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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Ferguson’s Favorite Food Fare: Manicomio Pizza

Graphic by Cody Ferguson.
Graphic by Cody Ferguson.

Along the restaurant-lined center of downtown Asheville, Biltmore Avenue, there is a cozy by-the-slice pizza joint called Manicomio Pizza. This is where I decided to stop in and eat after a short trek around downtown with some peers. 

“Working here, owning this restaurant has been a wonderful experience,” said Jonathan Leibowitz, the owner. “I never planned on running a restaurant, but I don’t want to stop now.”

Throughout the past six and a half years Manicomio has been serving pizza by the slice to every Asheville traveler. They’re mostly catered to by pedestrians and didn’t bother with delivery before the COVID-19 pandemic. They barely became a destination spot for that, even with the pandemic. Leibowitz said they spent their quarantine time setting up the pizza place as a walk-through by just opening up their front window to any customer wandering about the deserted streets of downtown Asheville.

“It was a hard time, but I think we’ve found our place here. There isn’t nearly as much competition for local pizza as there was in my hometown in southern Florida,” Leibowitz said.

Atmosphere: Manicomio brings a different feeling to the table when you walk in. The small restaurant is tightly packed, but outside seating alleviates some of that issue. This restaurant has the feeling of an old diner, but this diner serves the best by-the-slice pizza I’ve found in Asheville. As I sat down to the antique stainless steel tables, in a mildly rickety stainless steel chair, I found myself preparing for some delicious pizza slices. There’s an entire display counter for the by-the-slice selection, but you’ve always got the choice for an entire pie. 

A pepperoni, ham and sausage filled calzone with marinara sauce on the side. (Cody Ferguson)

Service: Service here is quick, quicker to order individual slices, but quick enough with the custom order that my peers and I put in. I believe we only waited around 15 minutes, and everything came out at a perfect temperature, not too hot or too cold. There wasn’t much interaction with the servers here, which I don’t mind at all, and the self-serve drinks inside the building made for a welcome addition to this restaurant. 

a custom-made pesto and pepperoni pizza on their signature crust. (Cody Ferguson)

Presentation: If you’re looking to buy just a few slices and feel full, Manicomio is absolutely the place to be. Their average slice was the size of my head and had a crust that was undeniably well-cooked. Everything is pretty simply plated on basic stainless trays to help with crispness and heat retention for the slices of pizza. Extra sauce is served on the side in a plastic cup, which makes take-out very convenient for the eater on-the-go.

Taste: Taste here was superb. In a good pizza place I’m looking for a chewy crust, a sauce that dances the line between sweet and savory, and toppings that feel premium enough for the price that I’m paying. Manicomio is coming on strong with all of these traits, and finding a way to keep an extremely thin pizza crisp but with that slight chew that brings everything to the next level. The outer crust was well done and fluffy, with enough gluten development to feel like a substantial pizza crust. The bottom of every slice had beautiful color and leopard spotting. 

I got a pesto pizza with pepperoni. The house-made pesto made for a great contrast to the savory tomato sauce. The pepperoni added a fatty, rich mouthfeel to each bite and each bite I could feel the flavor and herbaceousness of the pesto evolving. There’s something truly special about good pizza. 

One of my peers decided on the calzone. It was loaded with sausage, ham and pepperoni and practically oozing cheese by the time it hit our table. The calzone comes with more of their delicious marinara on the side and it is delightful by itself. There’s a distinct garlic note, with that sweetness that canned, whole tomatoes can often have and the rest of their secret spices give a distinct, but pleasant flavor to what could have been a very simple and boring marinara sauce.

Overall Impression: Manicomio Pizza is something relatively unique to the Asheville area. We have plenty of pizza, but not everywhere is giving you fresh pizza by the slice or whole pizzas at a price that rivals the best cheap chains around. A company that can thrive amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is a company that truly makes a good product. This pizza joint is here to stay in downtown Asheville, and only looking forward to bigger and better things in the future. There’s a firm Ferguson stamp of approval for Manicomio Pizza.

Graphic by Cody Ferguson.
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