Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Midtown Incredible Pizza gets new owners, fills gap in market with Chicago-style pizza

Midtown Incredible Pizza has been purchased by Jay Askew and Tom Hayes, and will continue serving its menu of pies but will also add Chicago-style deep dish. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — The trick to good Chicago pizza: the crust.

That’s what James “Jay” Askew has been toying around with over the last few weeks in preparation of taking over Andrew Kelly’s Midtown Incredible Pizza at the corner of 17th St. Extension and S. College Road (Kelly also operates Midtown Deli and Grill and bought the pizzeria in 2019). Askew and his business partner, Tom Hayes, closed on the property Wednesday. 

The restaurant rolled out its first Chicago pie Thursday night.

“There’s cornmeal added to your basic flour dough,” he said. “And butter.”

He kneads the dough and halfway through adds more butter.

“It’s almost like a pie crust,” Askew explained. It’s served deep dish, with the cheese on the bottom, toppings in the middle, sauce on top, and covered in Parmesan.

“The cheese for our Chicago is going to be sliced mozzarella as opposed to shredded mozzarella cheese,” he added. “It keeps it flat on the bottom, and so you kind of fan it out.”

The cheese is made with Buffalo milk for a softer consistency and tangier flavor. The Chicago pies will be served as 16-inch only for now, though the idea to start doing smaller personal ones during lunch is being tossed around. 

Chicago-style pizza isn’t available in Wilmington currently, though it was once served on Market Street at the chain Old Chicago, which closed 11 years ago. Having worked in the restaurant industry his whole life, Askew said at his last stint as general manager at Antonio’s midtown, he often was asked by customers for a Chicago-style variety and has noticed it trending more on local foodie sites in town.

Filling the niche seemed a natural fit.

“I can make any of our pizzas Chicago-style,” Askew said. 

Customers who order online can add “deep dish” into the notes of any pie for a $2 upcharge. It costs more to make Chicago-style pizza, since its bulked with more toppings than the traditional New York-style pies Askew will continue to serve. He doesn’t have plans to change the menu dramatically at the midtown restaurant, except for taking away a few options, the California and the club among them. He plans on keeping Dee’s Pickle Pie and Viva Cuba, which comes with a black bean base.

“Our regular New York-style sauce is a little spicier,” he said.

The name will change over to Jay’s Incredible Pizza by the end of the year, and the restaurateur will extend operating hours to seven days a week instead of five. Askew will be beefing up the staff in order to reopen for lunches, in hopes of also reaching faster service times, he said. 

“Tom will be handling deliveries.”

Askew’s business partner, Hayes, flips houses, runs the Myrtle Grove Inn — a bed and breakfast that opened this year — and on the side drives a bus for Ashley High School’s sports teams, for which he also coaches tennis. The two met when Askew relocated to the coast again, after living in Fayetteville for a few years.

“I moved back to take care of my mother,” he said, “and left my job in Fayetteville at the restaurant, Luigis. Then I answered a Craigslist ad at Carolina Beach, doing labor.”

Hayes was renovating houses and had Askew removing popcorn ceilings from one of his properties. “I demoed kitchens for him, and I’ve helped him flip probably eight to 10 houses since then. Now, he’s part of my business.”

Askew brings the breadth of restaurant experience of the two. He has worked as general manager for a pizzeria in Albany, New York, for a place called Geno’s in Boston, and for Wilmington’s former Giorgios in Monkey Junction. He even helped open the Italian Bistro at its first location in the Cotton Exchange downtown 20 years ago.

Long-term, he foresees his takeout eatery becoming a dine-in restaurant, offering something he’s well schooled in: Italian pastas. The restaurant will ease into those expansions, but, first, Askew will make small changes: add desserts, eventually subs, and install a fryer for more appetizer options and French fries. Gluten-free items will be included as well.

The newly minted restaurateur will give customers more choices for Incredible’s pepperoni rolls, stuffing them with other toppings. The rolls aren’t to be confused with the state food of West Virginia. “Ours are smaller,” Askew said, “like poppers and they come six to an order.”

Yet, the at-home chef said he’s tried to figure out a good recipe for the northern staple for years. “I love to cook,” he said. “​​I lived in Pennsylvania and ate the West Virginia ones many times. I would go to the little corner store where this guy made the pepperoni rolls, and they were just fantastic. He amazed me when I was a kid: how he’d whip open those paper bags. I was like, ‘How does he do that?’ I still can’t.”

Once he cracks the code on the recipe, the northern rolls could also appear on Incredible’s menu one day. 

Midtown Incredible Pizza is open daily from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will expand into lunches soon.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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