Sharon's Chocolate and Bread Café is under-named, but mark my words, it will soon be called just "Sharon's" to the many loyal customers it's bound to attract -- and it will be known for its pizza.
That's what you'll go back for, again and again.
Not that you won't indulge in the chocolate and take a loaf of bread with you when you leave -- they're both excellent. You'll find yourself craving the truffles, but while we can confine chocolate to an occasional indulgence, pizza or sandwiches can be lunch.
Sharon's is operated by husband-wife team Sharon and Michael Fajans. She's the chocolatier, and he's the baker. But she also makes cakes and cannoli, and he makes sausage and meatballs from scratch for the pizza and sandwiches. It's a match made in culinary heaven.
The shop is small -- just four tables -- as the Fajans expect their business to be mostly takeout. The store is certainly in a convenient spot at Chickasaw Crossing, the collection at Poplar and Humes.
Though the chalkboard menu reads that the small pizza serves four, I thought that might be an exaggeration. So two of us ordered the half-size sausage and olive pizza and a barbecue chicken roll, along with a small assortment of chocolates.
I was warned that it was a lot of food, but I waved it off and said I could always pack it up to go.
Well, we packed.
Generally, I'll take a crisp, thin-crust pizza before a thick one. While Sharon's might not change my mind completely on this, it will surely enter the lineup of best pizzas in town and go in our rotation.
The pizza dough is made in-house, of course. Although it's thick, it's not doughy or heavy. Instead it's crisp on the bottom with a light and delicate sponge inside. It easily holds up to the generous toppings, too.
My favorite pizza was the sausage and green olive. Black olives on a pizza are a no-no, because they're usually canned, rubbery and flavorless. Green olives, even cheap ones, are better. But at Sharon's, the olives are fantastic. They're salty and meaty, with a slightly oily sheen. The Fajans aren't sure if the olives are Greek or French, but do say that they're a customer favorite.
The Italian sausage is fresh, cut in slices and lightly browned, and the fennel comes through. The tomato sauce is slightly sweet but with a pleasant tang, and you'll come across actual pieces of tomato from time to time. Cheese is plentiful. A few red pepper flakes, added at the table, kicked up the pizza a bit (personal preference only and not necessary).
And, yes, a small (or half, as they call it) pizza definitely serves four.
When it comes to sandwiches, Sharon's offers three on a baguette -- a homemade meatball, Italian sausage or three cheese. Unfortunately, it's hard to eat a substantial sandwich such as the meatball on hard and chewy bread like the baguette. If an Italian loaf is baked on the day you visit, you can substitute.
Frankly, I'm not too bothered, because I like the rolls better, anyway. They're made with all kinds of creative fillings tucked in a slightly chewy dough, baked and topped with poppy seeds.
We tried several. The barbecue chicken was full of chicken, a sweet sauce and caramelized onions. The Italian roast beef had just a bit of the tomato sauce from the pizza mixed with a spicy deli-sliced roast beef, and we loved that one. But the favorite was the Greek roll, full of spinach, kalamata olives, feta cheese and tomatoes.
Leave room for dessert. In addition to a selection of truffles (try the coconut if you love a Mounds bar -- heaven), the huge, deep, deep chocolate brownie is an exceptional indulgence and easily split several ways.
Michael said he tends to bake more bread on Saturdays, as demand is higher then. The focaccia, topped with salt and rosemary, is addictive. Heartier boules such as pecan and cranberry are more likely to make it home intact.
The only fault with this sweet spot is the hours. At present, the restaurant closes at 5:30 p.m., which is early for many working folks who'd like to stop in for a pizza on the way home.
Maybe with a little encouragement they'll extend their hours.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Sharon's Chocolate and Bread Café
Address: 2881 Poplar
Telephone: (901) 324-4422
Hours: Open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday
Reviewer's choices: Sausage and olive pizza ($14 half; $22 whole); rolls (particularly the Italian roast beef and the Greek; prices are $5.50-$6.50); focaccia ($4.50 small and $8 large); brownie ($2.95); truffles ($2.95).