“Pizza is like porn. When it’s good, it’s good; when it’s bad, it’s still good.”

That little nugget of wisdom sits on the wall of Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Some may agree with this statement, but I, for one, don’t. In the U.S., we’re force-fed a load of commercial crap, and pizza is no exception. Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s make up more than a quarter of the pizza sales in an industry that generates approximately $40 billion a year. They continuously hock cardboard crust and sugary, preservative-riddled canned sauce that can be at your door in 30 minutes or less. It denigrates the historical romance of vendors selling homemade pies on the country roads of Naples in the eighteenth century. Mama mia, what have we become?

Maybe it’s the optimist in me (or the vacancy in my belly), but recently I decided to determine if corporate interests really had ruined our favorite food (93 percent of Americans eat at least one pizza per month). So I loosened my belt and hit the Blue Ridge backroads on a quest for the best pizza joints. Luckily for me and pizza lovers everywhere, I was able to uncover a handful of gems—all located near the region’s top recreation spots.
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PIES AND PINTS Fayetteville, W.Va.

Nestled on the edge of the New River Gorge, Fayetteville is home to a growing number of adventurists. Feeding the mountain junkies is Pies and Pints—a hip, modern gourmet pizzeria and pub that you wouldn’t expect to find in the middle of the Mountain State.

EARN IT

If you’re a paddler, you already know about the epic whitewater rapids of the New River, which is usually running wild this time of year thanks to the spring rains. The uninitiated can still experience the thrills on a rafting trip with one of the area’s many outfitters. The adrenaline of pounding through the Keeney Rapids and Double Z will have your belly growling by the time you get back to post.

EAT IT

This place is all about creative combinations. Case in point: the Thai Pie, which features shrimp, toasted coconut, and thai curry sauce. Not your flavor? Maybe you’d prefer the Chipotle Chicken Pie or the Grape Pie with red grapes and gorgonzola.

WASH IT DOWN

As the name implies, this place has a huge selection of micro drafts and bottles from around the country.
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DR. HO’S HUMBLE PIE Charlottesville, Va.

About 10 miles south of Charlottesville, this little hole in the wall packs its limited space with people that can appreciate a well-crafted pie. With a kitschy wall décor that features a pizza clock, a trophy fish, and a picture of Bob Marley smoking a hooter, a mix of mountain folk and young hipsters come for the eclectic toppings and offerings, ranging from whole-wheat crust to crayfish.

EARN IT

Dr. Ho’s is right around the corner from Walnut Creek Park, where you can tear it up on 12 miles of rolling singletrack or throw 18 holes on one of the best disc golf courses in the region.

EAT IT

Herbivores should go with the Jolly Rasta—spinach, pineapple, onion, mozzarella, and swiss cheese, while carnies need to try the Ragin’ Cajun—crayfish tails, andouille sausage, sweet peppers, mozzarella, and fresh herbs.

WASH IT DOWN

If you have any room after dinner, go for the local apple crisp with vanilla ice cream.
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TOMATO HEAD Knoxville. Tenn.

A visit to Knoxville’s resurging downtown should not be without a stop at Tomato Head on Market Square. It’s usually not easy to get into this cool eatery, which serves everything from 15 freshly designed pies to burritos to sandwiches with organic ingredients. But it’s certainly worth the wait.

EARN IT

Take a trail run at the Ijams Nature Center (ijams.org)—just minutes from the heart of downtown—where miles of rolling singletrack will bring you around the scenic banks of the Tennessee River.

EAT IT

I recommend the number 14. It is loaded with fresh spinach, red onion, roma tomato, kalamata olive, banana pepper, oregano, and organic baked tofu. Meatheads can substitute the tofu with andouille sausage.

WASH IT DOWN

Walk over to the nearby Preservation Pub, and while enjoying your favorite spirit, feed your head with on-the-wall quotes from life’s great minds including Socrates, Frank Zappa, and Homer Simpson.
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SIRIANNI’S CAFE Davis, W.Va.

Tucked against the massive Monongahela National Forest, Davis is an underappreciated gem of a small town that sits in the highest mountain valley easy of the Rockies. The down-home vibe extends to one of the town’s oldest restaurants. At Sirianni’s Cafe, the walls are covered with antique décor and vintage skiing pictures, while the tables have postcards from former visitors who have previously enjoyed the perfectly crisped crust of the traditional Sicilian-style pies.

EARN IT

Before you chow down, spend the day tackling the classic Canaan Loop Road Ride. Starting from Blackwater Falls State Park, this 26-mile ride skirts the edge of the beautiful canyon before cruising on scenic forest roads and climbing up to Bearden Knob for an amazing view of the valley below.

EAT IT

You haven’t experienced Sirianni’s if the stink of garlic isn’t coming out of your pores by the end of your visit. Start with the Extreme Garlic Chips, which were created by extreme skier Glen Plake, and then load up your pie with minced cloves and fresh mushrooms.

WASH IT DOWN

After dinner, head down the road to Thomas and visit the Mountain State Brewing Company for a locally brewed pint of Cold Trail Ale or catch some bluegrass at The Purple Fiddle.

ASHEVILLE PIZZA & BREWING CO. Asheville, N.C.

What could be better than eating pizza while drinking a pint of in-house beer and watching a $2 second-run movie? It’s three of life’s great pleasures rolled into one.

EARN IT

Ride the newly constructed singletrack at the Alexander Mountain Bike Park. There’s a brand new three-mile loop with constant elevation changes, technical roots and rocks, and some of the best views of the French Broad River anywhere.

EAT IT

My favorite combo is spinach, smoked gouda, and roasted red pepper.

WASH IT DOWN

If you have a hankering for something hoppy, do yourself a favor and try the Shiva IPA.