not their typical orders. The sauerkraut would have nailed it.
So am I biased in my review? Maybe? No, not at all. I decided ahead of time that if it was bad, or worse, awful, that I'd recuse myself from reviewing it.
I did enjoy it though, I highly recommend it, whether Adam works there or not. It's a local place in a small town and I'm bound to have some sort of connection through family/friends at any locally owned place.
But I figured I better be up front with you about the familial connection.
Seriously, try it.