Food fads come and go, but the love of pizza is universal and timeless. Of course, just what "pizza" means is open to interpretation. Witness the instant popularity of two new pizzerias, as different as pepperoni and pepperoncini.
In Durham, the crowd spilled out onto the patio the day Rockwood Filling Station (2512 University Drive; 401-9005) opened two weeks ago. Evidently, word had already spread that the pizzas were being baked by Nana's owner/chef Scott Howell, whose reputation for cracker-crusted Neapolitan style pies goes back to the days when he owned Pop's. For his latest venture, Howell has teamed up with former Nana's bar manager John Riggs.
The partners have completely overhauled the old Rockwood Filling Station building, paying tribute to the former occupant with the restaurant's name and with an industrial-chic decor. At the concrete bar, Riggs and his crew will offer a selection of wines by the glass, draft and bottled beers, and mixed drinks as soon as permits are issued.
For pizza fanatics, the most important new installation is the wood-fired pizza oven, where Howell is turning out his signature thin-crusted pies with a wide assortment of toppings. House specialty combinations range from classic Margherita to Eggplant Luv (Howell's current favorite, with roasted eggplant, tomato, ricotta, caramelized onions, roasted peppers and fried capers).
The menu also offers salads and sandwiches with a contemporary Italian accent, as well as a handful of antipasti such as wood oven-roasted meatballs and chicken wings marinated in lemon, rosemary, garlic and black pepper. Sweet temptations include house-made ice cream sandwiches on brioche baked by the pastry chef at Nana's -- which, conveniently, is next door.
Meanwhile in Apex, "pizza" means just what the name on the door says at Namoli's N.Y. Style Pizzeria (5444 Apex Peakway; 303-4888). As for the Namoli's part, that's a tribute to the grandmother of Maura Cunningham, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Dennis. Sons Brian and Tim also help out at this friendly counter service eatery.
A lot of places claim to serve authentic New York style pizza, but this one comes closer than most to the real thing. The crust is thin but not too thin with a bready edge, and is a little crisper if you order it by the slice. The pizza sauce is not too sweet, and cheese is generously -- but not too generously -- applied. So are toppings, about 20 options covering the spectrum from artichokes to Italian sausage (the genuine article, thinly sliced).
Namoli's also offers a modest selection of appetizers, salads and pasta dishes. I'm looking forward to trying the house specialty manicotti, which I understand is made entirely from scratch (including the pasta shells) by Maura Cunningham.