When people hear the name North End Café, they think of its eclectic array of dishes like smoked trout hash, sesame noodle salad, vegetarian Reuben and curry sauté. But as of Tuesday, Dec. 15, patrons of its Highlands operation can think of pizza. That morning, a sandwich board appeared in front of the Douglass Loop spot reading, “OPEN: North End by the Slice.”
Though that’s not officially the name, it kind of has a ring to it, no?
“Really, we’re still just North End Café,” says chef and partner Christopher Seckman. “We’re just doing pizza on this side of the restaurant.”
Seckman says he’s wanted to do a pizza concept for 10 years, but he and partners Whitney and Walton Jones chose to launch Sweet Peas instead. The healthier foods venture in Clifton didn’t work out, and it’s since been replaced by Ramiro’s Cantina on Frankfort Avenue.
“Yeah, we opened Sweet Peas instead,” he says with a smile and a shrug. “Lesson learned. It might have done better in the ‘burbs; that’s the right demographic. You do your best.”
Seckman set the new pizza shop up in a former party room he said was a bad fit for the task: either too small for large parties or too large for intimate gatherings. Private bookings weren’t consistent enough either, “So we figured we’d give the pizza idea a try,” he says.
Now within the 800-square-foot space are a handful of tables, a tall curving countertop lined with bar stools for those who like to watch their food being made, a pair of Blodgett double stacked stone ovens and a well-worn Hobart mixer in a darkened corner.
“The idea is carryout,” he says. “We’re not like Mellow Mushroom where you can have 100 families in at once. It’s supposed to be like a small New York pizzeria: simple.”
In addition to Mellow Mushroom, pizza competition nearby is stiff. The pies served a half block south at Café Lou Lou are solid, and few blocks further are delivery stores for Papa John’s and Domino’s. Head north on Bardstown and there’s Za’s Pizza, Boombozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse, Pizza Hut, DiOrio’s, Wick’s Pizza, Loui Loui’s and Spinelli’s. None of that worries Seckman, who says walk-up traffic is what will drive his sales.
“This is a walking neighborhood with lots of schools and businesses, and Great Flood is next door, too,” he says. The brewery allows drinkers to eat food bought inside from nearby restaurants. “There are times I come to the restaurant and see the parking lot empty, but I go inside and the place is full. Walkers. This will benefit from that.
“Plus, we have the space, so why not find a way to generate sales with it?”
Seckman describes his pizza as “a New York hybrid — thin but a little crispier than chewy.” His dough is made from a 75-25 blend of high-gluten bread flour and barley flour, and his standard red sauce includes a little white wine for a unique acidic addition. Cheese on his basic pies is a two-mozzarella blend.
The menu features 12 custom pizzas (14 inches and 20 inches, priced $13.95 to $18.95 respectively), or customers can build their own from a choice of four sauces, six cheeses and 29 toppings. Slices will sell for $3 each or $5 for two, and a market-priced slice of the day will rotate.
A small menu of beer and soda is available as well.
If you’re looking for salads and subs, you won’t find them.
“We just want to make pizza, you know?” he says, smiling.
If you’re dining at North End Café proper and the aroma of baking pies tempts you to order pizza, stifle it. Food from each operation will remain in its place, Seckman says.
“It would be a logistical nightmare coordinating between two different kitchens and trying to get the food from both to come out at the same time,” he says. “We’re keeping it simple. Feed people good pizza over here and that menu over there.”
Delivery? Not yet, but Seckman will consider it when his crew masters the basics of the carryout operation.
“I’ve never worked at a pizza restaurant, no 30 years with some Italian family,” he says. “We need to get the kinks worked out first. … But I’m really looking forward to this. It’s a new adventure, a new challenge.”
The pizzeria is located at 2116 Bardstown Road. Hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Call 690-4161 for more information.