When hosting an old friend or curmudgeon family-in-law, I like to take them to food and atmospheres that you cannot get anywhere else and when it comes to The Research Triangle, Lilly’s is the top of my list. The restaurant is very small, seating no more than 50 people and normally that many people are in line waiting to order (I’m only half kidding). But no one ever complains out the wait. The food is stellar and I have tried everything from their salads to their lasagna and my only regret is that I do not and will not have the time or strength to order everything they offer.
I have reached a point with Lilly’s where ordering anything but their calzone feels like high treason. The calzone is incredibly filling (worthy of two tasty meals or one nap inducing large one) and their sauce is a flavorful ichor that I would be proud to toast with at my wedding, but it’s Lilly’s dough that really makes this place a stand out. That crust goes beyond pizza dough; it is daftly flavorful and a sin to leave on the plate. Expertly seasoned and surprisingly sweet, mouth wateringly soft and crunchy in all the right places. The calzone’s marriage of toppings/filling and dough is expertly balanced.
At first glance, the atmosphere can be overwhelming. It looks like a storage unit that American Pickers would be happy to make some offers on, but the smell will forbid you from leaving and I hope you like the smell because, unless you sit outside, it’s coming home with you. Local artists pedal their canvases on the walls, a large antique plane model hangs over some diner’s head, and of course there are beers signs and antique bar ornaments everywhere. All of this decoration is a great feast for the eyes while you are waiting in line to order. My favorite display is near the cash register, where paper plates have been colored in by everyone from children to adults, all artfully expressing their zombie like craving for more Lilly’s pizza, it’s a nice tribute to the eatery’s fans.
Now, I will impart some wisdom; this place is a “pizza” place, “pizza” is written on the door, and everyone that I talk to loves their pizza, but the one time I shared a pizza with someone, I was underwhelmed. My friend ordered a barbecue chicken pizza and the sweet bbq sauce with that thick, sweet dough, and a cool glass of southern sweet tea…the plate decorates itself and I’m not proud to hang it. I do think the pizza dough is a little thick for my liking, but I am stuck on thin crust, New York style pizza, which their calzone offers me. In the future I would like to try one of their regular pizzas, but I would like to try everything on their menu.
In closing, yeah, the kitchen is always slammed, you have to wait in line to order, waiters yelling names to find the pizza’s corresponding table gets a little old (especially when hungover), and Lilly’s rarely advertises coupons or specials (they don’t need to), but the thing that breaks my heart is: they don’t deliver outside the belt line! (Lilly, I am 8 minutes from your door and that is with traffic working against you. Please, please, please deliver to me so I never have to call Papa John’s again!) When I bought my house, I picked a location where Lilly’s would deliver, so this really was a crushing blow. I would lie to them and say that I am in the beltline, but what if they cut me off? The zombie inside of me could not live like that.