I have to admit, I had high hopes. The menu at Radius Pizzeria & Pub spoke of a truffle marinara sauce, a pie topped with rosemary potatoes and the clever, robust flavor profiles I appreciate in otherwise simple fare.
A proud pizza snob, I was raised within sniffing distance of a dozen family-owned joints outside New Haven, Conn. (the birthplace of pizza y'all, and I say that seriously). Toppings that included eggplant, artichokes and onion marmalade—especially on pizzas from a wood-fired oven—sounded like home.
Ultimately, there was more delight taken in skimming the menu than there was in the food at Radius, which opened in a former bank building in downtown Hillsborough in late March after much anticipation. Chef/owner Mick Carroll's vision for this restaurant is more worldly than simple Italian pies, but I stuck to the basics in hopes there might be a pizzeria nearby that approximates the thin-crusted gems I grew up with.
The biggest disappointment came in the disparity between the description of the food and what appeared at the table. Although I have high expectations when I try new pizza, even my dining companion, a native North Carolinian, thought some fundamentals were missing on the five pies we ordered for us and five children ages 5 and under. (Don't judge: We wanted leftovers for our husbands, and all pies are a mere 12 inches and cost between $10 and $12.)
The crust didn't taste salty, chewy or yeasty enough. It was quite bland, and some of the pies, such as Hold the Bagel, were undercooked. It was supposed to come with smoked salmon, fried capers, micro-shaved red onion and crème fraiche, with a finish of squeezed lemon. In reality, the capers seemed unfried, the red onion was scarce, a lemon wedge sat in the middle of the pizza and the salmon was cooked. I had expected raw smoked salmon for some reason, and it did not help that all the ingredients simply sat on top of the crust, including the dollops of crème fraiche, which I thought might have served as the sauce on this pie.
It's disappointing when a pizza is really a flatbread in disguise, and some of the pies we ordered were exactly that. Even in the case of Paddy's Pie, which came with sliced Yukon gold rosemary potatoes, green onions, bacon and cheddar cheese, they were chintzy with the cheese, which was cooked too long and made the entire thing rather stiff and unappetizing. (Cheese is often overcooked on pizza and should merely be melted through.) The rosemary flavor was scant, and the bacon—sad, dry crumbles—was sprinkled sparsely throughout.
The best pies we ate were The Cyclist (onion marmalade, chicken, mushrooms, green onions, mozzarella, parmesan) and the Old Reliable S&P (pepperoni, sausage, marinara, mozzarella). Both lived up to their descriptions and had a gooey foundation of cheese. The Cyclist, in particular, sang.
The appetizers were also hit or miss, as the fried calamari was crisp, flavorful and well seasoned, but the trio of spreads was a disaster. The roasted garlic seemed simply puréed; it was overpowering without a neutralizing base, such as extra virgin olive oil or cream cheese. The truffle marinara was rather truffle-less. The flatbreads were unremarkable.
The spinach salad was also a letdown since it came with the wrong dressing, however tasty it was (a balsamic-orange vinaigrette instead of the sherry truffle oil vinaigrette), and the croutons were rubbery. Also, in these parts when I read something comes with "crispy thick-cut bacon," I expect at the very least chunks, not mere crumbles.
We ordered all three desserts; I suggest the crème brulee.
The staff, despite being genuinely sweet and earnest, showed their inexperience. It did not help we were dining during a Last Fridays Art Walk and the place was full. Drink orders were forgotten, piping hot pizzas (though some were already cool) were put down within grabbing distance of my 7-month-old, and there was a lot of waiting and general inattentiveness throughout the meal. Still, their happiness to be serving us and patience with our brood more than made up for a forgotten Shirley Temple. I felt like we were in a neighborhood pub, and there's a lot to be said for that.
We paid a lot of money for a mediocre meal. However, the menu shows potential, and the ambition is a noble gesture.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Big ambitions."