MacKenzie River Pizza: small chain, big flavor 

The MacKenzie River Pizza ($9.25 for a small). Photo by Mark Lee.
  • The MacKenzie River Pizza ($9.25 for a small). Photo by Mark Lee.

Even though it's a chain, and we attempt to refrain from reviewing such entities in these pages, MacKenzie River Pizza Co. is worthy of inclusion because, first off, it has a local family connection. Secondly, it also happens to be a very small chain, and finally and most importantly, it's really pretty good.

Located in the elegant and impressive space that used to house Something Different, MacKenzie River's owners have removed many of the dividing walls and opened up the space considerably. The ambiance is reminiscent of a mountain resort, with lots of wood, stone and imposing pictures of people engaged in vigorous outdoor pursuits, like fly-fishing. As a direct result of all the exposed hard surfaces, however, there's a somewhat clattery quality to the sound, especially when, as ours did, a server drops a stack of plates onto your table from a great height.

In keeping with the rural, if not rustic, ambience, the food is hearty and assertive in both portion size and flavor. The pizzas are the stars, and come in three sizes, with an impressive and well thought-out array of toppings. We chose the eponymous MacKenzie River Pizza ($9.25 for a small) which comes with spinach, roasted zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes. The crust was exemplary, in the classic Neapolitan style, with a firm, slightly chewy texture that was a far cry from so many floppy, foldable aberrations that define chain pizza. The balance between bread and super-fresh toppings was excellent, and the flavors nicely defined.

As an appetizer we had selected the Lodgepoles™ ($4.25): pizza crust baked with a mozzarella topping and marinara sauce for dipping. These were essentially bread sticks by another name, but held up well for the following day's lunch. In addition, we sampled the quite delicious Buffalo chicken mac and cheese ($9.25). Who would have thought that this combination could have worked as well? Creamy, starchy and cheesy, loaded with chunks of moist spicy chicken, this was almost the definition of modern comfort food with a twist (the uber-fashionable thing these days). I could only manage about four forkfuls before succumbing to calorie overload, but it was well worth the struggle.

Surprisingly, however, the standout of the day was a plate of blackened cod tacos (3 for $9.50). These were served with soft flour tortillas and delicious fresh coleslaw loosely mixed with a spicy red pepper and lime salsa. The fish was cooked perfectly and combined well with the crunch of the slaw and the freshness of the tortillas. Elsewhere on the menu, you'll find meatloaf, barbecue ribs and all manner of sandwiches on house-made sourdough.

MacKenzie River offers a decent selection of beers, several of which are local. Service seems generally efficient and friendly, although in our case, our server couldn't have been much more indifferent if we'd asked. Fortunately, this lackluster performance was more than compensated for by the parade of kitchen staff and management who stepped in to help when needed. The fact that our pizza was delivered by the guy who made it was a thoughtful and engaging touch. We'll certainly be back.

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