It’s been lauded at an exclusive industry event in Las Vegas and on countywide airwaves, but chances are you haven’t heard of Palo Mesa Pizza, so let’s get right to the crust of the matter.
Located at the corner of Highway 1 and Halcyon Road in Arroyo Grande, the unassuming pizzeria was launched in April 2007 by Jack Stevens, his son Michael Stevens, and their business partner, Ken Craig.
As a culinary school graduate with experience in everything from pizzerias to fine dining, Michael was charged with developing the recipes. A year later, and he and his wife, Kelly, (who also own and operate the neighboring Tanner Jack’s restaurant) assumed full ownership of Palo Mesa.
Several times over the last few years, the Stevenses have attended the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, an industry trade show billed as “The Largest Pizza Show in the World” that includes a saucy battle called the International Pizza Challenge. When Palo Mesa competed in 2008, it ended up as a finalist in its region (Southwest), and last year, it topped that result.
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“We came in third in our region and 23rd in the world,” said Kelly, adding that Palo Mesa was also recently voted top pizza in the county in a local radio station contest.
If you ask Michael and Kelly what makes their pizza a little slice of heaven, their first answer is “it’s made with love.” Then they readily admit to having “a great staff.”
From there, Michael explained that the dough is made from scratch, and that each pie is hand-tossed before it gets slathered with house-made sauce. Toppings such as meatballs and sausage are housemade as well, and the pizza is cooked in a traditional brick oven instead of a conveyor belt oven, so it has to be hand-turned several times with a peel (essentially a long-handled paddle) to be cooked to perfection.
“We also insist on using the absolute freshest veggies,” said Michael, “and we try to buy locally, including the sandwich bread that we get from Edna’s Bakery.”
You can certainly toss together your own pizza, but Palo Mesa serves up some appealing specialty creations.
Pizzas such as the Mesa Meatsa, Greek, and Thai Chicken deliver just what you’d expect, but there’s also a BW with chicken and buffalo wing sauce, a Hot Hawaiian with bacon and jalapeños joining the ham and pineapple, and even a Taco pizza with chorizo and nacho chips.
In addition to pizza pies, the rest of the Palo Mesa menu includes everything from a chicken calzone to a chicken club sandwich, from a chef salad to an antipasto salad, from spaghetti and meatballs to lasagna and mostoccioli.
You can get freshly baked cinnamon bread and cheese bread, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and fried chicken with mojo potatoes.
“We added the fried chicken about two years ago,” said Kelly, “mainly just because no other place around was doing it and we just wanted to offer it to our customers.”
The down-to-earth Stevenses pride themselves on being responsive to their community, down to fielding their own Relay for Life team in the annual Arroyo Grande cancer fundraising event.
“It’s just part of what we do and who we are,” said Michael. “We like putting smiles on people’s faces and being able to create something — here and at Tanner Jack’s — that our customers want to be a part of.”