After their successful ventures with Taco Mamacita and Urban Stack Burger Lounge, local restaurateurs Mike and Taylor Monen set their sights on Neapolitan pizza, opening Community Pie next to Miller Plaza last month. The Monens have sourced many of their ingredients locally, while importing necessities from Italy, in a merging of farming communities.
850 Market St.
Chattanooga, TN 37402
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
11 a.m.-11 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you’ll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it’s the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it’s worth it.
Atmosphere and service
The ambiance was lively and loud. The large leather booths and tables were full, so I opted to sit along the ledges by the garage door-style windows facing Miller Plaza-with the windows open on nice, warm days, these will be prime seats, especially during Nightfall.
My server explained the menu and gave recommendations. She was amiable and checked on us often, in addition to other servers making rounds. The food arrived in a timely fashion, and the whole operation seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine.
For toast in several appetizers and croutons on some salads, Community Pie wisely sources bread from our local Niedlov’s Breadworks-an artisanal bakery I’ve previously reviewed that was recently featured by Yahoo Finance.
The first test for the toast was with the homemade Cruze Family Farm whole milk ricotta and local Benefield apiary honey ($7). The coagulated whey cheese was creamy and lightly sweet, mixed with extra-virgin olive oil for flavor and spreadability along the firm toast surfaces.
It is said that consuming local honey daily will build up the immune system because of local pollens the bees have carried during its production-although the jury is still out. Regardless, this Benefield honey from Hixson was rich, high-quality honey. Combining this natural sugar buzz with the milky ricotta and a dash of sea salt (provided on the plate), everything nicely blended into a farm-to-table community of fresh flavors.
I also sampled Niedlov’s toast topped with heaps of Community Pie’s caponata ($5), which came in two half-slices. The caponata was a mountain of eggplant and pine nuts pleasurably flavor-blasted with pungent capers, tangy tomatoes and peppers.
On the lighter side, the raw kale salad ($4 for a single serving or $10 for a community bowl) was exquisite. Kale is an extremely healthful leaf, but its leathery consistency requires some softening to help with palatability-whether by cooking or marination. Community Pie doesn’t allow this raw kale out of the kitchen unless it is marinated in their housemade champagne vinaigrette for at least two hours.
The bubbly wine and vinegar softened the kale’s hard nature to a delightful form while preserving its crispiness. Combined with cranberries, almonds and grated Parmesan, this kale salad packed a sweet, hearty crunch.
True Neapolitan pies are cooked extremely fast in a blistering-hot, wood-fired oven, and Community Pie’s oven reaches about 900 degrees. They import 00 ground flour directly from Naples, Italy, and make their dough fresh daily for these 12-inch pies.
Italians prefer to use a knife and fork to eat their pizza, so Neapolitan pies are not typically designed for handheld slices and frequently have a thin, wet middle. True to form, Community Pie’s slices are quite floppy in the middle and require folding if you want to eat them by hand.
Although some flavorful char splotches are desirable-and expected-in traditional wood-fired pizza, some of these carbonized spots were bridging over to bitter, approaching burnt. However, on most areas of the pie, the char added a rich, smoky essence, and the charred versus burnt debate can be subjective-I recently reviewed a pie that I think nailed this balance perfectly, though.
Onward to the toppings, the Nueske’s bacon pie ($13) had a generous amount of this high-quality, cured pork belly. It distributed its sweet and savory juices throughout the intense fontina and sharp Tillamook white cheddar cheeses and sliced fingerling potatoes.
This was a lavishly loaded pizza, with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh thyme adding their ambrosial assets. A thick bed of fresh arugula was overlaid along the top after baking, soaking up this pie’s balmy delights and sweating its own lightly peppery piquancy as it gradually wilted.
The lamb sausage pie ($14) was equally intriguing, albeit much more intense in a sneaky sort of way. The first bite began simply enough, with the savory spices of this housemade sausage and milky fresh mozzarella resonating in my palate. And then the next flavor wave came rolling in: the tangy sweetness of the San Marzano tomato sauce, pungent feta cheese and fresh mint tapenade gaining intensity.
But then, something unexpected happened: After a few seconds, the bite erupted like Mount Vesuvius, and my palate was suddenly pummeled with a giant blast of capsaicin heat and all of the other flavor elements, further intensifying into a “Harlem Shake”-like taste bud explosion.
Community Pie offers a variety of housemade gelatos, which can be mixed and matched at $4 for three scoops-the Monens are also planning to open a separate gelato shop this spring, called Milk and Honey.
The milk and honey gelato flavor was available at Community Pie, but I decided to sample a scoop of lavender and honey instead. The initial spike of rich sweetness from the honey gave way to the lingering floral essence of the lavender, with the milk and honey weaving themselves back into the aftertaste.
I also tried their Abita root beer and Nutella gelato infusions. The chocolate and hazelnut of the Nutella was intense, and its rich nuttiness perfectly paired with the lavender and honey scoop as their flavors juggled together. The root beer gelato was like a light, creamy orb of frozen root beer foam, and though excellent on its own, plopping this down in a mug of root beer would make an epic float.
I’m giving Community Pie 3 stars. The Monens have, indeed, done it again, adding another quality restaurant to their growing dining empire. Much like my previous experience at Urban Stack, Community Pie delivered a quality experience, and this focus on authentic Neapolitan pizza produced fruitful results with strong roots that should keep this restaurant firmly planted in the Chattanooga food scene.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 10:10 a.m. on 2/21/13 to correct a typographical error.