Try to put aside any trust issues you may have in order to ensure the maximum enjoyment from a visit to Scratch, a family-owned pizzeria with its own wood-fired brick oven pizzeria.
Located on Unaka Avenue in Johnson City, Scratch is also a smokehouse and charcuterie; the latter being a French term for a type of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage and more. All of these areas of expertise come together to create a memorable, innovative pizzeria truly unlike any other I’ve ever visited in the region.
Luckily, I mentioned to some friends that I was planning to visit Scratch and they advised me to trust the choice of pizza with the expert pie-makers on duty behind the counter. They informed me you always tend to get a masterpiece of a pie by “trusting” the staff to build a custom-made pie.
Parking is available in the rear of the restaurant, either through the original driveway off Unaka Avenue side or from North Roan Street through the alley. Plenty of street parking options are also available, but signs are posted warning customers not to park in the strip mall parking lot on the other side of Unaka because of a towing risk.
A friend and I visited late on a Sunday afternoon. The restaurant wasn’t terribly crowded on our arrival, but it soon began to fill up as the dinner crowd arrived. A helpful employee behind the counter introduced us to the brochure-like individual menus that each customer fills out upon arrival.
The most important choice is whether to build-you-own or show complete trust or “limited” trust in the expert pie-makers. With limited trust, customers can designate some undesired ingredients as “off limits.” Don’t like mushrooms — just let them know and none will show up on your pie. Showing full trust, however, gives them carte blanche to decide on everything from crust and sauce to the cheeses and toppings.
We looked over the lists of meats — pepperoni, capicola, smoked beef, andouille sausage, smoked chicken and even a cranberry-turkey sausage — and saw nothing that would bother us.
The diverse list of veggies and things — artichoke hearts, banana peppers, Granny Smith apples, green peppers, hot cherry peppers, kalamata olives, mandarin oranges, feta cheese, mushrooms, onion, roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes and fresh tomatillos — also seemed to contain nothing too far outside of our personal tastes.
There’s also a list of sauces — traditional red sauce, chimmichurri pesto and green curry — and a choice of crusts that includes French or multi-grain.
These lists aren’t strictly what a lot of people think of as traditional pizza toppings, but that didn’t really bother us. We love trying new tastes, and several of them struck us as particularly interesting.
The main decision, besides bestowing trust, is whether you want a 16-inch pie with four toppings or less for $15 or the same size of pie for $18 with “anything goes.” With little hesitation and much curiosity, we gladly circled “anything goes” and finished the form by signing our first name and last initial. The staff will use that information to page customers when the pizzas are ready for pick-up at the front counter.
The eatery also offers a 10-inch gluten-free pie for $10 along the same lines as the larger pie, as well as a decadent-sounding 8-pound Stuffed Chicago Pie. However, if you want this specialty, some advance notice is requested as it takes two hours to prepare.
Scratch also offers Chimmichurri Pesto Cheese Sticks. These pies come in a small, medium or large size for $4, $7 and $12, respectively, and are cut into sticks instead of wedges. To enjoy with our pizza, we added a large order of cheese sticks, which we asked be accompanied by a curry sauce. The other available dipping sauce is a red sauce and a pesto sauce.
Once we finished the ordering process, we visited a refrigerator case for drinks and then chose our seating at one of the wooden tables. All the tables are similar, but the chairs and other seating are of a mismatched, eclectic variety. The dining area walls are painted burgundy and white with a dark wood paneling and light wood trim lower down on the walls, as well as some exposed brickwork on display. The ceiling is painted a tranquil sky blue complete with a few hand-painted puffy white clouds. The front counter is also made of stacked river rock and glass bricks. The walls display an equally whimsical mishmash of decorative items, including industrial mixer parts hanging on hooks, musical instruments and arrays of vintage vinyl record album covers. There’s also a collection of vinyl records customers can browse through and even request particular songs for play. Everything combines to offer a very casual, laid-back atmosphere.
We didn’t wait a long time for our order, although there are signs posted warning that waits can be lengthy when the restaurant is extremely busy. There’s only so much room in the pizza ovens, after all.
When our food did arrive, nearly everything looked — and tasted — great.
The one off-note, we thought, was that the cheese sticks made for an odd combination with the curry dipping sauce. This sweet sauce was slow to reveal the curry flavors, but repeated dipping of the cheese sticks into sauce eventually revealed a lingering heat from the spices. All in all, we agreed, the red or pesto sauces would probably have paired better with the cheesy breadsticks.
As for our pizza, we both could hardly wait to open the box and see what the staff had concocted for us. Our “trust” provided us with an inventive and delectable pie laden with such savory toppings as sausage, smoked beef, chicken, and an abundance of vegetables, including spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, onions, kalamata olives and more. The pizza box also held a considerable quantity of whole, dried chili peppers and a small container of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
My favorite topping was the smoked beef, which tasted fantastic with a salty firmness that went well with this pizza and its thin, chewy crust.
My friend and I both enjoyed our first visit to Scratch. While warm temperatures hold out, the restaurant also offers some tables outdoors on the deck. If you go, be sure to give them a wide latitude in the area of trust. Be sure to also let them know they come highly recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Scratch, 100 E. Unaka Ave., Johnson City. 262-8021. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Menu items are mostly $18 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. BYOB establishment.