Dining With Denise Neil

Best friends meet tasty goal, try every pizza place in Sedgwick County

Christy Campbell, left, and Jaime Blackwell spent 2016 trying to visit all the local pizzerias in Sedgwick County.
Christy Campbell, left, and Jaime Blackwell spent 2016 trying to visit all the local pizzerias in Sedgwick County. The Wichita Eagle

Jaime Blackwell and Christy Campbell are the type of BFFs who are always doing something fun and kind of wacko together.

Both Wichita lawyers by day, their evening and weekend hours are filled with shenanigans, and they’re known for forming and joining groups – from a slightly irreverent knitting group to a dedicated brunch club.

But in January 2016, the two may have had their best idea yet.

They were in Derby for the day when they drove past Talliano’s, a pizza place at 408 N. Baltimore.

“I said, ‘Have you ever been there?’ ” Blackwell remembers. “And she said, ‘No.’ ”

The two started talking about all the local pizza places they’d never been to, and there were plenty. Blackwell and Campbell are devoted fans of Knolla’s at Central and Rock Road. They go there at least once a week with a group of friends, and they even have a favorite waitress. Knolla’s pizza is the best, they say, with just the right amount of sauce, just the right amount of salt and a bread-to-topping ratio that is always perfect. Don’t even get them started on Knolla’s heavenly ranch dressing.

“We felt like we needed to maybe branch out from Knolla’s,” Blackwell said. “Then we decided that 2016 should be the year of the pizza and that we should go to every nonchain pizza place in Sedgwick County in 2016.”

They made a list. Then they invented a name: “ICT Pie Flyby.”

They invited friends to join them, and sometimes some would. Other times, it was just the two of them.

By the time 2016 ended, the friends had visited 20 different locally-owned pizza places and rated each one on a scale from 1 to 10.

But the “ICT Pie Flyby” ended up being about more than pizza. Though they found several new favorites, the goofy girlfriends also had many unexpected and hilarious adventures along the way.

They started at Talliano’s, the place that had inspired their idea. The pizza was OK, they said, but the “Mortal Kombat” arcade game in the restaurant earned it a whole extra point.

They found that Cheney’s only pizza place, D Mario’s, was housed inside a bowling alley.

Gambino’s in Colwich was an experience to remember. When they arrived, they were the only people in the restaurant. By the time they left, the little league games for the day appeared to have wrapped up, and the entire town crowded in for pizza.

Then there was LMNO Pizza.

The duo found a listing online for the restaurant in tiny Mount Hope, population 816, and made the drive to check it out. They were charmed. They loved eccentric owner Vance Summers, who told them wild stories and offered them tiny potted succulents on their way out the door. And they loved his quirky shop, one of the few downtown Mount Hope businesses open after dark.

When the challenge ended, they created a ranking of their top three favorites, but it wasn’t easy.

Knolla’s, of course, was at the top. A standard 10 out of 10. But they knew that before they started.

LMNO made the list. The pizza (they tried the all-meat version) was good, but the experience as a whole was unforgettable.

Rounding out the top three was DeFazio’s, the Italian restaurant at 2706 N. Amidon that neither had ever visited, despite encouragement from friends.

The two also visited Wichita favorites like Ziggy’s and Picasso’s. And they were surprised by how much they loved the Thai pizza at Wichita Brewing Company.

They went to the just-opened Piatto (good but no pepperoni, just classy Italian meats), to Angelo’s (good but a bit pricey) and to Cheezies (not bad for a $5 pie).

“One of the best things about Wichita is there are a lot of local restaurants and lots of local food and lots of places you can go that aren’t a chain,” Campbell said. “Kind of the gift of this is that we got to find all these itty-bitty pizza places that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

The duo has already declared 2017 “The Year of the Taco.”

Stay tuned.

Piatto Neapolitan Pizzeria at 1706 E. Douglas will open Nov. 9. Owner Robert McMullin studied in Naples to perfect his technique. The pizzas are made in a wood fire oven that was built in Italy. (Video by Jaime Green/Nov. 2, 2016)

A Papa John's pizza in 30 seconds. Watch as Saleen Shrestha, store manager of the 21st and Tyler Papa John's whips out a Papa John's cheese pizza. (Video by Bo Rader / kansas.com)

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