My car has been on autopilot to Etowah lately, and my latest find is a doozy, not just for the food, but also for the great story behind the scenes.
Blue Ridge Pizza Company is a family affair; and all built around a little girl. Tom and Linda Sanders were driving in from Memphis (500 miles one-way) to see their first grandchild on a regular basis, and it was getting old. Retired from the office equipment business, Tom said to his son Tommy, “Sell your printing business. Move to Asheville with us, and we’ll find something to do.” And so they did.
With no restaurant experience, but with a clear idea of what they wanted, they built out a former eatery in a little strip center. In between hammering and nailing, they were tweaking family recipes and developing their menu. Their guinea pigs were willing Etowah neighbors…Tom took barbeque to the banker, marinara to the barber and brownies to the beautician. They listened, learned and refined. And then they invited 160 of their closest new friends to eat for free over the course of two long days. Their only request was that report cards be filled out and left for grading purposes. Talk about putting it all on the line!
The word came back, “You’re going to need to expand.” And this was before they opened. Tom sums up the philosophy in simple terms. “We wanted to put out the best product at an affordable price. We make our pizza dough three times a day, our bread for sandwiches every morning and bake cookies and brownies from scratch.”
So, get to the food already! Two friends and I went for lunch, bringing a bottle of white wine. No corkage fee, which as I have often said, is a miraculous and wonderful thing. We started off with cheese bread, which was a generous portion of their pizza dough covered with a special hand-grated blend of cheeses and a perfectly balanced marinara sauce. Not too sweet, not too acidic, this sauce was bursting with fresh tomato flavor. Sharing a fresh Greek salad, we discussed the multiple choices that the menu offered. Our server was a great help and steered us toward several of the specialty pizzas.
We finally decided on the Margherita and Memphis BBQ pizza. Pies are offered in three sizes; we decided to get the small and share. It is a fun way to sample several different varieties, because they are all so tempting. The crust here is neither thick nor super-thin; it has that soft, slightly yeasty-chewy goodness that doesn’t overwhelm the toppings but adds to the final product. You can build your own pizza from 25 different choices.
If pizza isn’t what you are craving, move into the grinder section, where there are a baker’s dozen with half and full size options (and a half sandwich on a homemade roll with a bag of chips at $4.95 is a filling bargain of a deal). Tom is particularly proud of his Memphis BBQ…for those of you who haven’t done Memphis, this refers to the style of “que” that uses the shoulder vs. the butt (less fatty) and is pulled, not chopped. It also comes “sauced” instead of dry, so it has all that sweet, spicy flavor running through the meat making a messy wonderful treat.
For dessert, we somehow couldn’t resist the “Mount Mitchell” which looked like something out of a retro ice-cream parlor. We all exclaimed that we couldn’t possibly eat all of that and then proceeded to fight our way down to the last spoonful. I make a pretty mean brownie…but I have to admit that theirs have got mine beat. Fudgy, chewy, with the most intense cocoa/coffee flavor, the brownies were topped with ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce and whipped cream and nuts. One of life’s perfect combinations and one that is worth every calorie.
On my next visit, I got take-out (Tom tells me that 40 percent of their business is to-go, and everything on the menu can be ordered for pick up). Buffalo wings with ranch dressing were just to my liking; not too hot, not too tame and cooked just right. The wing meat was fall-off-the bone tender. The Fat Gary pizza came loaded with eight different toppings and was my favorite so far of the specialty pizzas, perhaps because I’m just a traditional topping kind of girl. A Sydney’s Club Sandwich with whole strips of bacon, ham and turkey between that fabulous bread was exceptional. Tom and Tommy (with lots of help from wife Linda and daughter Leigh) have created their own secret “Sanders Special Sauce” that finished off the sub perfectly.
There are mini-sandwiches for lighter appetites, a kid’s menu and burgers and dogs. This place is kid-friendly, birthday party friendly…just friendly all around. The Sander’s philosophy is clear in their welcome, “The customer writes our checks; they are the most important thing we have,” says Tom.
With a Blue Ridge theme running through the restaurant (by the way, they did have to expand after only three months), and three big-screen televisions in the second section of the restaurant, there is plenty of room for large parties or small (each booth is named for a different locale of the Blue Ridge). One local summed it up perfectly. “You’re the best thing to happen to Etowah since they put in the red light!”