The little pizza shop was a Morris family tradition. Gary Morris’ job as a car dealership business manager brought him to the Branson area where he would eat lunch at the Pizza Chef location just down the road from Silver Dollar City. Pizza was popular with his family back home — especially on Friday nights.
“I thought it was good, really good,” Gary recalls. “So then I would bring it back home at night for Sally and our two daughters and have pizza again.”
That pizza shop — now Pizza By The Chef — continues to be a Morris family tradition in Branson West. Gary and Sally purchased the restaurant in 2005 and are now joined by their daughter Meredith Watson and her husband, Kevin. Together, they dish up Pizza Chef classics as well as new interpretations on fresh salads, pasta, hot sandwiches and mouthwatering pizzas. With a focus on fresh ingredients and preparing food from scratch, the family has developed a following among the area’s tourists and locals alike.
Gary and Sally were eying a full-time move to Lake Taneycomo 14 years ago. “We weren’t old or wealthy enough to retire, so we needed to buy a job,” Gary says with a laugh.
The pizzeria the family had come to know was on the market and a deal was struck. While many new items have found their way onto the Pizza By The Chef menu, they still honor the original recipes from when the restaurant first opened in 1992.
“There’s no good reason to fix something that isn’t broken,” Gary says. “Our core products — like our pizza and bread dough — we make from scratch.”
It’s not uncommon for younger patrons to stretch their necks to see in the back as Kevin or the other kitchen staff hand spins the pizza dough to order.
While there are plenty of options from which to choose, most come for one of the 25 different pizza offerings. If you’ve brought your appetite or a small cavalry of friends, the signature Chef’s Supreme pizza is for you.
Pizza By The Chef’s homemade dough is spun and stretched to the right size and a layer of red sauce — complete with their proprietary spice blend — is applied. Next down is a layer of mozzarella cheese followed by Canadian bacon, beef, sausage, pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, black olives, green peppers, tomatoes and red and white onions. The behemoth pie is finished with another layer of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses along with a spice blend of basil, oregano and marjoram.
“That’s the way the original recipe was done so we haven’t changed it,” Gary says. “A properly prepared large will weigh about 3 pounds.”
The restaurant features other pizza classics using their homemade sauce such as The Hawaiian, Garden and Hercules — their take on a meat lovers pie. The menu also includes plenty of options using other pizza bases. The Ciao is an original Pizza Chef item and has an olive oil glaze, garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella. It’s finished with fresh basil just before serving. The Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza features Sally’s homemade ranch dressing as the base.
If you’re searching for something a little lighter, check out one of the eight salad options. Pizza By The Chef uses only fresh romaine lettuce and makes five dressings and their croutons in house.
The Ozark Bleu is Sally’s creation and their signature salad. The memorable meal starts with a bed of romaine that is topped with mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, red onions, house-candied pecans, blue cheese crumbles and is served with raspberry vinaigrette.
“Even the homemade raspberry dressing is unique,” Sally says. “The raspberry vinegar comes from a certain vineyard in the Sonoma Valley.”
The salad’s ingredients — minus the romaine — are also available as a specialty pizza.
An assortment of baked pasta dishes and toasted sandwiches round out the menu. Ranging from the classic Italian to the hot Reuben, all are served on sandwich buns made in the kitchen daily.
Staying true to the original recipes and putting the extra work into making the homemade dough, hand chopping the vegetables, candying their own pecans, making salad dressings and more is a worthwhile investment in the food leaving the kitchen.
“Anyone can order food off a truck, heat it up and send it out to somebody,” says Kevin. “We don’t want that. We want to make and cook your food for you, so you have an enjoyable meal experience.”
Adds Meredith: “It just tastes better. When you make it yourself it just tastes better, and the customers know that.”
It’s discerning customers like that who have helped Pizza By The Chef stand out in a saturated and competitive pizza marketplace. “The philosophy Sally and I have always had is that we can’t sell a $7 or $8 pizza and compete with the chains,” Gary says. “But the chains can’t sell our $22 large Chef’s Supreme. We prefer to look at it from the angle of we’re buying very high-quality, fresh ingredients and preparing them right.”
The family’s shared enthusiasm and commitment to the restaurant should serve Branson West visitors well for the foreseeable future. “We’re proud of it; We’re passionate about it,” Gary says. “I don’t think we’d be comfortable if we thought we weren’t putting out the very best we could.”
Pizza By The Chef
Specialties: Fresh, homemade pizzas including the Chef’s Supreme, Ciao, Hercules, Chicken Bacon Ranch and Hawaiian. Toasted sandwiches include the Italian, Chef’s Club and Meatball Sub. Salads include the Ozark Bleu and Deluxe Antipasto.
Price: Appetizers from $4 to $12. Salads, sandwiches and pasta from $5.50 to $14. Pizzas from $6.50 to $22.
Details: Open Monday through Wednesday, 3 to 8 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. No smoking. Located at 18050 Business 13 in Branson West. Contact at 417-272-8287 and www.mypizzabythechef.com.