This column offers a sampling of dining experiences in the area. It is not intended as a review of the restaurant other than to provide the reader with one diner's experience. It also appears in The Herald's Friday entertainment section, "Ticket."
CARMELLA'S PIZZA GRILL
LOCATION: 3150 Hwy. 21, Fort Mill
HOURS: 10:30 a.m.- 2 a.m. every day
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AMBIANCE: New York-style pizzeria and pub
We landed at "Pizza Planet" for a work lunch on a Wednesday, and we weren't alone. Apparently, lots of people have heard through the grapevine about this pizza paradise that is Carmella's Pizza Grill in Fort Mill, accessed off Regent Parkway.
Tucked in the corner of the shopping center, I was deceived, thinking this would be a small pizzeria, like so many I've frequented in New York state. But this place is wide open and spacious with a view clear up to the rafters. The red brick and royal blue walls covered in sports memorabilia and logo signs, along with a smorgasbord of video games, paint this place as colorful and fun. Unlike many restaurants, the counter is in the back off the kitchen.
To left is the "pub" with a large bar and counter area, and several televisions. We seated ourselves in the non-smoking dining area of tables and booths, and more televisions. In fact, the back wall is painted white and framed in black to provide a gigantic screen for projecting any big game. This could definitely be a place to hang out, grab a slice and suds. Plus, our waiter was very down-to-earth and friendly.
It's also welcoming for families, with several hi-chairs available for the little ones, and a children's menu sure to please even picky eaters of penne and a meatball, cheese ravioli, chicken tenders or French bread pizza ($3.95-$4.50).
And for the finicky adults, check out this large Mediterranean-mix menu that includes pitas, burgers (even a pizza burger), five styles of grilled cheese, pasta dishes (including tortellini, which I love and rarely see), Carm's Oven lasagna, ravioli, parmigiana and more.
Or how about strombolis and calzones ($5.95)? Or the seven Heros Cold - like the Super Italian Combo of Cappicola, salami, ham, pepperoni and provolone, or nine kinds of Heros Hot - like SPO, sausage, peppers, onion, marina and provolone (small $5.95, large $7.95)? There's even Specialty Sandwiches including Reubens, Chicken Melt or Fried Chicken Tender ($5.95)? (Note: All subs and sandwiches are served with choice of waffle fries, slaw or chips.)
Or go light with a Signature Salad served as a side, small or large with tossings like Antipasto of ham, cappicola, salami and provolone, Picnic Chicken with fried tenders with bacon and mozzarella, or a Hot Picnic with Buffalo-style tenders.
But the draw here is the New York-style pizza. A Connecticut Yankee friend had tipped me off about Carmella's saying it was the best pizza she's had in the South. Could it be? I say, "Yes, it is so."
After taking at least 10 minutes to reach a consensus (no thanks to the offering of 20 toppings, plus seven specialty toppings, to go on a 14-inch for $11.95 or 18-inch for $13.95), we decided on the large Supreme that came loaded down with pepperoni, ham, sausage, green peppers, black and green olives and red onions under the Special Pizzas (14-inch for $16.95 or large for $19.95). You definitely need a fork for this one. Even non-crust eaters will gobble this stuff up. One slice of this stuff is a meal in itself. Four adults can easily fill up on this, and maybe have some to take home.
Just want a slice? From 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday the lunch special is two slices and a 16-oz. fountain drink for $4.50, or one slice, a side salad and drink for $5.50.
And don't overlook the appetizers ($4.95-$7.50) that includes a personal pizza, cheese sticks, jalapeno cheddar poppers, garlic breads and, well, a bit more unique offerings like deviled eggs, grape leaves stuffed with rice, baked spinach footballs of spinach and feta folded into phyllo triangles in Alfredo sauce. There's also Buffalo wings served hot, mild and barbecue from 10 for $5.95 to 50 for $31.50 with blue cheese or ranch and celery sticks. We tried the Cherry Pepper Shooters stuffed with prosciutto and provolone, which are "strong" tasting and a little messy to eat, but oh, so worth it.
We also had the Pierogies, because one, how often do you see that on the menu? And two, one of my co-workers had never in all her life had one of these delectable Slavic treats. Boiled then grilled with onions, they were scrumptious, and my co-worker liked them, too. Somehow though, the conversation turned to how these potato-filled dumplings would be deep fried, Southern style? Hmmm...
Carmella's also can be good for the budget. I was told on Tuesday, they offer a special of one slice for $1, but be sure to get there early. There also are beer specials, and on Thursdays, a game of "Name that Tune."
Carmella's is definitely the garden of plenty with good atmosphere, large menu, excellent food (don't forget to look at the desserts), delivery and take-out, catering, uniqueness (note: salads and appetizers came served in to-go boxes), and most importantly, true to its calling -- New York-style pizza.
-- Catherine Muccigrosso, Lake Wylie Pilot editor