Bar pie on Spring Garden

by Brian Clarey

Most pizzerias serve some form of alcohol, but that doesn’t make them bars.

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Spring Garden Bar & Pizzeria 2419 Spring Garden St. Greensboro. 336.834.2452

In big American cities with significant currents of Italian heritage, there is an epithet hurled around glass counters, screamed from moving cars and spray-painted on walls intended to connote dissatisfaction with a particular product.

That phrase is, “Your pizza sucks.” I’ve said it myself a few times — once to a particularly inept pie slinger at a run-down joint called Dino’s in New Orleans, once in Greensboro after ingesting a particularly horrid example of the form near my office and once, astonishingly, in Jersey City, NJ, one of the pizza capitals of the world, where a substandard late-night pie I ordered inspired me to make a phone call to an unsympathetic merchant.

As a self-proclaimed pizza fanatic here in the Triad, I’ve tried about every kind of pie I can get my hands on: artisan, fire-roasted, traditional, microwaveable. But this week I decided to get my hands on a specific kind of pizza, the kind that sometimes elicits a response like the one I’ve been talking about: the bar pie, or, specifically, the kind of pizza you get in bars.

Lots of pizzerias sell beer and wine; some even have hard liquor.

But the mere presence of intoxicating beverages does not a bar make. The Spring Garden Bar & Pizzeria is primarily a bar, as attested to by the long, wooden structure that runs the length of the place, and also because when they named it, they put the “bar” part first.

They take their beer seriously here, as evidenced by the fresh tap beers on hand, a rotating cast of about a dozen or so rare, local and mainstream brews. That the place hosts a steady crew of drinkers throughout the afternoon and evening further attests to its barroom credentials.

Of course, there’s a full menu of sandwiches that leans towards chicken and cheesesteaks, a slate of tried-and-true burgers and a short list of sliders, some salads and a bevy of “Italian favorites” that includes spaghetti and meatballs — a house specialty — lasagna, Stromboli and calzones.

As an aside, I am a huge fan of the calzone, which is basically a folded over pizza crust, with the good stuff on the inside instead of on top. But I refrained from ordering one because I have already eaten the best calzone in the world at a basement Italian joint in Denville, NJ where you could bring your own beer and there was no physical menu. The ’zone in question was stuffed with loads of ricotta, sausage, peppers, onions, ham, mushrooms and pepperoni and not a drop of tomato sauce. And the whole thing was deep-fried.

I went for the pizza for the aforementioned reason, but also because the price was as friendly as they get: Buy one get one free from noon until late night, a loss leader, perhaps, for the lunch crowd but a sure-fire crowd pleaser after the bar starts hopping.

I ordered mine with sausage and mushrooms, still thinking about that long-ago deep-fried calzone, and the slices were sitting before me within minutes.

Customized pizza by the slice is a tricky proposition. First you’ve got to make a bunch of cheese pizzas, and maybe a couple pepperonis. Then when someone orders, say, onion and peppers, the toppings are piled upon an already-cooked slice instead of all melted in with the cheese as if the pie had been born that way. So my two slices were piled high with fresh, sautéed mushrooms — as opposed to canned ’shrooms — and good, sliced Italian sausage. No crumbles. Both good things. And after tasting the pizza, I immediately deduced that it did not suck. It did not suck at all.

In fact, the bar pie at Spring Garden Bar & Pizzeria is quite good, with real cheese, a flavorful sauce and a thin crust, which is one of the reasons why it cooks so fast, another good thing in a place that does so much bar business. Beer drinkers want their pizza fast.