If you’re looking for good pizza in the Triangle, there are a ton of great choices now! But one pizzeria that had eluded my greasy little grasp was Pizzeria Mercato out in Carrboro. Owned and run by Gabe Barker, Pizzeria Mercato’s location and popularity always had me trying to figure out a good time to visit. But eventually I found an excuse to head west on a Friday afternoon and decided to slip in for a late lunch visit! And it was a pretty impressive visit, read on if you’re hungry and curious, my friend!
Located on the western end of Weaver Street (away from the Market) , Pizzeria sits tidily on a street corner with a small side parking lot. I’ve heard it’s sometimes difficult to find parking in the hood so be aware during prime time dining hours! Inside, Pizzeria Mercato is bright and colorful. Polished concrete floor underneath, art on the walls and a bit of a hipster feel to the space. There’s an open kitchen to your left, main dining area to your right and a bright and sunny front section where I am sat.
What I do like about these new, artisanal pizza shops are the short menus focused on high quality, local ingredients. Pizzeria Mercato is no different offering up eight or so antipasti, salads and custom pizzas along with a handful of mains and desserts. Of course you can always customize your pie by adding some ingredients to your basic margherita. I go with my fave arancini (named fritti here) and the Amatriciana pie (pecorino, guanciale). A nice session IPA from Sierra Nevada keeps me company while I waits for my food.
After a short wait, my fritti (arancini) arrive and it’s an interesting plate. I’ve tried arancini (fried risotto balls) at many Italian restaurants in the area and they are always done a bit differently at each spot. Pizzeria Mercato’s arancini are about the size of a golf ball and perfectly fried. Flakes of sea salt dot the well-browned surface and a light basil sauce is served on the side. These arancini are WONDERFUL! Stuffed with smoked mozzarella and a bit of tomato, the crunchy crust breaks open to a soft, gooey interior with just a bit of acid from the tomato. Might be the best arancini I’ve tried in the Triangle, make sure to get em if you visit Pizzeria Mercato.
And given that wonderful start, I was salivating at the thought of my pizza! When it comes out, it’s a looker. About a 13″ pie in a nice oblong shape indicative of a hand-made pizza. Some splotches of soft fresh mozzarella and sprinkles of more pungent romano cheese. Bits of seared guanciale (cured pork cheek) and cracked black pepper finish off the surface. A peek underneath shows off some nice leopard spotting for the crust, nice job there. A couple of bites in and I immediately notice the crust. Pizzeria Mercato does it differently here, doing a snappy, stiff crust rather than a softer crust that you usually get with a Neapolitan pie. But you can certainly taste the quality ingredients here, I admit that the intense guanciale over-powered the flavor of the pizza. If I ever get back I’ll do a basic margherita.
Service here at Pizzeria Mercato was excellent and timely, admittedly I was one of 4 people in the place so that’s to be expected. I’m curious as to how the place holds up with a big crowd, I’m guessing they are usually busy. But for my visit it was a great start. Excellent food, decent prices, quality ingredients and great service Pizzeria Mercato! I’m still trying to wrap my brain around your pizza crust since it’s a bit of a spin from traditional. But I can certainly tell that there is some talent and vision for the menu and methods here. And I’m pretty sure that if you’re a pizza fanatic you’ll like Pizzeria Mercato! They’re doing very good pizza and even better arancini here in Carrboro…