Apr 19 2011
08:38 pm
Fast facts:Hard Knox Pizza
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).Le Boxeur on the left, The Bonecrusher on the right 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.

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smalc's picture

Do they have gluten-free

Do they have gluten-free crust? (I know, it's an abomination)

Brixx, Pizza Kitchen, and Mellow Mushroom have a frozen GF crust. Roman's will make one from dough if you got a few hours, but he has a GF buffet pretty regularly as well. But his is better than the rest, by far.

bizgrrl's picture

Hmmmm. Could this bring Hard

Hmmmm. Could this bring Hard Knox more business? I'm thinking I need to go and try out their crust.



Haven't eaten there in a long time. Do they still only have thick crust pizza? Never understood the need for a loaf of bread as part of my pizza.

eb02's picture

Hi there, I'm going to go

Hi there,

I'm going to go ahead and respectfully disagree with everything you just stated about Hard Knox Pizzeria's crust. After spending an entire year in Italy eating actual Neapolitan crust i can confidently say that Hard Knox's crust is not only the best crust in Knoxville, but the best crust I have ever had.

Also- you eat everything with a fork and knife, why does it bother you to eat pizza with utensils?? Very perplexing.

Factchecker's picture

Mmmm, hot wings...

Mmmm, hot wings...

redmondkr's picture

For the average Knoxville

For the average Knoxville 'foodie' Neapolitan is a carton of cheap ice cream.

jsj's picture

I'm always amazed at the

I'm always amazed at the audacity of Knoxville local 'food reviewers' to implore their opinion on those of us that are self proclaimed 'foodies'. Knoxville, while a great place to live, has very little ethnic population, and therefore no culinary diversity and therefore, very bland palettes. What is deemed 'great' by locals wouldn't even be considered 'decent' dining options in other parts of the country. By far, this is the best Pizza in town. If you've travelled abroad you are aware that it rivals pizza in Naples. A true compliment to the Hard Knox staff and owner. I'm a regular, and have been since they opened. Never had a bad experience, with food or the overall experience. The review is correct on one front ... it's not Naples- OR - New York. It's just simply the 'best'.

cafkia's picture

... to implore their opinion

... to implore their opinion on those of us that are self proclaimed 'foodies'. Knoxville, while a great place to live, has very little ethnic population, and therefore no culinary diversity and therefore, very bland palettes. What is deemed 'great' by locals wouldn't even be considered 'decent' dining options in other parts of the country.

Damn. So, in complaining about someone giving that which is acknowledged to be an individual opinion, you give an individual opinion on exactly the same subject. It is wrong for the food critic but fine for you because you are the amen chorus?

By the way, if you will get off of Kingston Pike and/or out of West Knoxville/Farragut you might note that you can actually find immigrants, minorities and ethnicities in general, along with their food.

rikki's picture

I'm always amazed at the

I'm always amazed at the audacity of Knoxville local 'food reviewers' to implore their opinion on those of us that are self proclaimed 'foodies'.

Congratulations, Russ! Just a few reviews into your tenure, and I'm already jealous of your hate mail.

Russ's picture


Thanks, Rikki. :)

The hilarious thing is that I've been served actual Neapolitan pizza by actual Neapolitans in Naples. The Hard Knox crust is not even close.

And, as I've seen stated elsewhere, "every time someone uses the word 'foodie,' an angel eats hot wings."

To each his/her own.

Dbastian's picture

That's interesting, given

That's interesting, given that we were trained by a master Pizzaiolo from Naples. We'll try harder.

knoxvegasbaby's picture

Hard Knox

The pizza is fabulous. No course is needed on the crust, it is already perfect. One day, I did have a pizza that was not as great as usual. It happens! Hard Knox is the best wood fired pizza in town and at the top of the list for just pizza. The salads, calzones, dessert pizza and just everything is great!!

VickiD's picture

Best Pizza I've Ever Had

Until about 2 months ago, I didn't know what good pizza was. Then I went to Hard Knox. My husband and kids and I went in one day because we had read that they had the only wood fired pizza in Knoxville and wanted to check it out. I had no idea that it would be so good. The wood fired crust and the fresh ingredients is what sets Hard Knox apart. I LOVE the Graziano with proscuitto and fresh mozzarella. We all love their dessert s'mores pizza, as well. I never found the crust to be the least bit soggy. Their pizzas are light and delicious and keep my family coming back week after week. We have never once had food that wasn't cooked to perfection. Give it a try.

h4503's picture


This makes me think you either:

1) Didn't actually visit Hard Knox
2) Have never had pizza other than Dominos and Papa Johns before
3) Are unable to eat with a fork and knife
4) Just looking for something to complain about
5) all of the above

-Written by one of the many loyal customers.

xmd's picture

My wife and I love the crust,

My wife and I love the crust, fresh toppings and wood fired flavor. It is the best crust & pizza we have found in K'town, hands down. Never really paid attention to it not folding correctly. I just know it's good and we never had a problem with folding and holding. Not one person we have turned on to Hard Knox has every complained, all said it was one of the best. Keep up the good work.

sftroop86's picture

Strongly disagree with review

Hard Knox pizza is far and away the best pizza in Knoxville. We have been their several times and never come away disappointed or hungry. I'm not sure where this reviewer is getting better crust than the one at Hard Knox. Every other joint I've been to around here (including the ones that have been featured on TV) have very limp crusts or are so thick they are more like bread. The toppings are very fresh, the service is wonderful, and the pizza is awesome.

Dbastian's picture

Thanks for the heads up on

Thanks for the heads up on your visit to Hard Knox. We take all comments to heart and will look into your critique of our crust. Generally people compliment us on our crust so it's a bit concerning that your experience was less than great.

Thanks Again

Dean Bastian

Mykhailo's picture

I like the flavor of your

I like the flavor of your crust a lot, and your pizza in general, but you definitely need to work on its stability. It's a universal criticism from everyone I've talked to.

R. Neal's picture

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