Pizzeria Toro in Durham, N.C. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Pizzeria Toro in Durham, N.C. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Welcome to Travel Update’s “second helping” for Foodie Friday. This time we’re visiting Durham, N.C., which is known for Research Triangle Park and tech start-ups but is increasingly becoming a foodie haven.

Specifically, I want to tell you about one of the more beloved spots in Durham: the recently re-opened Pizzeria Toro, a restaurant in downtown that specializes in wood-fired pizza pies topped with everything from venison to house-made sausage to anchovies and arugula. Chef, co-owner and Durham native Gray Brooks re-opened Pizzeria Toro in late July after a fire that took it out of service for 10 months.

People were so eager to have it reopen that the Facebook post that made the re-opening official was shared 50 times – and has about 420 likes. Not bad!

I spoke with Brooks by phone yesterday after hearing about the anticipation building in the final months before reopening.

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Brooks, by the way, created Toro after working in Seattle for chef Tom Douglas, a two-time James Beard Award winner. When he moved back to Durham about three years ago with his then-very-pregnant wife and two cats, he brought to Durham his passion for using locally grown ingredients and not “getting in their way.”

“It’s really a fun place,” he told me. “It can be a crowded and a little bit loud. Most importantly, we don’t take reservation. We’re first come first serve.”

Travel Update Tip: Pizzeria Toro doesn’t take reservations, so on a peak Friday or Saturday night, expect to wait 1.5 hours. (Yes, the place has a good bar for hanging out.)

So what’s the fuss about about a restaurant so  singularly focused on pizza pies?

Pizzeria Toro avoids using processed ingredients and strives for simplicity, which is very “in” these days if pulled off with finesse.

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“We’re definitely Italian in that we have very few dishes that have more than five or six ingredients,” Brooks told me. “We basically put flavors together that work, and then get out of the way.”

I asked him for his three favorite pies:

  1. Anchovie pizza: It’s a personal favorite, because when he worked in Seattle to open an artisanal pizzeria, he would make it for his lunch to avoid having rich cheese every single day. “It’s light and good,” Brooks told me. This time, he put it on the menu. Expect tomato sauce, anchovies, garlic and chili flakes. “The thing is, it’s so simple and it doesn’t have any cheese on it.”
  2. Oyster mushroom and egg pizza: This is a “super rich” pizza, he told me. Halfway through, they crack two eggs over it, meshing with the mushrooms and garlic.
  3. Venison pizza. This is a white pie topped also with carmelized onions. “I love venison,” Brooks said.

The story of Pizzeria Toro intrigued me not only because it’s a hip pizza spot, but because it’s their second reopening in their three years. The first closure lasted about 10 days, essentially “a long weekend,” Brooks told me. The longer wait this time, has meant “we were crazy busy right off the bat,” so expect to wait.