by Eric Ginsburg
With the notable exception of biscuits in the morning and milkshakes late at night, I don’t eat at chains. It’s more than just a matter of principle; it’s to avoid the lifeless sterility of unpalatable nature of monoculture. An issue of the senses as much as it is an issue of the mind.
But there is one more exception to my dining habits: Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar in Greensboro. A host of reasons undergird the allowance, but foremost among them are the unassailable quality of the food and the venue’s ability to exude a level of authenticity that other chains cannot muster.
The restaurant, on the fringes of the mammoth Friendly Center complex, is one of only three Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bars, though of course the conglomerate named for the famous chef is significantly grander. One likely reason that it landed in Greensboro: the president of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Joe Essa, has ties to the city and founded Café Pasta here.
I’ve ventured to the pizza bar enough times to work my way through practically all of the gourmet pizzas, and even stopped by for a four-course dinner and scotch pairing last year. I have yet to be disappointed.
But the way to go at Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar — which can really only be compared locally with Sticks & Stones in Greensboro and Mission Napoletana in Winston-Salem — may be a few small plates and drinks. Order the prosciutto di parma & barrata.with arugula, basil and grilled crostini, to share. The burrata, a fresh mozzarella with oozing cream at its heart, is what sets it apart from other cheese and meat plates.
I can speak for the quality of the crispy calamari served with pepperoncini aioli and peppers, but I imagine the pan-roasted mussels prepared with white wine would pair well with something off the restaurant’s sprawling wine list.
If you’re here to drink, Wolfgang has you covered, ranging from three Foothills beers and even some macro brews to a $220 bottle of Italian Barolo. The cocktail list occupies the sweet spot in the middle. There are five classics including a pear bellini with ginger, but there’s no solid reason not to opt for one of the six signature drinks, especially because the price is equivalent.
With last week’s winter storm bearing down on me and a few small plates on the table, I elected to indulge my longing for summer and asked for the limonata, a drink blending Ketel One Citroen vodka and Limoncello with a touch of lemongrass. As I spread barrata on a piece of crostini and layered on the prosciutto, the Limoncello taste transported me to a sun-kissed week I spent on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Not the same as a plane ticket, but a hell of a lot cheaper. If journalism were a rich man’s game, I would’ve ordered five more and kept going deep into the night.
The Argento margarita with Casamigos Blanco tequila, agave nectar and fresh lime is another summery, signature option, though the worthwhile bourbon cocktail with Jim Beam, aperol, lemon and sage may be more seasonally appropriate.
Try the gin Rosemarino, an anytime beverage made with the delicious Hendrick’s gin, a sprig of rosemary, lemon and club soda. It doesn’t have the same lemon bite as the limonata, which may be exactly what you want.
The signature list is vodka heavy — somewhat of a copout considering that it’s the most boring spirit. That works to the limonata’s advantage, allowing the Italian lemon liqueur to take center stage as I had hoped.
I’m guessing that the fact that three of the restaurant’s six signature cocktails are vodka drinks is a reflection of its clientele more than anything else, but it could be due to a focus on the wine selection. There are a whopping 29 wines by the glass including a handful of Italian reds, 27 whites and 44 reds by the bottle, and 13 bottles on the Captain’s List.
Visit Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar at 607 Green Valley Road (GSO) or wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants.