Neopolitan pizza has had a long and storied history on its way to the handcarved wooden tables at Hill and Holler Pizza in downtown Lewisburg. Neopolitan pizzas originated in Naples, Italy, and constitute the first variation of the pizza anywhere. Flatbreads had existed in Naples for years, but it wasn’t until the 1700s that the peasants began topping their flatbreads with tomatoes. Tomatoes had been brought back from Peru by European explorers in the 1600s, but were mistakenly thought of as poisonous by the citizenry for nearly 200 years. (In actuality, most Europeans were using pewter plates that, when reacting with the acidity of the tomatoes, leached lead directly into the food, leading to many lead poisonings and deaths that were erroneously linked to the tomatoes.)
But sometime in the 1800s the peasantry began topping their flatbreads with tomatoes and a new craze was born. Aristocrats and other travelers would venture into the poorer Neopolitan neighborhoods just to get a taste of this new, local specialty. Soon thereafter, the pizza was born.
When Hill and Holler began investigating which type of pizza to serve, Neopolitan style gave them the opportunity to chase the perfect pizza, says Chef Todd Wagner, an alumnus of the Greenbrier Apprenticeship Program and long-time veteran of the Greenbrier Valley food scene.
“We looked at Chicago-style, New York style, California and so on, but Neopolitan was not only something unique in the region, but we were also in a situation where we had a wood-fired brick oven sitting in the kitchen. So everything really started around the oven.”
Wagner notes there is a purity and simplicity to Neopolitan pizzas that usurp other styles. Neopolitan pizzas do have some ground rules. In fact, there is an actual Associazone Vera Pizza Nepoletana that oversees these types of things. Accordingly, genuine Neapolitan pizza dough must consist of wheat flour, must be kneaded by hand (or a low-speed mixer), must be formed by hand and must be cooked at a high temperature for 60-90 seconds.
While the restaurant doesn’t really have any intention of going through the rigorous testing and certification process that the AVPN provides, their pizzas do meet most of those criteria.
The wood fired oven is essential to the Hill and Holler pizza. The fire is built daily towards the back of the oven using local wood from Poor Farm—mostly oak, cherry and locust.
“The woodsmoke doesn’t necessarily flavor the pizza,” explains Wagner, “so we are just looking for the hottest burning woods available.”
Once the oven reaches about 750 degrees Fahrenheit, the pizza makers use four-foot long paddles to slide the pizzas in, constantly monitoring each pie for doneness.
That hot fire leaves the crust a little charred, which is sometimes mistaken as burned. “Those small black holes, known as Leopard spots, are actually an indicator that the dough is leavened properly,” explains Wagner. “They’re another one of those signatures of the Neopolitan style.”
Neopolitan pizzas are often only 10-12 inches, so they make a perfect personal pizza. Their emphasis on sauce over cheese means that the centers are often soft and thin—not ideal for selling by the slice.
“The crust of these pizzas are light and delicate—a lot of the flavor comes directly from the crust so you try to just compliment that with your toppings,” says Wagner, noting that Neopolitans are best enjoyed with just a couple toppings.
Popular specialty pies at Hill and Holler include the Rock & Roll Shrimp, topped with roasted garlic, spinach, feta, red onion, and rock shrimp, as well as the Buffalo Chicken pie, which features pancetta along with pulled buffalo chicken and red onions. Classic Neopolitan pizzas, served since the 1800s, include the Margherita, with fresh mozzarella, basil, extra-virgin olive oil and tomato sauce. And then there is the Prosciutto & Pesto, offering prosciutto, basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, arugula, and Pecorino-Romano.
The restaurant has also received raves on its house-smoked wings, served tossed in Buffalo, Sweet Chile, or House BBQ sauce.
Other popular menu items include Mini Crab Cakes, calzones, salads and, of course, the local beers and spirits they keep on tap and on the shelf.
When the restaurant first opened in 2015, the space doubled as a bike shop, the vestiges of which partly remain. The restaurant’s new owner, Jody Wooton, has renovated some of the interior space, including adding a large gas-burning fireplace to the previously closed hearth, which anchors the southern end of the space and features a hand hewn mantle and copper art piece that resembles the restaurant’s name—featuring rolling hills with a stream running through it.
“I worked with Monica and Aaron at Harmony Ridge Gallery in Lewisburg,” explains Wooten, “and we found the perfect piece to compliment the restaurant.”
“I’m excited to be involved in Hill And Holler.,” he continues. “It’s such a unique offering to the Greenbrier Valley and downtown Lewisburg. The staff is attentive and friendly, the food is great, and we are proud to be involved in the ongoing development of Montwell Park. The talent and experience of our kitchen staff enables us to change the menu daily and use as many local ingredients as possible, which results in a creative and interesting menu. The Greenbrier Valley is fortunate to have a local cidery, brewery, and distillery, all of which we proudly offer and partner with. The result is a laid-back casual atmosphere that features the best of what the Greenbrier Valley has to offer and a great option for the downtown Lewisburg community.
Opposite the fireplace you’ll find Hill and Holler’s stage, a state-of-the-art performance space that features local and regional acts throughout the year.
“The open space, built-in stage, and new sound system at Hill and Holler make it the ideal space to see live music and performances,” says Wooten. “If you want a place in Lewisburg that you can get up out of your seat and move around, this is it. As far as entertainment, we partner with several local organizations to bring a diverse offering to our patrons from local bands to salsa classes and square dances and everything in between.”
The restaurant also features a back patio with plenty of room to enjoy a meal and drinks. The patio overlooks Montwell Park and the adjoining Green Space as well.
Hill and Holler can be found online at hillandhollerpizza.com, where they not only feature their menu but event calendar as well. Give them a visit at Montwell Park in downtown Lewisburg and try one of their delectable pies.