High Point pizza joint is full of surprises

by Brian Clarey

There’s always room for fruit pizza, even after a few laps around the buffet. (photo by Brian Clarey)

I had never heard of Gianno’s Stone Oven Pizzeria in High Point, never picked up any buzz about the place and it’s genuine stone oven, never even noticed it when I drove past it on Eastchester Drive on my way to somewhere else.

Honestly, I found it by Googling “High Point restaurants” and scrolling a few pages deep.

How bad could it be? I thought to myself. Imagine my surprise when I drove up to the place, a tasteful stucco building alongside of a strip mall, its perking lot full to capacity in the early part of the lunch service. Inside, business folk and lunch ladies and cops took up the tables, eating steaming, cheesy pasta dishes and salads in giant bread bowls. And over by the kitchen: a pizza buffet, two of my most favorite words in the English language.

Imagine my surprise. I sat and took a quick look at the menu — interesting appetizers like Italian nachos, homemade soups, a bevy of salads and some greatlooking sandwiches. But all of this was an exercise in futility. When my server approached, he could tell just by the look on my face that I would be taking a few laps around that buffet.

First I built a salad using a fine mix of romaine and other greens, some red cabbage and excellent bleu cheese dressing that rose perhaps six inches off my plate. I don’t normally like to fill up on salads on a mission like this, but what can I say — I’m watching my waistline.

After I scarfed it down, it was time to test the pies.

Sure, I’m a pizza purist, generally scoffing at anything that doesn’t come from New York, New Jersey and, sometimes, Connecticut. But I’ve come around to the wood-fired and stone-cooked styles of pizza made famous by Wolfgang Puck and appropriated in every corner of the nation. The stone, in particular, holds enough heat to bubble the crust just right, and Gianno’s makes an excellent example of the form.

My first slice featured crumbled bacon, fresh tomato and a little onion with a light, garlicky sauce. I could tell by looking at the crust that they got it right: both chewy and crispy, with telltale bubbles rising near the point of the slice. The next featured crumbled sausage, red sauce and again a bit of sliced onion. The sausage was authentic Italian, delicious.

A word here about crust: At a pizza buffet, I generally don’t eat the crust because, you know, bread. At Gianno’s, this was not the case. I crunched each rind down before refilling my plate. I couldn’t help myself..

Each trip to the buffet saw something new: sweet and spicy barbecue chicken pie; a fine pepperoni; one with fresh mozzarella, pesto, tomato and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top.

After a few turns, I found a bowl filled with zeppoli drenched in honey and cinnamon, as well as a fruit dessert pie that gave me pause: berries, peaches, pineapple, nuts and jam, piping hot and with icing on top.

I ate it even though I wasn’t even all that hungry anymore, because lunch at a pizza buffet isn’t necessarily about being hungry.

Next time I may try one of those great-looking salads or maybe a pasta dish. But if they’ve got the buffet set up, I will not be able to resist it.