Nick Ehrhard/Senior Staff Photographer

Pizza Tree takes root in Columbia

New pizzeria brings inventive ‘pizza art’ to Mojo's.

By Sophia Conforti | Feb. 14, 2013

Tags: Food


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While there’s no such thing as a money tree, the existence of a pizza tree has been verified, and luckily for us, it’s rooted right here in Columbia.

Nestled inside Mojo’s, Pizza Tree makes a statement in its own right. With its inventive menu consisting of elaborate “pizza art” and owner Johnny Gilbreth’s extensive pizza knowledge, it’s easy to see why.

Gilbreth has worked in restaurants since high school, but it wasn’t until college when he landed a job at Shakespeare’s that his pizza artistry appeared. After failing to fall in love with a “real job,” Gilbreth returned to his college roots and decided to open a pizzeria. And just like that, Pizza Tree was born.

Prior to the opening of Pizza Tree, Gilbreth set out on a pizza expedition, venturing to 32 pizzerias in 31 days on the northeastern coast, learning all the secrets of the trade and indulging in what he thinks is some of the country’s finest pizza.

The journey, Gilbreth says, was to “pad (what I already knew) with real life experience.”

Upon returning to Columbia, Gilbreth began the Pizza Tree adventure, combining the traditional with the not-so-traditional. Pizza Tree, as he puts it, thrives on its creativity, as is evident in their innovative menu.

The restaurant’s self-titled “pizza art” merges a variety of flavors to appeal to the perfect palate, resulting in truly one-of-a-kind pizzas.

One best-seller, the Banh Mi pizza art, “fills up the mouth real good” as it integrates flavors of sriracha pork belly with the likes of chile aioli, kimchi, cilantro and fresh mozzarella to provide taste buds with the whole nine yards.

Gilbreth notes that nothing is off-limits when it comes to creating the next great pizza.

“No (recipe) is perfect to start with, but I’ve got to see them through,” he says. “It’s all about the flavor, even if it’s just junk food.”

While pizza may not be the healthiest of food choices when compared to brussels sprouts or spinach, Pizza Tree’s ingredients are made right inside the kitchen. Everything from Pizza Tree’s fresh mozzarella to its Canadian bacon, which is smoked and cured on location, are made in-house.

Other ingredients, like the Ezzo pepperoni, are shipped in from places like Columbus, Ohio, just to ensure that Pizza Tree can serve customers quality pizzas made from the most flavorful, quality products.

“It’s all about the food,” Gilbreth says. “We just want to put pizza in people’s hands when they want it.”

As for what’s next for Pizza Tree, keep a lookout for electric bicycle pizza delivery.

“I want to keep being funkier in our look and attitude and have that reflected in our food,” Gilbreath says.

If funky is the tune Pizza Tree is aiming for, it would seem that it's headed in the right direction. After all, when was the last time you had a pizza topped with truffled crimini or kimchi?

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