Max’s Pizza: New York-style with a solid pedigree

By on November 10, 2014

max

Grant and Natalya Sharp. (Russ Lay)

Pizza.

Just as with Southern-style pork BBQ, everyone has an opinion about what’s best — or even good.

I love pizza so much that I have developed my own criteria, which eliminates choosing a favorite.

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Why? Because any worthy pizza excels in its own way and it seems silly to limit one’s choices to a single venue.

If I am willing to drive to a pizza place for takeout, it’s in the worthy category. If I am not, I either avoid it or order it only when the luxury of delivery overcomes my own inertia.

That said, Max’s Pizza Company easily slides into my “drive to” category, which is saying a lot since it is 7 miles north of my home.

The restaurant is located at 3723 N. Croatan Highway in Kitty Hawk, at milepost 4.5.

Max’s Pizza
3723 N. Croatan Hwy, Kitty Hawk, NC
252-261-3113
Closed Monday
Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Website: www.maxspizzaobx.com
Menu: www.maxspizzaobx.com/Menu/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/maxspizzaobx

One of the first measures for good pizza is, of course, a good chef. Grant Sharp is the culinary artiste behind Max’s pizza, as well as everything else on the menu, which spans choices from subs to calzones to lasagna, salads and yummy appetizers.

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Sharp comes to the kitchen with some impressive street cred.

For starters, he is an honor graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He mentored under Marcel Desaulinier (founder of The Trellis in Williamsburg) and participated with him in James Beard Foundation projects.

He was also one of three chefs at Meridian 42, a highly acclaimed Southern Shores eatery that sadly closed its doors several years ago.

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And he spent six years as a consultant to restaurants for Sysco Foods, which provided keen insight on menu choices, marketing and the business side of running a restaurant.

Ironically, however, given his new gig as co-owner of Max’s, along with his wife Natalya, who is the general manager, a stint at Anna’s Pizza and Italian Restaurants, legendary up and down the Peninsula area of Hampton Roads is what helps defines the cuisine at Max’s.

The founders of Anna’s trained at what is actually the first pizzeria ever licensed in the United States — Lombardi’s in New York City, which opened in the late 1890s and was officially licensed by the Big Apple in 1907.

Lombardi’s is credited as the birthplace of what is now known as New York-style pizza.

Those skills were learned by the founders of Anna’s, which opened its first store in 1970 at Buckroe Beach in Hampton, and then passed on to Grant.

From Le Cordon Bleu to pizza may seem like a puzzling career path. Grant was a good student at both places and Max’s pizza is, in my opinion, one of about five in Dare County worthy of claiming the title of authentic New York-style pies.

And these babies are wood-fired, making them even more intriguing.

Grant’s philosophy is to keep it simple and use only quality ingredients. “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it all,” he says.

Max S&PEven the flour for the dough is special. A sign in the storefront window says they use King Arthur Flour, a 223-year old company that makes unbleached, non-bromated, non-GMO flour.

The sauces are all homemade, and Sharp only uses Stanislaus tomatoes for his pizza and marinara sauce. Stanislaus is another company with a long history, in this case, 124 years. Sharp says they only harvest tomatoes 70 days each year, and each tomato makes it from the field to the can in three hours or less.

Obviously, Sharp places a lot of value on ingredients that carry a long pedigree and are made in a traditional style.

Every other part of the pizza follows the same practice. Vegetables are cut fresh, and all meats, such as sausage, which comes in its long, original casing, or pepperoni, are cut fresh. Real mozzarella cheese is also used and again, ordered in block form and shredded fresh each day.

The same principles apply to their other preparations. They make their own Italian bruschetta, in the traditional style, as well as their own garlic bread. Other breads are made locally at Proof Bakery and delivered fresh.

All meats used on their sandwiches are shoulder meat and do not come pre-packaged.

In fact, Natalya Sharp said with the exception of French fries and chicken wings, “nothing comes here in a bag, pre-packaged, or pre-portioned.”

Besides subs, Max’s offers Panini’s ($7.99), Calzones ($8.99 plus $1 per extra topping) and Strombolis (priced the same as pizzas).

But the real question is, does this attention to detail translate into the real deal when the food is served?

On my first visit I tried two slices of sausage and pepperoni. The wood-fired pizza was only slightly crisp, and the dough was literally the perfect, New York style—slightly moist, foldable for eating on the run, and both the pepperoni and sausage had just enough spice to taste like-real pepperoni and sausage.

The sauce was not spicy, but it was extremely flavorful. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but Natalya nudged me by asking if it, perhaps, tasted fresh. And so it was.

Tomato sauce that tastes as if it really came from fresh tomatoes, with some herbs and spices added, but not enough to overpower the main star-those Stanislaus tomatoes.

Not trusting my judgment alone, we held an impromptu business meeting at Max’s on our second visit, and our resident food aficionado, Mike “Moose” Smith of Max Radio, gave the pizza the same high marks.

Pizza by the slice starts at $2 and base toppings cost 50 cents each and gourmets run 75 cents.

Medium cheese pizzas start at $11.99 while a large begins at $14.99. Toppings add $1.50 to $3 each, depending on pizza size and whether base or gourmet options are chosen.

Max’s also serves up a Sicilian-style pizza which uses four times as much dough as the New York style, takes 45 minutes to bake, and weighs in at several pounds.

Salads and veggie options, including eggplant are available across the menu.

On my second visit I switched up to another favorite go-to food for me, the classic Italian sub ($5.99 for a 6 inch; $7.99 for a 12 inch). Not only was my sub piled high with more meat than I could consume, the bread was excellent, and again, I could tell the difference right away — no “cold cuts” slapped on a piece of bread.

Not even the famed “Boar’s Head” makes the grade here.

Natalya says the pasta is equally awesome and that customers love their chicken and veal Parmesan as well as their lasagna. She promises the homemade mozzarella sticks are the best on the beach.

Max’s has also added entertainment and specials. From now through Memorial Day, every Tuesday night is “Tubin’ Tuesday.” Starting a 6 p.m. themed surfing movies are offered. So far, the themes have covered the 70s, 80s and regions such as Australia or Pacific Islands.

Cheese pizza slices are only $1 on Tubin’ Tuesday and Tecate beer is only a buck all day. Max’s is seeking surf videos from local filmmakers, especially those with an Outer Banks theme.

Thursday’s bring Customer Appreciation Day, when all large pizzas are priced $2 below the menu price and all beer and wine are half-price.

Delivery is available from Southern Shores south to the Colington Road/Highway 158 intersection. Locals can obtain a special discount card.

Max’s Pizza
3723 N. Croatan Hwy, Kitty Hawk, NC
252-261-3113
Closed Monday
Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Website: www.maxspizzaobx.com
Menu:
www.maxspizzaobx.com/Menu/
Facebook:
www.facebook.com/maxspizzaobx

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