November 25, 2007
By MAUREEN CROCKETT
For the Sunday Gazette-Mail
During my never-ending search for a good restaurant pizza, I heard via the social grapevine there was a little place up Interstate 79 we should check out. On a recent fall Friday afternoon, we went north a ways, getting off the interstate at Mink Shoals.
Right around the bend, on the left was a rural strip mall with a red building under a big sign: Barone Bros. Pizza. From its open door wafted the aroma of spicy Italian herbs.
In the restaurant business, there’s casual, and there’s West Virginia casual. This place is the latter. It is stripped down to essentials, but welcoming. Everything inside is down-home plastic, with paper plates and napkins, a few tables scattered around the open kitchen.
It’s one of those places that has a fully stocked cooler, with door handles shaped like Coke bottles, where you reach in and grab your own soft drinks. There is that restaurant TV, but the staff is willing to turn down the sound.
Diners can’t be in a hurry, because cooking doesn’t start until the server puts in an order. Fortunately, we met friends there, so enjoyed conversation; unfortunately, there is no beer to while away the wait time.
Co-owner Frank Barone learned all about pizzas in Portland, Ore., where he worked in restaurants for 10 years. “Portland is pizza paradise,” he said. “There are 150 pizza shops there. When I came to Charleston, I saw my bother making pizza with soft, breadlike dough.”
The brothers put their knowledge together, and last July they started Barone Bros. Word of mouth has filled their tables. “We only have one bathroom, so the Health Department doesn’t allow us to have any more tables. We do mostly carryout anyway,” Frank said.
One friend ordered a Caesar salad large enough to share, so we dived in. The salad was fresh, but the dressing was too salty for some of us.
My husband, Bill, became mesmerized with the performance in the open kitchen. He watched with fascination as the cook twirled dough, tossing it in the air, flipping it, expanding the circle with each toss. Seeing that the rest of us ordered pizza, he ordered a sub, knowing he could cadge slices from friends.
His chosen sub had ham, cheese, green peppers and black olives, but he could only eat half because it was so large. Subs usually are bready and boring, but here, the bread is crusty and thin. He wrapped the rest in the napkins to take home.
One friend had a vegetable pizza, an extremely colorful pie, piled high with veggies and heavily dotted with halved black olives. She loved it, but like everything else, even a small pizza is large enough to share with the table.
I chose my customary favorite: a small pepperoni, onion and garlic. It came sizzling hot, and as usual, it smelled so good I couldn’t wait, so as usual, I burned my tongue. My pizza was savory and filling. There was enough to share, and so much that toward the end I just scraped off the top with my teeth and left the crust bare.
The autumn air turned chilly, whipping around my ankles. The front door stayed open, the cooks needed the cool breeze.
Nothing fancy here, just tasty, hot and filling food in generous portions. Only a few minutes drive up the road, it’s well worth a stop when you’re not in a rush.
Maureen Crockett of St. Albans is a frequent contributor of articles on food and travel to the Sunday Gazette-Mail.