A revolution at the mill, pizza-style

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There hasn’t been this much hype about a restaurant opening in Greensboro since Crafted unveiled its street-food concept.

My social media feeds are a stream of Facebook check-ins and Instagram photos of Cugino Forno, the new pizza place inside the revamped Revolution Mill off Yanceyville Street. A stranger tweeted to me asking if I’d been yet, and someone tied to the restaurant DM-ed me on Instagram to ask when I’d be coming through.

Like Crafted: The Art of Street Food, there will be a local brewery operating next door. But few people would recognize the dudes tossing dough into the air before sticking it into one of the three wood-fired ovens at the back of the city’s newest pizza place — they’re not transfers from celebrated local kitchens or responsible for designing a killer menu at the city’s most popular joints or heavily tattooed and snappily dressed.

People don’t care about any of that; they’re just going ape over the pizza. And after going to the brand new, sun-kissed pizzeria, I get it.

You could argue that the setting is perfect, if not a gamble. Revolution Mill will be the city’s first real live-work-play concept successfully executed, with condos priced above the market average, a reworked shell of a former textile factory, and a new Natty Greene’s concept as an anchor. Part of the complex has been operational for a while, hosting entities like the Welfare Reform Liaison Project and providing office space on the city’s former industrial fringe. It’s not yet made the transformation into the envisioned new hub, which means you need to keep your eyes peeled for the restaurant’s sign along the main drag to figure out where you’re going.

Revolution Mill is rather self-contained — yes, there are plenty of under-served residential neighborhoods surrounding it, but by and large there’s a demographic split between the surrounding community and the mill and its attendant businesses, including Cugino Forno. On a recent Thursday night, the clientele looked more like the Latham Park, Kirkwood or New Irving Park set to the west than nearby White Oak.

Customers at the pizzeria order when they walk in the door, picking one of 11 large pies before grabbing a seat at one of many picnic-style tables that gleam with newness. There weren’t enough people to force strangers together the night I showed up, but these could easily be community tables should the need arise. The pizzas are prompt, not needing much time in the blistering Italian-made ovens, and arrive large format — big even for their size.

Waist-high windows run up almost to the ceiling and span the length of almost every wall, allowing a remarkable amount of natural light into the space. High televisions projected various March Madness games, but everyone’s attention seemed to remain on each other, occasionally glancing over at the pie pushers by the ovens.

Few restaurants feel this open, but it’s well lit enough that even after night falls, there’s a brightness to the place.

I brought my friend Peyton with me, in part because we were overdue to grab a bite together but also because he owns Mission Pizza Napoletana in Winston-Salem. He’s been to more places like this than he can count, he said over a slice, launching into a story about a formerly underground spot in Atlanta that set the mold for joints like this.

He flipped a slice of my Napoletana pie over, pointing favorably to black spots that show it’s cooked well before doing the same to one of his Calabrese pieces — not as much, this time. He pulled apart the crust, using terms I’ve never heard and talking about the benefits of keeping cold-fermented dough out longer, and answering my inquiries about where he gets his oak wood for the lone oven at Mission Pizza.

Peyton’s seen this before, but Greensboro hasn’t really. There’s more than enough pizza to go around here, to be sure, but Sticks & Stones is the only game in town for high-quality ’za, and they’re doing something altogether different at the Lindley Park steady than out here. Sticks proudly announces its locally-sourced ingredients, while Cugino Forno wants you to know that it imports its buffalo mozzarella from Italy regularly.

I’m going to use a beer analogy, because it’s the most applicable — the majority of the pizza in the Triad falls under the Budweiser/Miller category, and some of it is bad enough to be likened to Busch Light or Natty Ice. Sticks & Stones, which incidentally boasts an excellent craft beer selection, is more like a local brewery. Mission Pizza belongs in the same category, despite Peyton’s rebuke of overused terms like “artisan,” putting out small batch, high quality pies.

And Cugino Forno, though also a freestanding local restaurant, belongs somewhere on the craft spectrum, but probably closer to something like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium or Anchor Brewing. Understand, these are great breweries, and a far cry from the bland Big Beer you’re used to drinking. Cugino Forno is, by and large, a huge upgrade from what most pizzerias around here are doing. It’s not trying to be particularly unique — no wild ales or experimental batches here, folks — and it doesn’t rise to the level of Mission Pizza (go ahead and call me a patsy).

But once you bite into the doughy, chewy underbelly of the slices here, taste the crumbled Italian sausage on the Napoletana or the hot Calabrian peppers on the Calabrese and behold the sunlit room with its small armada of ovens, you won’t want to go back to your normal pizza joint. And that’s why people can’t shut up about this place, and why it has a near-perfect rating on Facebook — it’s helping to raise the bar.

 

Visit Cugino Forno at 1160 Revolution Mill Drive (GSO) or find it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.