Pizzapalooza (Marlboro, Vermont)

In late October, right before the snow started to fly around here, we got together with our friend Alex for a set of short hikes in Marlboro, Vermont around the old Hogback Mountain ski area, which was situated along the tops of Mt Olga and Hogback Mountain. It used to be one of southeast Vermont’s more popular ski areas, but rising expenses and insurance costs in the late 1980s made the resort unprofitable, and it closed. In 2010, after local fundraising efforts, most of the old resort was acquired by the Town of Marlboro, and is now a natural area for hike-in skiing and hiking. After a pleasant hike looking at the now-abandoned ski lift equipment, we decided to check out the nearby brewery, Beer Naked Brewery, and their associated pizzeria, Pizzapalooza.

The first thing to notice about Beer Naked and Pizzapalooza is that they’ve got a prime location. For years starting in the 1940s, this was the “Skyline Restaurant” on Route 9 in Marlboro, near the top of Hogback Mountain, and hosting a commanding 100-mile-plus panoramic views to the south, down to the Berkshires. But despite the excellent views, the Skyline closed in the early 2000s, and sat vacant until area brewers finally renovated the spot and opened as Beer Naked Brewing in 2017, and Pizzapalooza followed, moving into the building from their previous location in Wilmington, VT. Especially on a good fall day, it’s an excellent place to bring your dog (the place is dog-friendly, including inside), grab some beer and pizza, and enjoy your meal on their outside deck or patio.

I’ve often enjoyed beers from Beer Naked at many area events (like the annual SiptemberFest up at Mad River Glen). Being a craft brewer in Vermont is actually a pretty hard business to be in; competition is quite stiff. But their beers, particularly their lighter styles like their Lucid Dreams IPA, hold their own. While I enjoyed my beer, the big thing I wanted on this visit was pizza. A lot of times I find that breweries with pizza have it almost as an afterthought as an easy-to-prepare food. But that’s definitely not the case at Beer Naked. Sporting a large, wood-fired pizza oven (with giant wood piles outside), they’ve got quite the pizza-making operation, quickly throwing pizzas, assembling sauce and toppings, and firing them.

Menu-wise, Pizzapalooza knows how to keep their focus tight: the menu basically is nothing but pizza, but they’ve got a good dozen varieties, ranging from simple cheese and Margherita pizzas, to fairly standard “modern pizza” variants like BBQ chicken. And a few unusual ones you don’t often see, like a potato pizza (garlic butter, potato slices, maple bacon, and chives), or even a dessert pizza with honey ricotta, bacon, gorgonzola, pears, and honey drizzle. Between us and Alex, we ended up ordering up three whole pies: a Margherita (one of my favorites for judging pizza crust quality), a Cowboy Pizza (a modified BBQ chicken pizza), and the Fungi (a rather Vermonty take on a mushroom pizza)

How was the pizza? Well, when I’ve got a chance, and they offer it, I almost always start with one of the classics, a Margherita (in their name, the Lovely Rita). The combination of mozzarella and basil with just a bit of tomato sauce doesn’t really hide mistakes well, so you can focus on what I like most about a good pizza: a great crust and a good sauce that doesn’t bury the crust. I was quite happy with this Margherita. And this hit all the right notes: the crust was nice and chewy, had a good crown on it, and was toasted right to the edge of burnt, which is exactly how I like a good wood- or coal-fired pizza. The sauce was good and flavorful without being overly sweet or salty, the mozzarella just lightly toasted, and the basil applied right after cooking so it doesn’t become bitter. This was a great example of a classic pizza done well.

Our other two pizzas were definitely veering off the “traditional” pizzas, but worked well. The Fungi was a good take on a mushroom pizza, with garlic, spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onions, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, red pepper, and thyme. It was nicely done, and reminded me well of another vegetarian pizza I love in Vermont, the Tree Hugger from Piecasso. And the The Cowboy (BBQ chicken with bacon, bleu cheese, and caramelized onions) was a nice variation of a BBQ chicken pizza, focusing on the cheese and onion flavors and not being overly drenched in BBQ sauce like many pizzas like this would be. Again, quite enjoyable and nicely executed.

Overall, we liked the place, a lot. The pizza is great. The beer a close second. And the view? Awesome, especially in the Spring and Fall.
There are a few quirks; while most of the cash-only joints even in rural Vermont finally managed to figure out credit cards and online ordering during the Pandemic, Pizzapalooza is one of the remaining cash-only hold-outs (with the requisite slightly-dodgy ATM on site). But certainly Pizzapalooza will remain on our go-to list when around Brattleboro and Southern Vermont

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