By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Area 41 Pizza Company is all about good pizza but just as much all about people.
The neighborhood pizza joint is like a family-friendly pub. There’s a wide selection of beers on tap, TVs for game watching and a menu just for kids. When the weather is nice, you can relax on the patio under the trees Mt Laurel prides itself on and even bring your dog to eat with you. Regulars, who come up to four times a week, chat with the bartender, but first-timers are always welcome too.
It was the pizzeria’s first customers who helped name it. Owner Patrick Hankins wanted to work Highway 41 into the name. Someone who came in before the restaurant opened suggested a play on the name Area 51, and Area 41 stuck.
Many of the pizza names come with stories. Classic three-cheese pizza Faceman was named for Hankins’ friend Michael Murphrey after they joked that he would be the “faceman” of Mt Laurel. Action Jackson, with pepperoni, Italian sausage and onion, is named for Hankins’ original business partner. Vegetarian pizza Paco Hancenelli is Hankins’ namesake; an Irish chef he worked for in Rhode Island gave everyone in the kitchen an Italian name, and Paco Hancenelli was his. (Hankins is not a vegetarian though.)
Hankins calls his New York-style crust “crispy,” but to me it is a bit more chewy than chain restaurant thin crust with just enough crisp. Northerners tend to become loyal devotees to the Area 41-style pizza because, they say, the crust is what they are used to. It seems rightly so after Hankins lived in New York and returned for a weeklong visit to try different pizzerias before opening his Mt Laurel restaurant.
Hankins fell in love with the Mt Laurel community at its Spring Festival seven years ago. The Birmingham native had recently moved back after restaurant stints in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans and was looking for a change from fine dining. The corner storefront most visible from Highway 41 was vacant and caught his eye that day. Everyone loves pizza, he figured. Why not open a pizza place?
What came out of his idea was a casual neighborhood restaurant that subtly echoes Hankins’ fine dining touch. In addition to standard pizza toppings, you can add fresh basil, roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, feta, goat cheese and roasted chicken to top off Area 41’s signature four-ingredient dough. You can start your meal with baked feta or a caprese dish of oven roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pine nuts and pesto. Salad selections include a Chopped Salad, Greek Salad and Arugula Salad with blue cheese, walnuts, apples and balsamic vinaigrette
Hankins’ favorite pizza is the Area 41 Special. For this, he spreads roasted garlic on the dough and tops it with goat cheese and better-than-your-average-pizza-joint Italian sausage. He bakes it in his pizza oven, adding fresh tomato on top just before it is done.
Another menu favorite, Hula Hoedown, is a cross between more standard Hawaiian and barbecue chicken pizzas. The Blonde Ambition has no need for red sauce with its roasted garlic, herbed ricotta, mozzarella and fresh basil.
Pizza is the biggest seller on the menu, but they also offer sandwiches and pastas like Simple Spaghetti tossed with roasted tomatoes, olives, herbs, Parmesan and herbs. Plus, there’s a selection of pasta, chicken fingers and grilled cheese for kids.
At lunch, you can get a plate-sized slice of pizza for $3.25 or add a salad to it for $5.75. They also offer meatball sub and a Chicken Parmesan Panini sandwich specials mid-day.
The beer selection includes standard domestic drafts but also pleases customers who like a step up with Guinness, Newcastle, Peroni, Magic Hat #9, Sweetwater IPA, Terrapin Hopsecutioner, Truckstop Honey Brown and others. Wines are available by the bottle ($28-36) or glass ($6-9); on Tuesdays wine bottles are half price. Likewise, on Wednesday pizzas are buy one, get one half off.
Hankins has just expanded the menu to include a new goat cheese appetizer and new pizza creations. The Forager boasts four different types of mushrooms drizzled with white truffle oil. But why change the menu when it sells well? A little change up was what the customers wanted at their Area 41.
Are 41 Pizza Company
30 Manning Place,
Mon. – Thurs., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri. – Sat., 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.