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Pizza Trail

Pizza may have originated in Italy, but it’s become America’s favorite pie. A recent survey found that 13 percent of the U.S. population consumes pizza on any given day.

Troup County, for sure, does its part. Recently, there’s been an explosion of pizza restaurants in LaGrange, plus popular locations in Hogansville and West Point.

My latest mystery travel assignment was a tasty cross-county pizza pilgrimage. Come along with me as we trace parts of Troup’s pizza trail in search of the perfect slice.

First stop, Hogansville and the family-owned, recently relocated:

Karvelas Pizza

The scene:

I first experienced Karvelas when it was a hole-in-the-wall on the outskirts of town. My chief concern was whether the new downtown digs would preserve the friendly vibe – not to mention the yummy pizza – that made the old dump wildly popular.

I shouldn’t have worried. The menus now accurately proclaim, “Not real glamorous but dang sure delicious.” The new place is spacious and nicer, but not too nice.,It’s still lively, quirky and a little loud, but in a good way. Picnic-style tables, inside and out. Smiling, speedy servers. Unless you prefer stuffy, you should like the atmosphere.

The slices:

Specialty 16-inch pies with clever names, like The Cave Man and The Flying Buffalo, and tempting combinations, including my personal favorite, The Memphis (Carolina mustard sauce, grilled chicken, applewood bacon, pickled jalapenos, Vidalia onions and mozzarella). There’s a build-your-own option, but no substitutions or deletions on specialty pies and only one size – huge. I didn’t see a by-the-slice option on the dinner menu.

The extras:

Fried pickles are popular and there’s a bar with wine and craft beer. Wings and boneless Buffalo bites come with a variety of house-made sauces.

Marco’s

A short ride down I-85 to 1302 Lafayette Parkway finds the first LaGrange franchise of  the 900-restaurant Marco’s chain, founded in 1978 by Pasquale “Pat” Giammarco, a native of Italy.

The scene:

Most Marco’s locations are carry-out and delivery only, but the LaGrange franchise, opened last December in the former Hog Heaven restaurant, also offers in-house dining. Orders are placed at the counter and delivered to the table. Customers make their own fountain drinks. The interior is pretty standard, no frills, but there’s an attractive outdoor seating area.

The slices:

Marco’s promises pizza made “the authentic Italian way” with dough and sauce made fresh daily and a special three-cheese blend. My companion liked her gooey cheese pizza and my “Chicken Fresco” pie exceeded my expectations for a chain.

The extras:

Subs, wings and salads are available, along with craft beer and wine. Coupons and low-cost specials are frequently offered.

Moving on to downtown LaGrange:

Your Pie

A light-filled renovation of the former Idle Hour Pub on Bull Street opened this summer as the newest franchise of the “fast-casual” chain founded in 2008 in Athens and now numbering about 60 restaurants.

The scene:

Bright and buzzing, the interior showcases historic red brick walls flanking the white-tile cooking area centered with a glowing brick oven. Family-friendly seating is rustic but comfortable and orders are placed at the counter, then delivered to the table. Customers serve their own fountain drinks. There’s often a line, but not much of a wait. An online ordering option is available.

The slices:

The name “Your Pie” tells the story. Ten-inch “personal pizzas” are totally customized. Each diner picks the dough, sauce, cheese and toppings – as many meats and veggies as he wants – for one reasonable price. A kids menu offers 7-inch pizza, drink and scoop of gelato for $6.69.

I watched “my pie” take shape on an “assembly line“ as workers added marinara, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, basil pesto, Italian sausage, spinach and mushrooms to the just-tossed dough, then popped it into the brick oven. By the time we picked a table, fixed our drinks and chatted a minute, the pizzas appeared. Crusts were especially tasty and it was fun to check out what everybody chose. Glad I didn’t have to eat the pineapple and black olive pizza, but the teen who ordered it said it was perfect.

The extras:

Paninis and salads are offered, along with multiple craft beers. A “make- it- a-combo” option  includes drink, salad or chips, gelato or brownie.

Mighty Joe’s

Owner Laurie Cook and her crew have been making hungry folks happy for more than a decade at their 101 Lafayette Parkway location.

The scene:

Just steps from Lafayette Square, Mighty Joe’s has become a mainstay of the downtown dining scene and a regular destination for teams, birthday parties and other celebrations. Bright red awnings on the handsome brick storefront invite diners into a cozy space that’s frequently lively, especially on Trivia Nights. Order at counter for delivery to table, fix own fountain drinks.

 The slices:

Generous slices or build your own 14-inch or 16-inch pizza with an array of  toppings, including traditional favorites, plus more unusual options, like roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and anchovies. I went old school – pepperoni with extra cheese –  and wasn’t disappointed.

The options:

Mighty Joe’s  calzones and bread sticks are mighty popular and there are subs, salads, lasagna, beer and wine.

Toodling on down to West Point:

Johnny’s Pizza

Area pizza lovers have two franchises for Johnny’s New York-style pies: the West Point location at 712 3rd Avenue and the new LaGrange site at 1506 Lafayette Parkway. The business was born near Syracuse University and came to Georgia in 1977.

The scene:

We tried both the historic storefront on West Point’s main business street and the newly-built modern dining room on LaGrange’s gateway. West Point has an outdoor dining option and worn but welcoming tables and booths. LaGrange has standard décor with handsome full-service bar in back. Servers take orders at the table and check back frequently.

The slices:

New York-style pizza, with its crispy but flexible crust, is ideal for eating by the slice, so that’s what I tried, ordering a Quattro Formaggio (four cheeses) and a Johnny’s Italian Special at each location. The cheese proved bland, but the Special lived up to its name.

The options:

Johnny’s menu is the most extensive of any pizza place on our “trail.”  Calzones, bruschetta, garlic knots, strombolis, Italian dinners and homemade cheesecake are among the dozens of choices.

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