4725 Freret St.
New Orleans, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating: ***/*****
Another pizza parlor opening up isn't necessarily too exciting, but the Midway drew quite a bit of interest when it joined the Freret Street restaurant row last year. That's because it's all about deep dish pizza, those huge, crusty, cheese-piled monsters. Chicago is famous for them but we don't see too many examples of the style here. It turns out the Midway does a great job with its specialty and makes a nice setting for an easy night out too.
The Midway has the look of a new hip place, which it is, but also the feel of a restaurant that's been around for a while. With cool art, a big cypress bar, comfy booths and a rootsy soundtrack playing, the vibe is like rock and roll softened around the edges for a family crowd. In fact, this is an easy place for parents to bring young kids.
The staff here has some heavy lifting to do, literally. The pizzas that these folks ferry to your table are enough to require weight belts. Once there, they'll set you up with your first slice, which is good because the massive metal pans are piping hot from the oven and there is a trick to maneuvering all that cheese and deep crust. All the while, they're friendly and prompt, and they even take care of you if all you get is the weekday lunch buffet (see below).
Order first courses with caution. The pizzas are huge and there is no need to let the meal get a head start on your appetite. That's why I skip the bread sticks and the pigs in blankets. The salads, however, are worth both your time and the room they claim in your belly. These are not the typical pizza joint salads of iceberg and too much dressing. Rather, they feature fresh greens, smart dressing and nice composition.
There are no pastas and no sandwiches on the menu. This kitchen is all about the pizza. Mention deep dish pizza and some people automatically feel full, but this pizza, while very substantial, also weighs lighter on the belly than you might expect. I chalk this up to better ingredients. The toppings are also first class. For evidence, look no farther than the meatballs, which are huge, moist and perfect. These are used in a few of the signature pizzas, including the "King Pin" pizza with caramelized onion, shaved parmesan and green onion. Another of my favorites here is called the "Natty E," which combines roasted chicken, bacon, tomatoes, and onions and then drizzles on a creamy green goddess sauce. For a seafood option, there's the "King Creole" with garlicky shrimp and tomato basil relish and there's a Southwestern style pie, the "FD2," with chorizo sausage, green chiles, red onion, cotija cheese and green onions.
Each weekday at lunch, the Midway puts out a buffet that proves to be a great deal and a good option for a quick meal. For less than $10, you get a quality salad and all the pizza you want to grab, self-service-style, from the kitchen counter. Time your visits to the buffet right and you can get slices as hot and fresh as possible.
Desserts are basic and out-sourced, but they go to good providers. There's ice cream from Creole Creamery, that Uptown emporium for creative flavors, and there's a lemony pound cake with blueberries from Manhattan Jack, a local sweets specialist.
Pizza and beer, pizza and wine, these are natural combinations and the Midway has a lot of good options either way. There is a full bar, but I rarely stray from the selection of microbrew beers on tap, which now range up to 20 varieties, or the refreshingly inexpensive wine list. You can still get a decent bottle for under $20, which makes a lot of sense when you're out for pizza.
Most of the large signature pizzas are around $18 and small pizzas weigh in around $12 or $13. Remember that these are much more substantial than thinner pizzas, so that small can feed two and that large can feed a hungry family. Build-your-own options start at $9 for small and $14 for large. The lunch buffet is a bargain.
The Midway opened last fall as another chapter in the success story of Freret Street, that newly-emerged restaurant row and it's a welcome one. There are other pizza places on this street, and of course many, many options for pizza around the neighborhood, but the Midway stands out for its style, high quality and unique approach to deep dish pizza.