by Kevin Cummings , Messenger Staff Writer
Pizza, wine and beer are magic words to many people, and chef Keri Moser says she’s invigorated by the options her new restaurant offers.
Moser owned IvyWild for more than eight years and today (Friday) officially opened Octoπ, a wood-fired pizza and wine bar in the same location on 36 Ball Park Rd. Ivy Wild was a fine dining restaurant that locals went to for a special night out and out-of-towners learned about through regional and national acclaim. But Moser needed a new venture.
“I’ve loved Ivy Wild and I’m really proud of it and I think we’ve done wonderful things over the years,” she said. “I just believe everything has a lifespan and I have a certain attention span. I’m just ready to do something different and I’m super excited about this.”
At the heart of the newly remodeled eatery, complete with plenty of octopus art, is the wood-fired oven, a product of a Maine company which features French clay construction and an artist-designed copper wrap.
Mike Seeber and Anna Brandt of Chattanooga were the first customers to eat pizza from the oven on June 22, the start of a “soft opening” weekend. Returning home from Nashville, Seeber and Brandt Googled nearby restaurants and came across IvyWild.
Finding a new restaurant in its place was a surprise, but a good one.
“The pizza is very unusual, very delicious,” Seeber said. “They’re going to be successful.”
Brandt and Seeber tried the Blue Ring Sting pizza, made up of red sauce, Pig Mountain hot sausage, sopressata, gorgonzola, mozzarella, Calabrian chili paste and a honey drizzle.
“It was exquisite,” Seeber said, “just the right degree of tomato and sweet.”
“Don’t be afraid of the Calabrian chili paste,” Brandt added. “It’s not that hot; it’s just savory and delicious.”
The travelers also ate a Davy Jones’s Locker pizza, which includes capers, octopus, mussels and a black alfredo sauce among its ingredients. In addition, the first customers tried an Inkling pizza with a Possum Bottom Farm mushroom blend, mozzarella, parmesan and olive oil.
“The pizzas exceeded our expectations,” Brandt said. “The texture of the crust is perfect; it’s just enough chew and just enough tang.”
Although the travelers didn’t drink any wine because of the drive, Octoπ offers small batch and lesser known craft wines.
“As somebody who is trying to make a living doing what I love and am passionate about, I love that our wine program is really supporting artisans and craftsmen,” Moser said.
The restaurant also boasts a selection of craft beers and ciders, including Mantra’s Saffron IPA from Franklin, Tenn., and Bahr and Sons’ Ugly Pug, a black lager from Texas.
Ivy Wild customers have been mostly positive about the change to pizza, Moser said.
“Ninety-nine percent just overflowed with excitement and 1 percent were crushed in horror,” she joked.
Woody Deutsch and his wife Anne were regulars at Ivy Wild, but Woody said he anticipates more great experiences.
“Ivy Wild was a restaurant of exceptional high quality,” he said. “It could make it anywhere in which fine dining was revered. It was amazing that Keri was able to maintain her vision in such a small market for as long as she did.
“We are all probably aware that the restaurant biz is a high burnout proposition, so it’s a very cool thing for Keri not to close the doors and walk away, but rather rekindle her food passion with a different approach,” he added. “I know the quality of Octoπ will be top notch, and will look forward to reaping the benefits as a customer.”
Moser said her inspiration came during a birthday trip to New York City for her 11-year-old daughter Ivy, the namesake of the old restaurant. They found a pizza and wine place near the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood that they loved.
“The flow of those two things together was so natural and so organic, that I got really excited about it,” Moser said.
During a return trip to New York City in March to do research for IvyWild, Moser and Christia Crook, the dining room manager, kept going back to that same pizza place.
Moser decided in April to transform IvyWild, but her daughter took the change hard at first.
“She’s grown up here since she was three and she has her name on the door,” Moser said. “She loves this place and I was really surprised by how upset she was when I told her.”
Ivy wrote nine questions for her mom to answer about the change and before the end, Moser said Ivy was drawing logos for Octoπ.
Both Ivy and Moser’s son Bryce, 16, have helped with the remodel, she added.
As for the name Octoπ, Moser said she loves octopuses, as well as writer H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu, one of Lovecraft’s creations, was a monster that at least partly resembled an octopus. She also couldn’t resist the wordplay of octopi and pizza pie.
Moser, a native of Houston, Texas, said she is in love with what is happening.
“The pizzas are just going to keep getting better, because I don’t sit still on anything,” she said.
Octoπ’s regular hours are Thursday through Sunday, 3 to 10 p.m.