Miguel’s Pizza: Red River Gorging

We were coming off our third hike of the day (read here) and it was barely noon. Okay so, those three hikes had racked up less than two miles, but that didn’t mean we weren’t hungry! Would it be better if I said we hadn’t had any breakfast? I honestly can’t remember, so that might be true. Regardless, we had heard a lot about Miguel’s Pizza in Slade, Kentucky. So too had everyone on the internet – many of their reviews began with a similar statement. Miguel’s enjoys lots of five-star reviews on TripAdvisor compared with a mere handful of diners that felt they were not so good. We’re going to side with the majority.

We pulled up at around 12:30pm on a Thursday to find a moderately crowded establishment. With COVID-19 on the loose, Miguel’s seating was exclusively outside under a large pavilion. Those dining parties, although generally six feet apart, were packed in a little too tight for our liking, so we elected to eat in the car, a routine we had become quite comfortable with as we traveled the virus-ridden country last summer. That aside, in our opinion, Miguel’s was doing pretty much everything right. We headed toward the door.

Masks were required in line and inside. Pizza prospectors waited, socially distanced, outside the door with only one party was allowed in at a time. When we entered, we stepped up to a counter where a young woman took our order from behind a wall of plexiglass. She was friendly and helpful, pointing us toward good local beers and praising our choice of toppings. Exiting through a side door, we circled back around front with our beverages. We sat down at an empty picnic table near the road to sample our local brewskies.

If you have ever read one of my reviews, you know that one of my biggest hiking delights is getting hooked up with a great local beer afterward. After a bit of back and forth with the server, I selected the New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA without realizing that it was the exact same beer that had been recommended to me at Chappy’s Mountain View Bar and Grill (read here) in Westcliffe Colorado only six days earlier. At that time, I grumbled that New Belgium wasn’t local enough because it was in Fort Collins, 171 long miles away. Had I remembered that selection, I would have chastised my server that Fort Collins, Colorado was definitely not local to Slade, Kentucky. I would have been wrong. Turns out, New Belgium has a brewery in Ashland, North Carolina only 164 miles from Miguel’s Pizza. My Kentucky suds were brewed seven miles closer than my Colorado suds. Whaddaya know?

I had this to say about the Voodoo Ranger IPA the week prior and it was still all true:

The Voodoo Ranger’s flavor burst onto my tongue with notes of citrus that are a personal favorite in this style of brew. In the glass it was a light golden amber with a hint of suds. In my mouth it was full bodied and well balanced.”

Lisa had a vanilla brown ale called “Shotgun Wedding” from Country Boy Brewing in Lexington, just fort-five miles away. It arrived dark brown with a quarter-inch of thick foam on top. It did not come with an armed and angry father, there to make sure you did the right thing and drank it. Lisa didn’t need any coaxing, describing it as “creamy and smooth”. “At first sip,” she said, “it tasted like a nutty brown ale, but thirty seconds later a rich vanilla finish came through.” Then she clarified, “Rich, but not sweet.” Both beers were winners.

Earlier I mentioned that the server had praised our selection of toppings. If that has kept you in unabated anticipation over the last several paragraphs, your wait is over. We ordered our pizza with regular crust, tomato sauce, chicken, chorizo, avocado, and mango salsa. That’s right, mango salsa. If you’re one of those people who gets unreasonably angry at the idea of pineapple on pizza, you might want to check out now. Personally, we support personal pizza liberty – whatever you want to put on a pizza is fine with us just as long as you don’t force anyone else to eat it.

Other carry-out customers had started to mill around our picnic table, so we retreated to the car to wait for our pie. It was perhaps 25 minutes after we ordered that a masked employee appeared shouting our last name. I hopped out, flagged him down, and got my mitts on our pizza. Back in the car, we opened the box to a delightful aroma as the windows began to fog from the steam. We dug in.

Miguel’s pizza was great. The crust was golden brown, the toppings plentiful, and the pie came to us hot, despite the restaurant getting progressively busier over the time we were there. As for our eclectic choice of toppings, they turned out to be a brilliant melange of oddly complimentary flavors – even if we do say so ourselves. The chef rose to the challenge (we’re guessing it really wasn’t one), making sure that the avocado wasn’t cooked to mush as it paired oh-so-classically with the chicken, and there was just the right amount of spicy chorizo permeating each slice. The mango salsa, which could have come off cold and wet, was neither and brought an understated sweetness to the mix. We ate it all.

Miguel’s Pizza’s handful of one-star reviews are suspect to me. One recurring theme was “crust that tasted like frozen gas station pizza”. I cannot think how we got delicious, fresh-tasting crust while the next person got cardboard. Other complaints cited long waits and rude service – we experienced neither. To the contrary, our service was downright gregarious and our wait was less than Miguel’s predicted time of thirty minutes. Their beer selection was interesting and diverse, and their COVID response was thoughtful and well executed. We had a great experience and would unreservedly recommend Miguel’s Pizza to anyone coming to the Red River Gorge area with one proviso: you must like pizza.

Date: July 9, 2020
Location: 37.783075, -83.682858
Website: https://www.miguelspizza.com/
Price Range: $
Food: ★★★★1/2
Everything Else: ★★★★

BIT|Hiker acknowledges the Indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Cherokee, Shawnee, Osage, and Yuchi.

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