Calling in a take-out order to a pizza joint is usually done by rote, but my first call to Garage Pizza went far off the typical script. I was told a run on steamed kale earlier in the day meant the kitchen couldn't do the Tempeh Delight, which isn't a pizza but rather an entree of pressed soybean cakes, brown rice and the nutrient-packed king of healthy greens. I settled instead on the tofu bowl, with curried cubes of bean curd, peanut-ginger sauce, grilled squash and a thatch work of sprouts on top.
A harried delivery driver arrived 20 minutes later with the harvest steaming inside a foil take-out tray, along with a pepperoni pizza.
The familiar pizza joint territory of pies, calzones and sandwiches, discount coupons and delivery service gets some unexpected vegetarian additions on the Garage menu. It's the work of Karen Bolds, a New Orleans native who first developed her ken for meatless fare while working at Old Dog New Trick, the long-gone French Quarter vegetarian restaurant.
It turns out I have inadvertently been stalking Bolds' cooking for the past two years. I first spotted her baked polenta, tofu and tempeh dishes and her singularly refreshing lemongrass lemonade — all now on the Garage menu — in 2007 at a tiny French Quarter restaurant called Drama Cafe. The cooking was fresh, light, different and reminded me of the sort of healthy home cooking you might get by following the Moosewood Cookbook, Mollie Katzen's seminal vegetarian digest. Drama Cafe proved supremely short-lived, lasting only a few weeks, but before the year was out, some of the exact dishes surfaced again amid a list of burgers at a new Mid-City diner called Mama's Hot Burger. That place lasted just a few months.
Bolds developed the menus for the owners of Drama Cafe and Mama's Hot Burger, but Garage Pizza is her own venture. It is, by comparison, a rock of stability, having been in business now for 14 whole months.
Many of the dishes' names follow an automotive theme, which extends to the sizes of the pizzas, from the Mini Cooper personal pizza to the Hummer, a 20-inch monster that delivers floppy, foldable slices.
Garage's pizza crust has more character than the doughy local standard but still lacks that essential light char of superlative pies. Some of the pizzas recommend themselves with unique topping combinations, particularly the Garage specialty pizza. Over a mix of mozzarella and feta go artichokes, large chunks of chopped shrimp and a leafy pile of raw, peppery arugula. Cilantro-pesto sauce, dabs of sour cream and tangy pico de gallo give the Ferrari fajita pizza unique flavor and texture. Some parts of the menu sound better than they taste, however, like the Lamborghini sandwich with wads of watery ham all but obscuring a few slivers of prosciutto.
Delivery makes up much of Garage Pizza's business, and its location on a forlorn block between Canal Street and the hulk of Charity Hospital does not seem likely to draw many impulse customers. It was quite surprising, then, to visit in person for the first time and find the lunch shift buzzing with what looked like a mix of students and professionals. Word of a healthy lunch option must get around.