MOD Pizza

I know I am really late to the build-your-own personal pizza craze but yesterday Sidney and I finally got around to jumping in. We ate at the premiere player in the individual artisan-style pizza creation business, MOD Pizza, and I must say it was excellent.

This was the MOD Pizza that Sidney and I visited in Myrtle Beach yesterday.

This was the MOD Pizza that Sidney and I visited in Myrtle Beach yesterday.

Before I write about our experience, let me offer a quick story. At my mom’s family Italian restaurant, there was a personal pizza on the menu. Customers could choose one complimentary topping but then would have to pay $.75 per additional topping. My uncle on my dad’s side of the family would always order the pizza off the menu and wouldn’t let the extra topping charge deter him. He would order almost every topping the restaurant offered, easily paying double the menu price of the actual pizza. Because he loved the Pastime Cafe’s pizza pies so much, he just didn’t care about running up the tab.

But a lot of other people do. When ordering pizza, many people will opt for pepperoni when really they would prefer a five meat pie. Many people will order a regular veggie pizza when they really want to add a few gourmet toppings on it as well.

Hello MOD Pizza! The chain’s business model is simple: Customers pay $8 for an 11-inch pizza and have the pleasure of adding however many number of toppings they please.

The line at MOD Pizza yesterday was decently sized.

The line at MOD Pizza yesterday was decently sized.

Sidney and I ate lunch at MOD Pizza here in Myrtle Beach on Saturday. Right when we entered the restaurant we picked up on a vibe. It could just be the Myrtle Beach location, but MOD Pizza seems like a progressive, edgy business. As we stood in line, the wall to our left was covered in a collage of diverse employees and customers. The actual staff working at the restaurant also fit the bill of the photos on the wall. It seemed evident that Mod Pizza lets employees be themselves whether that means having green hair, lots of tattoos, or numerous piercings. The only thing more diverse than the people of Mod Pizza would be the food offered!

The employees at the MOD Pizza location in Myrtle Beach are hard working and friendly.

The employees at the MOD Pizza location in Myrtle Beach are hard working and friendly. Here is one worker in the middle of creating Sidney’s pizza.

Customers can choose between a classic pizza that already has listed ingredients/toppings or they can go completely rogue and build their own. Sidney went with a classic pizza, opting for the Dominic (white sauce, asiago, fresh chopped basil, red onion, sliced tomatoes, mild sausage) while I decided to build mine from scratch!

MOD Pizza is set up like a mission burrito joint. You go up to the counter and all the ingredients and toppings are laid out between where you initially place your order and where you pay. The first employee asked me what I would be ordering. I told him I would be building my own MOD creation. He asked me what sauce I wanted and I told him pesto. He then asked if I wanted cheese (is that even a serious question?). After he layered my pie with mozzarella, a different employee asked me what types of meat I wanted. I opted for grilled chicken and spicy chicken sausage. Next came vegetables and I got corn (yes, corn is a pizza topping at MOD pizza). I was then asked if I wanted any of the more eclectic toppings. I requested roasted garlic.

Here is a look at the MOD Pizza set up in Myrtle Beach.

Here is a look at the MOD Pizza set up in Myrtle Beach.

After the ordering and topping selection is complete, you pay. For our two pizzas and a drink that we shared, we paid just under $20. More on if it was worth it or not later. Once the transaction was made, the pizzas were thrown into the oven.

When my pizza came out of the oven, this is what it looked like.

When my pizza came out of the oven, this is what it looked like.

Within five minutes, our names were called and we were handed our pizzas. They looked beautiful! They also looked really big too. We knew immediately that we wouldn’t be eating our whole pies during our lunch date. Presentation and size are important factors but nothing matters more than taste. What did we think of our pizza?…

This is Sidney with her pizza. She got the Dominic, a MOD Pizza classic.

This is Sidney with her pizza. She got the Dominic, a MOD Pizza classic.

It was absolutely delicious! Let me put it this way, MOD Pizza sure beats Pizza Hut or Domino’s. The flavors our taste buds immediately enjoyed from our first bites impressed us. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that we didn’t burn our tongues upon digging in. Each bite was incredible and the wood fired thin crust was perfect. The cheese was a masterful consistency and the toppings were adequately cooked. The word “gourmet” really does characterize the pizza offered at this place.

A photo of me with the pizza that I built from scratch. I really enjoyed MOD Pizza.

A photo of me with the pizza that I built from scratch. I really enjoyed MOD Pizza.

When Sidney and I eat Chick-Fil-A or burritos, it seems that our bill always runs close to $20. With this comparison in mind, I would say the value of MOD Pizza is excellent. Like I said, the portions are huge. We both ate just half of our respective pizzas. When we eat at a burrito joint, we are never taking any leftovers home. More importantly, just the quality of the food at MOD Pizza is above average. Sidney and I both felt we were getting what we paid for. This was reinforced when we ate some of our leftovers for lunch today. The best food always tastes better the next day and this holds true for Mod Pizza.

I highly recommend MOD Pizza. The business model is sound and the food is great. Make sure to give it a try. Don’t Blink.

A Proper Transition for the Pastime Cafe

I am always intrigued when a business swoops in and sets up shop in an old building. I find it fascinating to see what is done to shoot new life into the structure and, if lucky, what is done to pay tribute to the building’s past. You commonly see businesses transform desolate apartment buildings, deserted movie theaters, and rundown grocery stores all the time. The only thing better than watching the transformation take place is walking inside the remodeled building once the ribbon is cut.

News of an upcoming major transformation project hit close to home yesterday. I learned that the site of some of my best childhood memories would finally get a facelift.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the family restaurant. Named the Pastime Café, the place served the best Italian food in Walla Walla, Washington. Don’t think it was a short run. For over 80 years, my mom’s family operated the Pastime. That’s right. For over eight decades, the prominent but blue collar Italian joint on Main Street in the “town so nice they named it twice” thrived. The succession was nothing short of perfect. My great grandpa (Louie Fazzari) opened the place, passed it on to my grandpa (Frank Fazzari) who devoted his whole life to it, who in turn left it to my uncle (Robert Fazzari) who ran the restaurant until the last day of business in 2006.

The Pastime Café, the restaurant I grew up in.

The Pastime Café, the restaurant I grew up in.

My memories inside those Pastime Café walls couldn’t be much sweeter. Whenever we visited our family, we always dined there. My grandpa’s employees treated us like royalty and the regulars would always stare at us as we entered the restaurant and proceeded to a table in the dining room. After dinner we would go up to the front counter staffed by my late Aunt Becky and she would let us pick out a candy bar from underneath the giant glass case that boxed in the antique cash register.

This is my great grandpa at the cash register. As you can barely see, the glass counter case is visible at the very bottom of the picture.

This is my great grandpa at the cash register. As you can barely see, the glass counter case is visible at the very bottom of the picture. This entire setup remained the same up until the restaurant closed in 2006.

Sometimes after dinner and before our candy raid, my grandpa would quickly take us back into the bar. Let me tell you, that was a different world! Shady looking characters and clouds of cigarette smoke filled the dark, long area. It was a 360 degree change when we would return on Sundays. The Pastime was closed on the Lord’s Day but my grandpa would always stop by to check on the place. He would take my siblings and I with him and give us full reign of the restaurant. In the bar we would have a ball picking up loose change on the floor, playing the video games in the back, and scratching off lotto tickets while sitting on the stools. We would run around the lounge and dining room areas, “play restaurant” at the cash register, and follow my grandpa into the kitchen where he would let us step into the gigantic freezer. Beautiful times.

The Pastime staff probably around the mid to late 1940s. My grandpa is in the back row on the far right. His brother (Art), who I also grew up around and who was extremely generous just like my grandpa, is standing right next to him.

The Pastime staff probably around the mid to late 1940s. My grandpa is in the back row on the far right. His brother (Art), who I also grew up around and who was extremely generous just like my grandpa, is standing right next to him.

This past January marked ten full years since the building at 215 Main Street was last operational. After the business closed, my uncle sold the place. In that decade span, ownership of the property shifted hands more than once but nothing ever materialized within those walls. The building that was already a throwback in the first place sat abandoned on a street corner in Walla Walla for far too long.

Yesterday my brother sent me a link to an article in Walla Walla’s local newspaper that said the wait would seen be over. Some visionaries have been hard at work creating Pastime 2.0. Well, to be fair, it won’t be a Pastime replica (there could never be another one anyway). But what is going in at the location is something that will carry on the proud tradition of the space while at the same time capitalzing on what Walla Walla is now known for: Wine.

This summer the Passatempo Taverna will open. The Pastime building will once again be a functioning restaurant and the parking lot in what we used to call “the alley” will be developed into a wine tasting room. Talented people have come together to represent each facet of Passtempto Taverna from the menu to the design to the wine. The project is in good hands. I could rest easy when I read the article and realized that the construction was done with absolute integrity and care. The discoveries made during the renovation fascinated me and the plans to keep around a touch of Pastime nostalgia encouraged me.

A look at the construction of Passatempo Taverna (photo courtesy of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin).

A look at the construction of Passatempo Taverna (photo courtesy of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin).

I am very excited to see more progress photos of the construction and then ultimately coverage from the grand opening. Of course one day I hope to visit Passatempo Taverna; it would be a very special moment. The Pastime building deserves to once again be a community gathering center and I am 100% ready for this new chapter to begin. Don’t Blink.

A Reason to Talk About Pancakes

It pains me to ever mention a stupid, phony “national day of _________ (enter a specific item that has no reason for a day’s worth of recognition)” on brentreser.com. One time, I even blogged about how much I hate it. However, when it inspires a blog post I have to swallow my pride. For whatever reason, today is National Pancake Day. It just so happens that pancakes are my favorite breakfast item. Just a few words on this delicious delicacy:

I grew up loving pancakes. From the ages of 9-16, whenever we went out for breakfast I would always order two pancakes and a side of hash browns. Perhaps no place offered better hot cakes than our family Italian restaurant, the Pastime Café, in Walla Walla, Washington. The plate sized pancakes had something special about them, a taste that included a slightly sweet flavor. The whipped butter and old fashioned maple syrup set them apart.

This is me with a plate of banana pecan pancakes in a Myrtle Beach restaurant.

This is me with a plate of banana pecan pancakes in a Myrtle Beach restaurant.

I have other restaurants that stick out in my mind because of their pancakes. A place in Spokane called Frank’s Diner would serve silver dollar pancakes covered in whipped cream, chocolate chips, and sprinkles. A family restaurant in Walla Walla called Clarete’s would whip up great tasting pancakes that happened to be yellow! In Missoula, Montana, I was very fond of a place called Paul’s Pancake Parlor. At this particular restaurant I would order the signature dish, a sampler plate with a chocolate chip pancake, a sourdough pancake, a blueberry pancake, and an original pancake. Other establishments with really good hot cakes come to mind too but I don’t want to bore you.

These are some chocolate chip pancakes I had at Plantation Pancake House in Myrtle Beach.

These are some chocolate chip pancakes I had at Plantation Pancake House in Myrtle Beach.

Of course I grew up eating my mom’s pancakes. Quite frequently she would make pancakes for weekend breakfasts and even for dinners. She would get her griddle out and pour on the batter, making several pancakes at once. Every now and then she would let us make our own pancake! Standing over us, she would let us pour the batter on the surface, flip it over, and then transfer the completed product to a plate.

People sometimes get weirded out by this, but to this day I always have my mom undercook my pancakes. I am talking undercooked in such a way that the pancake pretty much rips apart in doughy shreds as it is transferred from the serving plate to my own individual plate. Actual batter streams out on my plate. This makes some people a little queasy but when it comes to eating pancakes hot, this is my preferred way to do it.

I am also a huge fan of leftover pancakes. My mom would always make extra pancakes and freeze them. I would then eat several breakfasts where I would reach into the freezer, take out a bag of 3-4 pancakes, heat them up just enough so they would unthaw, and spread peanut butter on them. It was a great way to start off the morning!

Now I live in an area that has “pancake houses” on every corner. In Myrtle Beach you will find numerous breakfast restaurants that specialize in pancakes. It really is a little slice of heaven for me. I went through a little spurt where I tried three or four of them in a short span. At one place I ordered banana pecan hot cakes and loved every bite.

Pancake Houses are all over Myrtle Beach. This is Woodhavens Pancake House.

Pancake Houses are all over Myrtle Beach. This is Woodhavens Pancake House.

So that is what I have to say about pancakes. If you know of a place that I have to try, please let me know! As much as I say to hate it, Happy National Pancake Day. Don’t Blink.