Driving a newspaper delivery route is an overwhelmingly boring and rote experience, and these days, often unbearably hot. I catch up on podcasts, unable to do much thinking or any work as I rush through my weekly Wednesday Winston chore. I rarely talk to anyone besides exchanging the briefest pleasantries — at one stop, the receptionist never responds when I offer, “Hi, how are you?”
But Melissa and Teresa are different. The two women, usually working the front desk at SciWorks, told me long ago how much they like my food writing. I’m a generation or two apart from them, but they’re so friendly and willing to engage that I sometimes feel disappointed when my food beat swings to Greensboro — they don’t make it to the Gate City, and it cuts the conversation short.
So imagine my delight when I found a relatively new restaurant just minutes from their place of work, a place that actually offers tasty, fresh-tasting food and quality service.
Melissa and Teresa said they’d never been to Mozzarella Fellas, an Italian sit-down with pizza, pasta and sandwiches. But they knew the location — home to the old Francesco’s, they said, which relocated across the street from the nearby K&W in north Winston-Salem. I need to go, they said, especially for the cheesesteak.
I could only briefly break from my delivery duties to tell them about the sandwich and pizza I tried at the new place, between Sweet Frog and a vape store in North Summit Square shopping center. Now that I have the time, here are the other details I want to share with them:
Mozzarella Fellas falls at the midpoint between other pizza joints in Winston-Salem. It’s a nicer, sit-down version of most restaurants slinging dough, with table service and a printed menu as opposed to the type of place where you walk in and order a slice off the board at the counter. It’s clean, and someone with some sense decorated the place, which can’t be said for a few of the other venues in the area that are more closely aligned with gas-station cuisine.
Yet it’s still a considerable distance from the likes of Mission Pizza, the first-rate downtown restaurant with a wood-fired oven. That’s the sort of place you’d take a date to impress them. Mozzarella Fellas is the kind of spot for a business lunch, somewhere to go when you have the time to rest your knees but don’t want to change out of your street clothes.
And it isn’t just a pizza place.
The menu does offer about a half-dozen specialty pizza pies including one with steak, shrimp and Worcestershire-sauteed mushrooms and onions and an enjoyable mac & cheese pizza that bizarrely features penne noodles instead of something smaller (like, say, macaroni). Even the smalls are decently sized, especially considering the $9-11 price tag, and you can order by the slice or build your own. But the options stretch much further, incorporating considerable sandwich and pasta choices as well as strombolis and calzones.
I wonder what Melissa and Teresa would think of the South Philly sandwich with steak, bacon, pickles and pimiento cheese or the more classic Fellas Philly with steak, mushrooms, bell peppers, pickled red onions and mozzarella.
I took the vegetarian route — the Red, White & Green sandwich with tomato slices, fresh mozz, spinach and a garlic dill aioli — in pursuit of the cheese for which the restaurant is named. I figured here it would be easiest to discern, though it appears in countless other items including a sandwich with salami, ham, pepperoni and capicola because the entrée’s simplicity means there isn’t much to hide behind. Plus it’s an interesting twist on a caprese, subbing the more substantial spinach for the flavoring of basil.
The mozzarella cheese here isn’t life changing like the buffalo mozz I encountered all along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. But it’s pretty impressive, leagues better than most I’ve found in the Triad, with its soft and fresh flavor that can stand on its own. Maybe that’s because — according to the restaurant’s website — the cheeses are made fresh daily.
I tried a slice of a friend’s mac & cheese pizza, and another from a friend’s Popeye pie with spinach, mozzarella, ricotta and garlic. We would all give both a favorable rating, but I preferred my sandwich nonetheless. The cooked down spinach counterbalanced the light cheese and cool tomatoes, helping the restaurant’s namesake shine.
Melissa and Teresa won’t care that there are plentiful vegan options at Mozzarella Fellas — though you might — but I do want to tell them how much we liked the cheese steak chips appetizer we shared. The chips, which look similar to Ruffles, are made in house, doused in mozzarella and cheddar, and topped with beef and an appropriately thin amount of scallions. Dipped in ranch, it’s exactly the kind of sinfully delicious we wanted. I think Melissa and Teresa will, too.
Visit Mozzarella Fellas at 336 Summit Square Blvd. (W-S) except Mondays or at mozzarellafellas.com.