subject: Rise PizzaWorks
take-out vehicle: pizza box
Though a lifelong fan of pizza, I was never really a fan of Casella's Pizza (Barrack's Road's former Italian/pizza eatery), so when I heard about Rise PizzaWorks coming earlier this year, I was pretty excited. Not only would Barrack's Road have another (hopefully fantastic) pizza place, but said pizza place would also have an element of novelty: custom pizza by the slice.
As it turned out, the whole "custom pizza by the slice" thing is kind of a misnomer. There are three sizes of "slice" that one can order: a quarter-pie (2 slices), a half-pie (4 slices), and a whole pie (8 slices). It was never made clear, but after seeing them, I would guess that whole pies are approximately 14 inches wide, and that the quarter- and half-pie crusts are cut therefrom.
Feeling adventurous, I decided to set aside my unabashed love for gluten and try a quarter-pie with a gluten-free crust. I topped it with pesto, chopped fresh tomato, fresh basil, prosciutto, and low-fat mozzarella. My wife chose the regular (i.e., gluten-included) wheat crust with tomato sauce, broccoli, carrots, red peppers, and regular-fat mozzarella.
As I expected, the gluten-free crust was thin, but it served its purpose well. It was reasonably chewy, and not once did it break, tear, rip, or otherwise compromise the structure of the slice. It was, however, lacking in cooked flavor (the underside of the crust sported a little too much extra flour for my taste), and, most unfortunately for me, smaller than the regular quarter-crust.
The toppings themselves were decent. Dominant on mine was the saltiness of the prosciutto, followed by the pesto, which I thought could've used a hint more garlic. The tomato provided a cool freshness to each bite (the short ride through the oven was apparently not long enough to heat them through), but their flavor was not overt, and the basil blended into the pesto. The cheese was mostly tasteless, but it too served its purpose by adhering the toppings together.
Save for the hard-to-mess-up fresh veggies, the gluten-included wheat crust slices reminded me very much of the pizza I got while eating at JMU's central dining hall earlier this year. While not a horrible comparison, I was expecting much better. The crust itself smacked of Boboli®* (pretty low on flavor, fairly airy, and in that middle ground between good and "whatever, i'm hungry"), and the amount of cheese was a bit much.
Speaking of a bit much, Rise's interior is pretty crazy. It's kinda like being inside a giant Hot Wheels® car. The walls are stainless steel, but the ceiling and front-facing wall are huge solid blocks of bright yellow and orange. If Rise has succeeded in one thing, it's making people forget about the über-traditional jewelry store that preceded it.
Besides pizza, Rise also makes custom salads, and their impressive selection of toppings can be applied to both. I probably won't make it a point to go back soon, but when I do, I'm going to find a way to use dried cranberries on a pizza. Ooh, what about a regular wheat crust with a ricotta-basil base with fresh spinach, pine nuts, dried cranberries, and bleu cheese crumbles? (If anyone tries that, let me know.)
Pizza I could make at home for less money: 0
* Similar to Boboli, Rise's crusts are par-baked. When we ordered, sections of nearly done crust were taken out, topped, then run through a short pizza oven for about 3 minutes to finish.