|Fast facts:||Hard Knox Pizza|
|Rating:||(Has potential but needs improvement)|
|Price range:||Twelve-inch pizzas from $8 to $13|
|Summary:||Neapolitan-style pizzas with fresh, interesting ingredients, baked in a wood-fired brick oven. Crust is deeply flawed and needs refinement.|
|Address:||Western Plaza, 4437 Kingston Pike, Knoxville TN 37919 Map|
Hard Knox Pizza is built around a great concept: thin-crust Neapolitan pizza, baked in a genuine wood-fired brick oven, using fresh, interesting ingredients. The idea is certainly sound, but the execution of the crust needs a lot of work.
Three of us visited Hard Knox for the first time recently with open minds and empty bellies. The decor is sparse, and what little decoration there is centers around boxing (which leads inevitably to the bad pun in the restaurant's name). The simple tables are accompanied by those short little stools that boxers sit on in their corners between rounds. The stools are so much lower to the ground than standard chairs that one of my companions remarked, "I feel like I should be milking a cow."
On the day of our visit, the featured appetizer was miniature meatballs with marinara and parmesan. The meatballs were tender, moist, and zesty, with just the right spices to bring out the marinara. This was a great starter which all three of us enjoyed.
Hard Knox features seven red-sauce and seven white-sauce pizzas, all of them with compelling ingredients: fresh mozzarella, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil, prosciutto, Genoa salami, portabella mushrooms, pulled pork from Dead End BBQ, and caramelized garlic, to name just a few. These are not your ordinary pepperoni and sausage toppings, so the menu seemed to offer a lot of promise.
We ordered one of the red pizzas and one of the whites (this was a generous amount of food for three people). The red was The Bonecrusher: fresh mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, fresh rosemary, and crushed red peppers. The white was Le Boxeur: smoked mozzarella, Genoa salami, and Dijon garlic aioli. Neither sounded particularly grease-heavy, but The Bonecrusher had perhaps a little too much sausage.
Rosemary fits well with mozzarella under just about any circumstances, and its natural evergreen scent always brings out the best flavors of good meats, even processed meats like the pepperoni and Italian sausage on The Bonecrusher. Under ideal circumstances, the inclusion of rosemary could have made that pizza a real classic. I also liked the Dijon and garlic aioli on Le Boxeur, but both of my companions thought it merely tasted like mayonnaise; I was out-voted on that point. However, Genoa salami and garlic always belong together. That's a fail-safe combination which rescued Le Boxeur, regardless of one's opinion of the aioli.
The pizzas are Neapolitan style, which means the pizza should have a thin, supple crust; it is not supposed to be crisp, but it should be firm enough to allow eating the pizza without a knife and fork. Neapolitan pizzas (and their New York derivatives) usually feature a crust that's only about an eighth of an inch thick. It's tricky to do Neapolitan pizza correctly, since the thin crust can collapse easily under the weight or grease of its ingredients. This is exactly the problem with Hard Knox's pizza. Their crusts are limp, soggy, and weak, meaning they cannot be eaten with bare hands. They require a knife and fork, because they cannot be lifted off the plate without falling apart.
When the restaurant was being constructed, the owners went to great lengths to include a genuine wood-fired brick oven, at probably tremendous expense and definitely tremendous labor. With some changes to their crust recipe, that investment could probably pay off, but it's going to take a lot of experimentation to get it just right.
The culprit may be the particular flour they're using for their pizza dough, or it may be something else, like cooking time, or raw dough handling, or refrigeration. Whatever the cause, the resulting pizza is utterly flaccid and cannot stand up to the toppings.
The wood-fired oven imparted a pronounced smoky, charcoal flavor to the crusts. This formed an excellent flavor base for both pizzas, but the sogginess of the crust was too much of a distraction for this flavor to make up for it.
A true Neapolitan pizza is pretty light on both sauce and grease, but neither of these two pizzas were particularly extravagant with the sauce or fat, so I don't think that's the real culprit. Both Neapolitan and New York pizzas are thin enough to be folded if necessary without falling apart. Hard Knox pizza can't even be lifted off the plate, much less folded, requiring a knife and fork to be edible.
That isn't Naples or New York. It's just a mess.
Twelve-inch pizzas range from $8 to $13. Create-your-own options include lots of vegetable and herb choices, so maybe a meatless pizza would fare better with that weak and soggy crust, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.See all NoshViews reviews...
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