Pizza Walk With Me

Let's get hyped up over some pizza.

Bury Me with My Pizza Cutter

Pizza CreationsDan Tallarico1 Comment
CustomPizzaCutter

More mysterious than transforming a bowl of water, yeast and flour into a soft, cushiony pizza with the perfect amount of crispness, is someone who can take metals and create a sharp, comfortable, hefty pizza cutter. 

I admire the human who can bend and mold steel into useful shapes. Bonus points if that person can create a tool that aids the pizza maker. 

Pizza makers don't need too many tools. It's a trade born from simplicity. But, when all is said and done you do need to slice and dice the pizza. Tearing is a novelty, but to produce those delightful triangles you need a pizza cutter. And here is where metal working comes into the picture.

My sister, in all her genius, went off-registry for our wedding and commissioned a metal working pal to build a pizza cutter. This is the first pizza cutter this guy has made, but I think he has a future in the pizza business. If he doesn't set up a booth at next year's Pizza Expo he's passing up gallons of free money.

PizzaCutter And Pizza

The pizza cutter is a crucial tool. The sound of the steel disc rolling through the crust, slicing open the crust, ripping through a pool of cheese like it was parting a great sea. It's carthartic for the cook - their task is done - and a signal to the pizza eaters that dinner is served.

But look at this custom made pizza cutter. There's not another one like this in the world. The steel is sharp, rolls right though any dough and leaves a valley of sauce, cheese and crust.

PizzaWithaPizzaCutterPal

It's hefty and fun to hold. Having this in my kitchen makes me want to make more pizza so I have a reason to use it!

And here's the inaugural pizza that was cut with the pizza cutter. The pizza was amazing and earned high marks. I wonder if it's because of the pizza cutter or the recipe I used...

More on that pizza shortly. In the mean time, here's a video of the pizza cutter in action.

 

 

Pizza Review: Cappello's Gluten Free, Grain Free Cheese Pizza

Pizza ReviewDan Tallarico1 Comment
Cappello's Gluten Fre Pizza Review

 

Cappello's is a simple company with a simple mission - "To provide fresh, uniquely delicious options for gourmet food lovers, healthy eaters and people with dietary restrictions." It's with that mission in mind that they've created a suite of grain-free, paleo-friendly food, starting with the most important kinds: Pasta, pizza and cookie dough.

For Cappello's, that means throwing their hat in the Gluten Free Pizza Arena. A highly contentious arena full of peril and nay-sayers. But is their Gluten Free pizza enough to satisfy gluten free folks and pizza enthusiasts alike? Could this be the pizza that unites the world of pizza lovers? 

Here, we'll be talking about the Gluten Free, Grain Free Cheese Pizza. It's a frozen pizza that embodies simplicity. Inside the box you get a pizza that can feed one and is a great snack for two. On the box itself, you get a great drawing of a dinosaur in a suit. You can color or draw on this dinosaur while you're waiting twenty minutes for your pizza to cook.

Real quick aside about cooking times - obviously, times will vary with each oven, but I found the crust charred up much earlier than expected. Half-way through baking I moved the pie to the top oven rack which solved the problem, but keep an eye on the pizza.

Christa poses with the Cappello's frozen pizza.  As you can see, it's a nice size for two people to snack on.

Christa poses with the Cappello's frozen pizza.  As you can see, it's a nice size for two people to snack on.

Let's start with the crust. Some may say this is the most important part of the pizza. After all it supports the rest of the toppings, cheese and sauce. Without a crust you have a puddle of goo. The Cappello's crust forgoes traditional flour and uses arrowroot flour, coconut flour, honey and cage-free eggs. 

Eggs in a pizza crust is unusual. There's no need for eggs in traditional pizza dough and I'm guessing Cappello's added eggs in to hold the mixture together and provide a bit of protein.

Aside from eggs, you're missing out on yeast. While you have a bread substitute, there's no rise happening. You shouldn't expect a network of gluten, a soft crust, or a soft chewy cushion to accompany the crunch of a crust.

Nope - you're getting a crispy, crackers crust. There's a sweet flavor to the edge that blends nicely with the sauce and cheese. I'm not sure the crust could stand on its own, but with its teammates of cheese and sauce, you get a solid package that would be a comfort after a long day. 

Here's the Cappello's pizza fresh from the oven. It's charred in some places and tan in others.

Here's the Cappello's pizza fresh from the oven. It's charred in some places and tan in others.

The sauce is more line line with what you'd expect from a frozen pizza. It's not too sweet, but has a garlicky zest. Combined with a layer of melted cheese and you'd need to hire a pizza detective to pick this gluten free pizza out of a lineup of standard frozen pizzas.

The crispy, crackery Cappello's Gluten Free Pizza is a fine substitute for a gluten filled pizza as long as you're okay with thin crust. I prefer my pizza with a nice rise, but this gets the job done in a pinch.

Cappello's Pizza with added soppressata. No gluten network here, but nice and thin.

Cappello's Pizza with added soppressata. No gluten network here, but nice and thin.

It's a fine piece of pizza engineering that duplicates the fundamental pizza archetype. You get a solid crust, sauce and cheese that will fill a pizza sized hole in your stomach. Whether you enjoy gluten or not, I'm sure you'll enjoy a Cappello's pizza.

I'd recommend this pizza for when you're hosting mixed company of gluten-free / pro-gluten folks. Watch as each guests cautiously chews the pizza, wondering if what they're eating has gluten in it. It will forever be a mystery that perplexes guests as they leave your home. 

And that's a strange compliment to give a pizza. Perplexing. But for a product that is trying to be pizza without a key ingredient that we all recognize in pizza, Cappello's successfully imitates the art of pizza. 

Pizza Expo Correspondence - The Final Day: Tony G Keynote, Home Slice Pizza, Nick from Caliente

Pizza ExpoDan TallaricoComment
Banner showcasing Tony G's book, The Pizza Bible. Photo by Tom Tallarico.

Banner showcasing Tony G's book, The Pizza Bible. Photo by Tom Tallarico.

Hi, this is Dan, editor at Pizza Walk With Me. I've sent Tom Tallarico, my father, to Pizza Expo to cover the event on my behalf. When he isn't scoping out buffets he's working on getting hot scoops and details from the Pizza Expo show floor. Here's his summary of day 3 of the expo. He somehow found a treasure trove of hot dogs. Imagine that! You can read his Pizza Expo Day 1 recap here and Pizza Expo Day 2 recap here.

Tom Tallarico, Pizza Walk With Me Associate Journalist.

Final Day of Pizza Expo

During the week, each day kicked off with a keynote speaker. I was able to attend today & am pleased to hear Tony Gemignani.  Previous speakers were Adam Goldberg & Fabio Viviani,  Pizza giants in their own right. I had met Tony G. in Pittsburgh during his “Bible” book promotion about a year ago at Caliente’s in Bloomfield (more on them later); I had spoken to him briefly early in the week so I felt fortunate to hear him speak. His success & accomplishments are well known & during his talk, one really gets a sense of his intense passion for his craft as well. Highlights from his Keynote:

  • Started in the biz in 1991 with his brother after High School.
  • Traveled the world over the next 16 years learning about Pizza.
  • Started winning World championships in 1995 thru 2001 before being “banned” from competition to allow others to have a chance.
  • Started his focus on food & the US team & founded US Pizza Team.
  • Started experimentation with “new concepts” to take Pizza a “step beyond”.
  • In 2000 on his Honeymoon in Naples, fell in love with Pizza all over again after experiencing the Pizzas of the old country.
  • Continued the journey developing the Neapolitan style & founded the International School of Pizza.

Tony also spoke to his work ethic starting with working with his grandfather on their farm as well as the importance of maintaining authenticity, consistency & the development of new styles to “make it better.” His talk also included various tips & suggestions for any shop owner striving for success. Above all “Respect the Craft”.  I found it to be quite a story; very inspirational.

So after the keynote, the day continued with re-visiting exhibits & observing the finish of the Pizza competitions.

Tom Cortopassi talking sauce with Tom Tallarico. Photo by Tom Tallarico

Tom Cortopassi talking sauce with Tom Tallarico. Photo by Tom Tallarico

Final Day Pizza Expo Highlights:

After the keynote, I spotted a gentleman with a Caliente shirt. It was none other than Nick B., owner. We talked about his place & the success & the great improvement in the food since he took over Caliente 2-3 years ago.

Nick gave me the news that his chef, Eric Von Hansen had won the Pan Pizza competition at Pizza Expo. Quite a thrill! Neat story is that Eric & Nick were childhood friends. Eric is a classically trained chef who was executive chef at Lucca in Oakland. Nick recruited him to Caliente & after some coaxing Eric joined the team & is now making History.

During the keynote Q & A a question came from one of the mangers of Home Slice in Austin, Texas. I realized, Heck, I know that place. While visiting Austin last April, my hotel was just up the street. I made multiple visits during the week & actually went there for my souvenirs. Pizza was excellent; Tony acknowledged it was one of his favorites. Charming place with much character. Had a nice chat with the threesome. Two of the 3 were from the Philly area of all places.

The 3 Home Slice Fellows, they own a pizza shop in Austin, Texas. Photo by Tom Tallarico.

The 3 Home Slice Fellows, they own a pizza shop in Austin, Texas. Photo by Tom Tallarico.

Finally during the week I had a chance to talk with Tony S, a young & future  Pizza  king from Chicago who has developed a relationship with Tony G. He suggested Tony has been very gracious with advice as Tony S. proceeds on his life Pizza journey. He attended The International School of Pizza & is continuing his work in Chicago with plans to eventually run his own shop(s). One can really feel his intense passion about the craft. I hope to visit his store when I return to Chicago in the near future. Good luck to him!

Well, with all that, this ends my reports from the Expo. Truly an enjoyable experience!!

 

 

Pizza Expo Correspondence - Day 2: Bring the Feed Bag, NEW Pizza & Pizza Trends

Pizza ExpoDan Tallarico1 Comment

 

HI, this is Dan, editor at Pizza Walk With Me. I've sent Tom Tallarico, my father, to Pizza Expo to cover the event on my behalf. When he isn't scoping out buffets he's working on getting hot scoops and details from the Pizza Expo show floor. Here's his summary of day 2 of the expo. He somehow found a treasure trove of hot dogs. Imagine that! You can read his Pizza Expo Day 1 recap here.

Tom Tallarico, Pizza Walk With Me Associate Journalist.

Day 2: So today was the opportunity to view the exhibits & attend seminars. I’ll first mention that this show is as big as it gets. I’ve attended various Corporate Conventions & this EXPO takes a back seat to no one.

Half Eaten Hot Dog from Pizza Expo. Photo by Tom Tallarico

Half Eaten Hot Dog from Pizza Expo. Photo by Tom Tallarico

The exhibits include food vendors, shop owners & equipment manufacturers. What sets this convention apart from others are the exhibitors not only show or demo the products but actually use them. The benefit is a large array of tasty samples of all kinds that are available. Anything from various pizza types, charcuterie, desserts & even America’s #2 favorite: Hot Dogs along with burger sliders.

Bring the feed bag.

In addition, the unique  attractions of the various Pizza competitions (Pizza Challenge, best pies in different categories along with Pizza skill competitions) is quite entertaining. Then include the various demos for new pizza styles along with seminars with a wide range of topics & you have a well-rounded, comprehensive, entertaining Convention.  

Glenn Cybulski talking new pizza, old in

Glenn Cybulski talking new pizza, old in

The seminars I attended both touched on a similar topic, i.e. new Pizza trends as the craft continues to evolve. The first with speaker, Glenn Cybulski, a Pizza guru in his own right was titled New Pizza, Old Ingredients which focused on creative ways to develop & kick up new Pizza tastes using common  ingredients already in the kitchen.

The focus was substituting the typical tomato sauce with other inventive sauce types. The examples demonstrated were a Cilantro sauce (Serrano peppers, honey, balsamic & EVOO), a Pepperoni sauce (Genius!!; using pepperoni, yellow peppers & mayo) & a Peppadeaux sauce (using the pepper & mayo). Adding some cream or butter to the blended contents completes the tasty sauce.

Now, add preferred toppings which appeals to the eye & you have a NEW PIZZA.  Another benefit here is a premium charge can be justified. Glenn left the group with the comment, “That’s what the Pizza Expo is all about: Come, Create & Share Ideas”. 

Pizzas at Pizza Expo. Photos by Tom Tallarico

Pizzas at Pizza Expo. Photos by Tom Tallarico

The next session “Pizza Trends 2016: Hot foods & Flavors” & Unique Dining Experiences in Nontraditional Settings” was presented by Nancy Kruse, a reviewer of food & marketing trends. Opening comments included the fact that Pizza is “surging”; is America’s #1 Comfort Food & while Pizza shops account for 10% of restaurant types, Pizza menus are the 2nd most popular menu type. 

Reasons include:

1. The American public prefers real food; fresh toppings & sauces with rich flavors.

2. Fresh MTO preparation; daily dough prep. 

3. Use of seasonal & local ingredients.

4. Clean foods; non-processed, hormone free, Organic.

5. Improved Marketing;”Tell your Story”.  This was actually started & perfected sometime ago by ARBY’S.  

A lot of this relates back to Glenn’s presentation defining “New Pizza”. Tomorrow’s session, Day 4, starts with  7:45 keynote speaker with Tony G. 

Look forward to that. Will need to stay out of the casinos after 11 PM.

Local Pittsburgh Pizza Maker Wins Best Pan Pizza at International Pizza Expo

Pizza ExpoDan Tallarico1 Comment
Here's the pizza makers of Caliente at Pizza Expo. Photo by Tom Tallarico.

Here's the pizza makers of Caliente at Pizza Expo. Photo by Tom Tallarico.

Pittsburgh pizza stature continues to rise, like a ball of dough that's bulk fermenting. During the 2016 International Pizza Expo, of which my dad is covering, one of Caliente's chefs, Eric Von Hansen, won the title for World's Best Pan Pizza.

If I gave out awards, Caliente Pizza & Draft House would receive the "Best Unassuming Pizza Parlor" award. If "pizza" wasn't in the name you'd figure their menu would be bursting with tacos. It's what's inside that matters, and in this instance Caliente now boasts a world class award winning pan pizza. 

Here's Eric posing with his award winning pan pizza.

Here's Eric posing with his award winning pan pizza.

The pizza itself is a gourmet duck pizza called "The Quack Attack" (or "Duck Duck Pan"). The pizza is made up of:

  • Pan dough is infused with a Yards IPA. 
  • Roasted garlic butter and fresh chives
  • Pan seared duck breast
  • Wild mushroom ragu
  • Roasted shallots
  • Baby arugula
  • Fontinella cheese
  • Organic tear drop tomatoes
  • Truffle oil and roasted garlic oil fused together

After listing these ingredients a judge responded, "Please cut this up immediately,"

 Caliente plans to add this pizza to their menu when they return from the Pizza Expo. 

You can watch a video of Eric preparing his world class pizza on Caliente's Facebook page.

Caliente is located in the heart of Bloomfield, on Liberty Ave. They fit the landscape perfectly; Caliente boasts a superb and extensive rotating list of beers and pizza that's both affordable and delicious. Definitely worth visiting.

What do you do when you're crowned the world's best pan pizza? Do you celebrate by having a large pizza party? I'll get to the bottom of this.

 

 

 

Pizza Expo Correspondence - Day 1: Nostalgia, Common Pizza Mistakes & the Wynn Buffet

Pizza ExpoDan TallaricoComment

HI, this is Dan, editor at Pizza Walk With Me. I've sent Tom Tallarico, my father, to Pizza Expo to cover the event on my behalf. When he isn't scoping out buffets he's working on getting hot scoops and details from the Pizza Expo show floor. Here's his summary of day 0 and day 1 of the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.


Tom Tallarico, Pizza Walk With Me Associate Journalist. 

Day 0: As the Expo nears, I recall early on how Pizza was always a part of growing up. Of course, Amato’s in downtown Etna was a constant destination. A Friday treat was always going out to a restaurant for Pizza. And during the high school years, the gathering place after games was always some pizza shop. So anticipation for the Expo not only generated a high degree of excitement but memories of Pizza days past as well.  

The top mission on Day 0 was to obtain the media pass. So once settled in the hotel, it was off to the Convention Center. Getting the pass was simple so mission accomplished early on.

pizza expo press pass

 

Some initial seminars were an hour or so from starting so I decided to check out the Exhibit Hall. With 16 hours before the official open, activity was high as setup looked to be about 60% completed. That documented, the opportunity to attend some initial seminar sessions was taken.

The 1st related to marketing of the Pizzeria; & not just the product.

The 2nd session was a panel discussion with the topic  “Common Pizzeria start-Up Mistakes & How to Avoid Them.” This was most interesting with the crowd fully engaged. The moderator was Jeremy White, editor of Pizza Today & the panel included luminaries Tony G., Pizza Godfather, 2 successful shop owners from Colorado & Scott Anthony from Punxsutawny. This was quite exciting with my roots also from Pa & with distant ties to Punxy. I had recently talked to a Punxsutawney native. We somehow started talking Pizza. He suggested there were many shops in Punxsy but only 2 or 3 of any quality. I’m betting Punxsy Pizza was one of them. Needless to say, the session was quite interesting as the panel shared their growing pains & the steps taken to overcome them.

pizza expo flyer

 

Day 1: Well, some weeks ago the editor of PWWM wondered aloud why his Dad often emphasized the beauty of the buffet. He then went on to write about the wonders of the Spirit Sunday brunch buffet. Well, due to prior commitments the closest I came to the subject of Pizza was this: 

Wynn Buffet Pizza

This was just a small part of the Wynn buffet which included Prime Rib, Roast Turkey, a full Asian station, Charcuterie, Quail & Duck dishes, extensive shellfish entrees, etc. etc. And the Pizza wasn’t bad at all.

Unfortunately, wasn’t able to attend the sessions. Was looking forward to attending a Panel discussion on Wood-Fired Mobile Pizzerias & a session on “Maximizing Your Ingredient List”.  However,  that speaker, Glenn Cybulski, has a session tomorrow titled “New Pizza, Old Ingredients” which I plan on attending along with sessions “Pizza Trends 2016: Hot foods & Flavors” & Unique Dining Experiences in Nontraditional Settings”. The day concludes with the Pizza Expo Block Party & World Class Pizza Games Finals. Stay tuned.

 

Pizza Expo Correspondence - Day 0

Pizza ExpoDan TallaricoComment

Well. There's my badge. Right now it's in Vegas, gallivanting around on a neck that isn't mine. It's my dream to attend Pizza Expo and report on the finest pizza technologies, interview pizza innovators and document the Olympic Feats of pizza. While I couldn't make it this year, my dad was more than eager to take my place. 

When he isn't investigating buffets for his rival blog, Buffet Eat With Me, he's rubbing elbows with pizza elite. In his first day he somehow managed to find the author of The Pizza Bible, Tony Gemignani! 

Tom Tallarico and Tony Gemignani

That's my dad, Tom, on the left with pizza legend, Tony, on the right. Of all the hotel lobbies in all of Vegas, right? The press badge holds a mystic power to draw you to legends. It certainly seems to be working in this instance.

Amateur Pizza Journalist Tom Tallarico did send me some notes from his first pizza seminar. These are updates from "Finding Customer" with my comments in italics.

PIZZA EXPO SEMINAR:
Differentiation Be different than other pizza places. But how - ranch on the pizza? Hm.
What are you selling besides Pizza, No, Pizza is only a Tool. Sell community? Or pleasant memories?
Have a selling proposition
Sell the 2nd visit!!!!! "Here's a magnent, tell your kids I say hello." This works on my dad.
Focus within a 1-2 mile radius Great advice for city pizzerias!
Who are your customers; what are their expectationsHungry people who expect pizza. Obviously.
If you know what customers expect & like, you'll know where to find them. Marketing basics, I love it.
Then train staff to appeal to themA friendly staff is 99% of the reason I like a pizza place.


My dad sent over a shot from the expo floor. There's all sorts of ovens and machinery ready to woo pizzaiolos from across the globe.

Over at PIzza Expo

And day 0 wouldn't be complete without running into another pizza celebrity: Scott Anthony. I met Scott when he coordinated Tony's Pizza Bible tour in Pittsburgh. He's an award winning pizza maker with an outstanding pizza place in Punxsutawney.

Scott Anthony Pizza Expo

Stay tuned for more updates from Pizza Walk With Me at Pizza Expo!

Pizza Taglio's Sicilian Pizza

Pizza VideoDan TallaricoComment

 

Tony at Pizza Taglio is constantly testing out new things in his pizza kitchen. Some days he'll bring out a plate of cheeses from exotic locales, other days he's working on perfecting a calzone filled with ricotta and nutella. 

I was lucky enough to be hanging out in Tony's kitchen the night he made Sicilian pizza. The dough rose for two days and was cooked in a pan, giving it a crispy exterior and a soft interior. With a smile on his face he told me how bewildered pizza eaters are to find that the cheese goes underneath the sauce in a Sicilian pie. 

Pizza Taglio Sicilian Pizza

"Little do they know it's to prevent the cheese from burning." Genius. And look - it bubbles up to the top naturally.

You can watch a video of the pizza being made up above. It's a tiered process—as the pizza cooks you add more items on top of it. In total it took about 20 minutes to cook a single pie.

I couldn't keep my mits off it. It was crunchy and soft. The sauce was made a few hours before. The sauce contained a single anchovy. I don't know if it made a difference, perhaps because the total package was so delicious. I didn't have time to think about the effects a single fish could have on an amazing pizza. Thinking about it now...is it possible a single fish could impact the flavor of the pizza? Hmm...

Pizza Taglio Sicilian Crust

I hope this becomes a staple of Pizza Taglio's menu. It's the perfect pizza to share with pals. As you work your way towards the center you find yourself in the midst of a pizza mess. Sauce and cheese gloop every which way. It's then that you drop your guard and simply enjoy the pizza. No need to worry about a mess or looking good for whomever. A deliciously sloppy pizza will warm your spirit and instill pizza confidence into your soul. 

Super Bowl Pizza - Iron Skillet Sfincione Pizza

Dan TallaricoComment
Pizza for Super Bowl Sunday

 

Hey, the big ol' game is looming on the horizon. You have a pizza strategy? I'm sure you do. Between take & bake pizzas, pizza chains, frozen pizzas and local pizzerias, you have an unlimited amount of pizza options. But if you want something special, you should consider making your own Sfincione pizza in an iron skillet. Here's what the end result looks like:

Sfincione Super Bowl Pizza

Because you cook the dough in an iron skillet (that you fill with olive oil) you get a thick pizza, the depth of your skillet, that's soft on the inside and fried on the outside. 

It's the perfect companion to your Super Bowl case of beer. Just look at this molten mess.

Here's the recipe I used for the dough. The dough has a higher hydration (around 70%!) which makes the dough super hard to work with. That's why using the iron skillet is nice. After the dough rises for about 12 hours, plop the dough into the skillet. Let it fill the space, add olive oil, and toss it in the oven!

It's simple and guarantees that your team will win. Here's the evidence:




Endlessly Eating Pizza at The Spirit Lounge Sunday Pizza Buffet

Dan TallaricoComment

I don't know the science or philosophy behind a buffet. I don't know why my dad goes to Las Vegas and spends the majority of his trip trying to optimize time in front of a buffet. I'm not sure how a business makes money off a buffet. But I do know that during my time at Spirit Lounge's Pizza Buffet, held every Sunday from noon to 4pm in Lawrenceville, I kept saying "This is the best $11 I've ever spent." 

I'd look up from my tray, which at times held between one to four slices of pizza, and say "Can you believe this is only $11?" 

If you were patient and timed your buffet visits as new pizza was brought out from the back, you could eat two boxes of Slice Island pizza in an hour's time. 

Is the end game to introduce new folks to Slice Island pizza? Or make money off of drinks? Pizza is a loss leader, but when it's high quality pizza you have to wonder if anyone is losing out. 

The Spirit Lounge Pizza Buffet

 

THE PIZZA BUFFET

Spirit Lounge is a mix of old ideas with a modern spin. Their building is an old Elk's lodge, with a similar ambience, but it's home to dance parties that end by 10pm, political rallies and some of the best pizza in Pittsburgh thanks to Slice Island in the back. 

They've extended this updated thinking to the buffet. Their Sunday Pizza Buffet embodies every trope from your buffet youth; you'll find plastic trays, a DIY salad area, a smattering of "appetizers" like scones, gravy, sausages, french toast sticks, and of course pizza. Unlike the out-of-place pizza at a Chinese buffet, these slices are the marquee dish. 

Here's a hot pizza buffet tip: grab a fresh tray, skip everything before the pizza and try to pile as much pizza onto your tray as you can before feeling embarrassed. Here's why:

  • The pizza is the name of the game. It's the gem of the buffet. It's highly coveted and we all know that we're there for those rectangular slices. Plus, they pair nicely with a brunch coffee or a bloody mary.
  • It goes fast. Once 12:45 hit the buffet was at max capacity and the kitchen could barely keep up with pizza demand. I don't know how sustainable it is, but anytime a new tray of pizza was brought out there were already vultures hovering around the heat lamps. This pizza was dead on arrival. 
  • There are typically three varieties of pizza waiting for you at the end of the pizza buffet. To quell any regret from the previous night and to ensure your Sunday gets off on the right foot, you'll need to eat one of each. 

The Best Thing to Happen to Pizza Buffets Since Pizza Hut

I rarely visit pizza buffets, mostly because I prefer my pizza fresh from the oven. In my youth I'd beg for the Pizza Hut buffet and more recently I visited a Pizza Roma buffet that could easily be mistaken for a living wake. Who's wake (mine or the pizza) I'm not sure, but it was sad.

Since demand is high, the pizza turnover is efficient. You don't have to worry about getting a lukewarm slice of pizza. It's the highest quality buffet pizza I've had, and more than worth the price of admission (which I still can't believe it's $11).

The only thing missing was the weird experimental pizzas. An odd-ball pizza like buffalo chicken, hamburger pie, taco slices, are more than at home at a buffet. At least they can try to replicate the bizarre dessert pizzas that the Pizza Hut buffet is famous for. 

I won't rest until there's a dessert pizza at the end of the Spirit Lounge Pizza Buffet.

The Spirit lounge Pizza Buffet is a row of excellence. From start to finish it's endlessly satisfying and tests your restraint as much as it pleases your palate. 

You can find more information about the pizza buffet on Spirit's website. Or follow Spirit on Twitter

 

Mastering the Pizza Master Class - Day 2 Recap - Degassing Dough and Making Sauce

The Pizza BibleDan TallaricoComment
Pizza Master Class 2.jpg

Want to read Day 1? Click here to learn about making the dough and the intricacies of the Master Class.

Day two of the master class tests your dexterity as well as your patience. While the first day is simply adding items into a mixture, day 2 has you handling the dough and delicately forming round balls. 

Day 2 of the master class is all about the air. Step one is removing the dough from the fridge (after 24 hours) and degassing the dough by mixing it for about one minute. This deflates the dough and makes it more compact. You're preparing the dough to build a strong gluten network. In a strange way this is the same as Obi Wan saying, "If you strike me down I'll be more powerful than you can possibly imagine." But replace "powerful" with "glutteny."

Once your dough is deflated and separated into two masses, you'll need to carefully ball the dough. Tony spends 200 words and six photos detailing how to fold the dough in on itself in order to preserve the gas inside the dough. It's critical that you ball the dough tight to lock in gas. A tight seal promotes a vast gluten network that traps air released by the yeast. The trapped air causes the dough to rise. 

dough balls from the pizza master class

I was nervous handling the dough. How was I supposed to know if there was a leak? I pinched ends close as tight as I could and prayed the pizza gods would smile down on my feeble attempt to trap air inside a ball of dough. I honestly wouldn't know the results until the next day. To distract myself I made some sauce for tomorrow's pizza.

The sauce is super simple, as all good sauce tends to be. The small amount of ingredients in sauce would shock you. It's not some elaborate brew with garlic boiling and fanciful olive oils. A good sauce stems from fresh tomatoes (usually from a can, according to Tony), salt and olive oil.

For this sauce I mixed together some peeled plum tomatoes, olive oil, salt, tomato paste and crushed tomatoes to make a vermillion mixture that any pizza would be proud to host. 

I tossed the ingredients in a pulsing blender and pulsed for about 30 seconds. I ended up adding a bit more salt, but nothing too crazy. You end up with a simple sauce that complements the dough, but doesn't get in the way of the other flavors. 

simplepizzasauce


Here's some takeaways from day 2

  • When you degass the dough you're supposed to hear popping. I heard no such thing, but my dough was compact and ready to mangle. 
  • The ball forming process is a bit stressful, but (as you'll find out soon) it's hard to get wrong if you're careful with how you handle the dough. Be sure to fold it back in on itself and don't tear any of the dough!
  • The best sauce is simple sauce. You want the tomatoes to sing on their own. It's their time to shine, don't clog the spotlight with other flavors. Add some olive oil and salt to draw the tomato flavor out.

Endless Pizza Buffet Officially Launches at Spirit Lounge in Lawrenceville

Pizza NewsDan TallaricoComment

When I my grandmother babysat me years ago I had two objectives. 1) Convince her I needed to go to Children's Palace because there was a video game I just wanted to "look at" then hope she bought it for me. 2) Drop hints about the gorgeous, plentiful Pizza Hut buffet until we decided that it wasn't worth it to cook and we should head to the buffet post-haste. 

These days it's hard to find a pizza buffet that's worth the caloric assault on your body, that is until Spirit Lounge (located on 51st street in Lawrenceville) came along to change the buffet game. Spirit's Slice Island has been experimenting with a Sunday pizza buffet for months. Now, they've finally perfected the formula and are formerly launching their buffet tomorrow, January 17th

From their press release, "Each week a variety of food options are available, including pizzas with veg and meat toppings, biscuits and gravy, sausage, french toast sticks, salad, granola, yogurt, quiche, potatoes, and desserts."

Here's why this pizza buffet is the dopest thing you can do on Sunday between noon and 4pm. 

Pizza Sign in the depths of Spirit Lounge

Loyalty Program

Along with the official grand opening of the buffet, Spirit is rolling out its Spirit Brunch Club. You'll receive a Brunch Club card that's stamped whenever you visit. Rewards include free brunch, Spirit Brunch Club t-shirt and a Club Card after five brunches. Who knows what awaits at brunch #10!

Pizza by Slice Island

Slice island makes some crispy, delicious, fresh and cheesy pizza. I've eaten a whole box of their pizza by myself simply because my body craved the flavor. The opportunity to eat an endless amount of their pizza for the low price of $11 is ludicrous. I don't know how they'll stay in business with a buffet of this caliber firing on all cylinders. 

Music by a suite of Pittsburgh DJs

Enjoy the tunes of local DJs spinning tracks that help you digest food just a bit faster. Here's a schedule of DJs for the coming month:

  • James Gyre on 1/17/16
  • Ricky Moslen on 1/24/16
  • Jordan Weeks on 1/31/16
  • J. Malls on 2/7/16
  • V-Day Brunch with Zombo on 2/14/16

This brunch sounds like a winning combo - when you add in a rotating option of bloody marks and mimoas you've just found yourself in brunch heaven

A couple of slices from Slice Island



Mastering the Pizza Master Class - Day 1 Recap

The Pizza BibleDan Tallarico2 Comments
Pizza Master Class Day 1 Recap

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve enrolled myself in Tony’s Master Class of pizza found within the first few pages of The Pizza Bible. You can take this class (and probably much more) at Tony’s International School of Pizza in San Francisco.

Yes, I am trying to uncover and learn the subtleties of pizza, an age old tradition, from a book with a solid spine. I’ll guide myself through this education and come out the other end with no degree or credits, but a humble knowledge that I can make a pizza. A pizza that I know is better, and more importantly, how it’s better.

Is this the equivalent of a plucky young kid checking out a Calculus book from her local library before her brain is developed enough to understand the equations that lie within? It ain't too far off, except that you can't eat equations.


The Master Class is split up into three days of activity. Day 1 has you weighing ingredients, chilling water to the perfect temperature, exciting yeast then freezing it within an inch of its life as it festers in some dough. 

Day 2 is simple - the degassing phase. This pizza takes 48 hours to make and in the middle of that process, the yeast reproduces and fills the dough with gas. This gas is what makes the dough rise. There’s also a very excellent gluten network developing within the dough. I never took notice of it before, but like the spider that weaves a wondrous web in the corner of your home, the yeast forms a peculiar network of gluten that connects the pizza together, allows it to stretch and grow. It’s nature’s most beautiful work.

Day 3 is the nerve wracking. Not only do you pray to the pizza gods above that the yeast, oil, salt, flour, and water all worked together to make the perfect dough ball, but now you have to cook it.

It’s possible that on day 3 you find out that it’s all been in vain. Maybe due to a prior pizza sin or a sloppy corner cut, your ball deflated. Or your gluten network crashed like it was Y2K. If your dough is in tact you still have to carefully stretch the dough - a tight-rope of an act that requires extreme dexterity or else you’ll tear a hole right down the center.

Then you have to negotiate the pizza off the peel onto your 500 degree pizza stone. A stressful move that Tony compares to a magician pulling a tablecloth off of a fully dressed table. Only, the magician is at risk of losing some china. Here, 48 hours of work could vanish with a muscle twitch.

With all of this in mind you have to hit day 1 with the enthusiasm of a thousand pizzaiolos touring old pizzerias in the heart of Naples.

DAY ONE

 

Pizza Flour Measuring Master Class

On day one I did a lot of measuring. The Pizza Bible has “The Ten Commandments of Pizza” and the first thing on the list is Thou Shalt Use a Scale to Weigh Ingredients. It’s the only way to be sure the measurements are correct. And precision (and consistency) is key to pizza making.

I measured the flour. I measured oil, salt, water (both ice cold and warm) and yeast. After measuring out all your ingredients it’s as simple as combining them together in a mixer. There’s a hastiness to the process because, to quote Tony, “A mistake I often see with beginners—and even some pros—is over mixing or over kneading pizza dough. Too much working of the dough makes it tough, and you’ll end up with pizza that gives you a sore jaw from chewing.

In total, you’ll knead the dough for three minutes and mix it for four. It’s a quick process—it’s so exact that Tony provides the temperature you should expect the dough to be at each stage. The temperature is important as it dictates the activity of the yeast, the keystone of the dough.

Once everything is mixed together you knead the dough and a non-wood, non-flour surface and let it sit out for an hour. After an hour you pop it into the fridge and you’re done for the day.

Day One Pizza Dough Ball

Hey, that was fun. 


Here’s some takeaways from Day 1:

  • You can’t find diastatic malt anywhere. It’s an optional ingredient that helps to brown the crust. I tried three different shops but had no luck. You’re better off buying it off of Amazon.

  • Penn Mac, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, is actually a Tony Gemignani certified ingredient outlet. Gemignani lists sources where you can find key ingredients - and Penn Mac is highlights for their wonderful cheese and meat selection.

  • I couldn’t find the Sir Lancelot flour (which has a higher % of protein) so I settled for King Arthur’s Bread Flour. Plan ahead!

  • After the first time you make the dough, subsequent creations take a sliver of the time. I made another batch of dough a half-hour after getting home from work!

  • My first batch of dough was slightly sticky, but after a minute of kneading the dough smoothed out. The second batch was sticky in the way scotch tape is sticky. I wonder if I added a gram or three too much of water...we'll find out in 48 hours. 

  • Waiting 48 hours for pizza sucks.

I’ll write about my day 2 experience soon. That’s the degassing phase—a key technique that promotes yeast production and gives a stronger rise.


Welcome to Pizza School: Tony Gemignani's Pizza Master Class

The Pizza BibleDan TallaricoComment
Tony Gemignani's Pizza Master Class

My 2016 Goal is to unearth the divine truths hidden inside The Pizza Bible

Last year Tony Gemignani, an 11-time World Pizza Champ, published a book detailing the pizza craft. According to the intro, titled Respect the Craft, he says:

 Pizza is simple. It's dough, tomato, cheese, and toppings. But as someone who has devoted more than half of my life to it, I can tell you that, like all really great, really simple things, pizza is infinite...And what I can tell you for sure is that pizza doesn't come down to just recipes or formulas. It's a craft.

To up my game as a pizza journalist I know I need to embed myself in the pizza religion. It's something I've been practicing as a hobby for a while, but this year I'm making a covenant with pizza. It should be exciting.

Me and my pizza pal Chad will work our way through The Pizza Bible. We'll have more details to follow, but before you can make a pizza you need to pass The Master Class.

Tony Gemignani's Pizza Bible

The book begins with The Master Class. This is a 19 page journey into the philosophy of pizza making according to Tony Gemignani. Before you touch a single ounce of flour he would rather you read all 19 pages - this covers everything from gadgets to ovens and key ingredients. It’s the fundamental information you’ll need to become a pizza maker. A pizza maker that can discern ingredients, techniques and toppings. And, more importantly, now how to innovate.

The Master Class consists of charts, graphs and detailed descriptions of the types of flour you’ll encounter on your pizza journey. You’ll find an easy-to-read chart listing the protein %, and what flour is good for what pizza.

This is all before the official first day of the class. The first day has you creating two pizzas from the same dough. Both use a two-step rising process but both will come out of the oven looking like opposites. 

At the end of day one, after tediously measuring out every gram of salt and ounce of yeast, you have one large mass of dough. This dough will eventually become two pizzas, but for now it’s a large blob. By letting the dough rise in one piece you’ll find that the individual pizzas bake lighter, crispier and are more flavorful than if they rose separately. Why? Because of the degassing process.

Reading through day one has already taught me techniques to refine home-baked pizza:

  • Hydration - This is one of the key factors in differentiating dough. The higher the hydration of dough, the lighter, puffier, more tender and more crisp the dough is likely to be. This is because all that hydration turns to steam in the cooking process, which helps the dough expand. Which gives a crispy crust that protects the soft inside. The tradeoff? The dough becomes quite difficult to wield.

  • High-Protein Flour - Gluten, a protein that forms a "gluten network" helps make the dough more elastic. This is measured in flour as a "percent protein" in flour. It's not listed on the bag, but Tony has a recommended list of flours. This percent protein can change through the year depending on the weather, environment, temperature, etc. 

  • Malt - Malt is perfect for at-home baking as it helps the dough brown perfectly without being exposed to the high-temperatures of pizza oven. It's a neat trick to turn your home into its own pizza shop.

There's plenty of other insights I'm excited to share. I'm sure at the end of this I'll have a better understanding of what makes great pizza great as well as a few new pizza prayers.

If you're interested in learning more, you can visit The Pizza Bible website, which doubles as a pizza community. It's a cool place to post pizza questions and get feedback from your peers.

 

 

Behind Every Delicious Pizza is a Supportive Crust

Pizza EssayDan Tallarico2 Comments
BehindEveryPizzaIsASupportiveCrust

Bread by itself is deceptive. If you bring a quality loaf to a friend’s house they’ll say thanks, kiss you on the cheek, and that’s that. Maybe later after a few bottles of wine a guest will ask where you got the bread. What bakery? Where is it located? How much? Wow really, those are some fun facts. Forgotten as soon as the hangover kicks in.

Once you add sauce and cheese onto that bread people won’t feign interest. They’ll react like you just birthed this pizza from your well-kept womb. It’s always a surprise, a pleasant one, that is met with cheering and excitement that can make or break a party. There’s a reason the crowd gathers around that steaming box. People can’t wait to waft in the scent, admire the placement of the cheese, and make judgement calls about the toppings. People act funny around pizza, as if it was some horror manipulating humans from a Lovecraft story.

One day in history bread + cheese + salt will cause a great war if it hasn’t already. It inspires gusto and aggressiveness and if you happen to try and figure out who has the best pizza there’s no doubt that you can round up a pizza militia faster than General Washington and Lafayette at the Battle of Yorktown.

During these arguments the opponents will get to talking about the dough. They’ll say, “Well, their dough is too sweet. Too much sugar in their crust.”

Or

“Their dough is too flimsy to support the cheese and sauce.”

Or

“It’s just too crispy and crackery. It shatters the moment it touches my teeth! I have to get a dustpan out just to clean up after myself.”

Truly, pizza is nothing without a foundation of bread. Without the bread base you’re working with sauce and cheese. At best it’s a french onion soup knockoff.

Two of the newest and exciting pizza places in Pittsburgh both got their start with bread. Their goal was to make a solid sourdough loaf. But, from there they achieved greatness.

A slice of Tony Giaramita's Pizza al Taglio from when he was bringing pizza to Espresso a Mano. 

A slice of Tony Giaramita's Pizza al Taglio from when he was bringing pizza to Espresso a Mano. 

First is Driftwood Oven pizza - to truly understand the pizza you’re getting you have to come to terms with their roots. They didn’t set out to make pizza.

Nope. Pizza was sort of an afterthought. Kind of like penicillin, velcro, x-rays and super glue. This wasn’t a “mad scientist” situation, it’s just Neil - the studious and scientific baker - wanted to make bread. In according to Neil, “You’re trying to do the same thing with the pizza [make something perfect]. With bread you don’t get to touch it, you put it in the oven and it’s done. You hope everything is perfect. But it’s not hands on and fun like wood fired pizza.”

And when you make bread there are repercussions. In order:

  • Bare, lonely bread is depressing. A melancholy loaf can sit in your pantry giving off an aura of wheat, its grainy body decaying rapidly. As it hardens day by day and molds from the inside out you’re reminded just how short and moldy your life is. It’s no good.

  • You can butter that bread. Slice it open, add some butter. It’s smooth creamy and full of cholesterol that bounces down your esophagus and funs up your intestines.

  • Butter is just the beginning - why not start packing ingredients atop the bread to create something more. Bread is the universal bonding agent of food. Food chemists worship it and if there was a food periodic table you can bet bread would be the keystone keeping things from falling apart.

  • When bread is used as a foundation it becomes a conduit to get food into your mouth. Make it a whole meal by combining a vegetable (sauce), dairy (cheese) and some protein (sausage). Bread gives these elements an ecosystem to co-exist together. Without bread it’s just a mess in your kitchen sink. It’s nothing. It’s a sad college meal you force yourself to eat at 4am because maybe this is the silver bullet that destroys your hangover.

Bread is vital to pizza. 

Bread & Salt's Margherita pizza. Look at that bubble structure!

Bread & Salt's Margherita pizza. Look at that bubble structure!

So - a bread guy makes pizza...why?

When you make bread you have simply made a loaf of bread. Nice. No one is going to complain about that.

But pizza is different. It’s a living entity that you are constantly tampering with. It’s a constant challenge. Bread is awesome. But bread is a pamphlet for a high school bake sale sitting next to a choose your own adventure set in a future where pizza is currency. Which would you rather spend your life reading?

Challenging your skills, overcoming barriers and pushing yourself to the next echelon is what growth is all about. And if you chart the growth of Driftwood Oven over the past year, you’ll see they’re on an explosive path.

In the heart of Bloomfield we have Bread & Salt - a bakery that promises simple, basic foods born from the combination of bread and salt. It’s simple stuff. But from the seeds of simplicity they have grown a magnificent mix of complex flavors. They’ve built a pizza with a bread-first focus and the results are stunning.

Bread & Salt has flipped the Pittsburgh Pizza Script. Rick Easton has set up shop, backed by years of bread experience.

Bread & Salt Pizza in Pittsburgh

Their sauce is simple, I had a piece with a basic basil leaf. And the cheese was delicious gloopy cheese. Anyone has access to these ingredients. I can go to the Strip or restaurant depot or my backyard for basil. I can find mozzarellas from various parts of Italy around Pittsburgh. The one thing I don’t have access to is Bread & Salt’s bread.

Luckily, I live three blocks from Bread & Salt so it’s not a huge issue for me. But for you? Gosh, better buy a nearby row house before the Bread & Salt real estate effect starts rippling out from Pearl St.

Next time you bite into a slice of pizza, think of the crust. Take a look at the cross section of the pizza and admire its structure. Notice how when you bend the pizza the crust cracks, but doesn’t break. Like it’s winking at you, telling you that it has your back.

Notice the bubbles in the crust and how they support the pizza from stem to stern.

Every great pizza has a great crust. Next time you see a pizza take a moment to admire the bread supporting your toppings.



2015 TOP PIZZA MOMENTS IN THE STEEL CITY BABY - Moments 3-1

Pizza ListsDan TallaricoComment
FinalBestPittsburghPizzaMoments

Here we are! The final three, super exciting pizza moments that happened in Pittsburgh in 2015. You can read pizza moments 9-7 here and pizza moments 6-4 right here

3: Bread & Salt in NY Times

Bread & Salt Pizza

I was talking to someone today who was telling me how after Bread & Salt was written up in the NY Times, their friend went to grab a slice of pizza but they were all sold out. Of everything but lentil soup. They said it was the best lentil soup they had.

But that’s Bread & Salt for ya. Everything there tastes like it was delivered fresh from heaven. You pay by the ounce for pizza because every ounce is worth its weight in gold. Rick Easton doesn’t skimp. He doesn’t pander. He’s a guy who wants to build the best pizza. And, ya know, maybe he has.

It was so good it made Mark Bittman retire. Just kidding. His last column in the NY Times details Rick’s process and pursuit of quality.

More telling, Mark Bittman ends his column by saying:

When I started writing it, I never would have guessed that it would end in Pittsburgh. That it does confirms that good food here is hardly limited to a couple of smug metropolitan areas, and validates my feeling that cooking in the United States is as interesting as it is anywhere in the world.

That’s the story of Pittsburgh Pizza. It’s interesting. It’s exotic. It’s practical. All at the same time.

1 & 2 - Spak Brothers Misfortune & Community Support

Commonwealth Press Spak Brothers Shirt

Is it cheating to make this both the number 1 and number 2? The story is so stunning and heart warming. It is typical pizza community and I’m so amazed how everyone came together to help out a pizza shop that stumbled into misfortune.

So, near the middle of August, Spak Brothers (a pizza place that is Andrew W.K. certified) was robbed. That certainly sucks. But on top of that their cooler died. According to Ryan Spak, he said:

We were robbed overnight Thursday and the walk-in cooler machinery decided it would shit the bed the past two nights.

The monetary loss is pretty epic due to recent events and I have no way to contact the masses any more besides twitter (which I hate) so any help spreading the word would be greatly appreciated.

What happens next is amazing. Posts went up on Pittsburgh community websites, Pittsburgh Magazine wrote about the support, and I Heart PGH got the word out. The Spak Milita knew what they had to do: eat Spak Brothers pizza.

The day they opened Spak Brothers was flooded with patrons. They sold hoagies and pizza to just about everyone in the area.

I reached out to Ryan afterwards to see what sort of impact the outreach had on the business. You can read the full interview here, but the best part is when he said:

It's been insanely busy around here. We've had a ton of exposure and new customers. The Thursday and Friday immediately following were our best sales to date which is just awe-inspiring. Everyone here feels loved (and sweaty) and I thank everyone who came through from the bottom of my heart.

Best. Sales. Ever.

Commonwealth Press also pitched in and sold a limited edition shirt with proceeds going to Spak Brothers.

Now, would this happen to every other pizza shop on this list? I don’t know. I love to think so. But Spak has spent years building good will. They put on an absurd scavenger hunt every year. The winner gets a free pizza every week for a year.

They put on a pizza eating contest at the Pittsburgh Pizza Festival. They’re community first and a business second. The karma they’ve generated is unreal, something every other pizza shop could learn from.

This takes up two spots because 1) It’s a tremendous story detailing the love Pittsburgh has for its neighborhood pizza shops and 2) The interview with Ryan is one of my favorite articles I wrote this year.


Seeing Spak Brothers recover so quickly from being on the ropes is inspiring. Pittsburgh knows a good thing when they got it and no one was ready to lose the wonderful Spak brothers. To everyone that stepped up, nice work. Now go buy yourself a pizza.


So that's the best pizza moments of 2015. It was an exciting year for Pittsburgh pizza and I have no doubt that there are more moments in store for next year. I know my goal for Pizza Walk With Me will be to make it one of the premier pizza websites. There are some great things planned. 

Before I end 2015, I want to share one of my personal favorite pizza moments. I hope it's similar to one of yours. There's nothing better than sharing pizza with pals. I have two really great pizza friends that indulge many of my pizza requests. They've gone to bad pizza places with me and some of the best pizza places. 

Pizza pal Chad and Pizza pal Adam went with me to Slice Island this summer. It was probably the most perfect day on record. We got a box of pizza, sat in the sun, talked about London Calling and had a hell of a time. Chad captured that perfectly in this Instagram video. Enjoy and see ya next year!

A video posted by churd (@heydetective) on


2015 TOP PIZZA MOMENTS IN THE STEEL CITY BABY - Moments 6-4

Pizza ListsDan Tallarico1 Comment
BestPittsburghPizzaMoments

We’re back for another wonderful look at the finest pizza moments to grease up the city of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh can be unassuming. It’s a city drowning in the soil of history. Slowly but surely we’re seeing germination of innovation. From the soil wonderful inventive plants are popping up to make the landscape varied and wonderful. What a great ecosystem.

Anyways, it turns out that this is an awesome environment for pizza. Did you know I type that sentence 60 times a week? Wild. Well, let’s get to it. Moments 6, 5 and 4 are just ahead!

6 - The Steel City Pizza Fest Happened

Pizza Pinup Contest

DJ Zombo put together Pittsburgh’s first Pizza Festival because...well why not. It was a wonderful event held in Lawrenceville’s Arsenal Park where Bloomfield, Garfield and Lawrenceville’s finest pizzerias came together to sell pizzas.

But, it wasn’t just a couple of booths with pizzas. Oh no. There was the Pizza Pinup contest where anyone could enter and be voted Ms. PizzaBurgh. Spak Brothers held a pizza eating contest every hour. Anyone could enter and race against the clock to eat a large pizza the fastest.

It was as disgusting as it was beautiful.

Spak Brothers Pizza Eating Competition

Graziano’s ended up taking home the people’s choice award, edging out Angelo’s by a single vote! How exciting. I hope to see Pizza Festival make a return next year.

5: Pizza Dojo 3: Driftwood Oven vs Pizza Boat

Driftwood Oven's Pizza Dojo lineup

Driftwood Oven's Pizza Dojo lineup

There’s nothing better than a good pizza rivalry. Pizza Boat knows how to ham it up for the crowd and play the pizza heel. I’ve had many folks ask me if Pizza Boat actually hates other pizza makers and the answer is obviously yes.

Just look at Jeff’s vicious attacks on Driftwood Oven in this video from the competition:

I’m just glad everyone made it out alive.

I hope Pizza Dojo never goes away. It’s an amazing way to introduce pizza innovations and bring a community together around great pizza.  As I wrote in my summary of the event:

Pizza Dojo isn't about a single night in Pittsburgh, it's about trying something new in the Pittsburgh pizza scene. Pushing one another to innovate and make better pizza.

Instead of existing side-by-side for years on a street in Squirrel Hill and pretending that the world on the other side of the counter hasn't changed, the pizza makers that enter the Pizza Dojo emerge with a new perspective. A new definition of pizza. Confidence to try something new and push the pizza envelope to the edge of the table.

4: Tony Gemignani visits Pittsburgh

TonyPizzaBible

You may not know Tony Gemignani, but he’s responsible for spreading the pizza gospel across the country. He’s written The Pizza Bible, an amazing book that covers every nook and cranny of pizza fundamentals. He’s put on clinics and has been crowned the World Pizza Champion.

And, this year he paid a visit to Pittsburgh to sign copies of his book and show off his pizza theory.

ThePizzaBible

He’s a guy that loves making pizza. His motto is “Respect the Craft.” And that’s a mentality that I see more and more pizza makers in Pittsburgh adopting. They put ingredients on pizza with a purpose. Nothing is haphazard and everything has a reason.


Meeting Tony was awesome, but the turnout for the event was even more impressive. Caliente was filled to the brim with pizza enthusiasts waiting to talk with Tony and exchange pizza tips.


So that's Pizza Moments 6-4! You can read moments 9-7 here. 

2015 TOP PIZZA MOMENTS IN PITTSBURGH STEEL CITY BABY - Moments 9-7

Pizza ListsDan TallaricoComment
Best Pittsburgh Pizza Moments

 

Welcome to the top 9 pizza moments in the Pittsburgh Steel City, Baby. I was looking back at this year through the lens of a pizza journalist and thought to myself, “Wow, this has been an incredibly wonderful year for everyone involved in Pittsburgh pizza.” That’s right! That means you, the pizza consumer, and even you, the pizza maker!

Pizza is glorious. I could stop typing after that and you’d nod your head in agreement. But for real—there is no food that inspires passion and community like pizza does. We gather around it, we sing its praises and it’s something we eat a few times a week no questions asked.
The last line Frank Sinatra sings in the song It’s Nice to go Traveling (a song about seeing the very best sights in the world) is “make a pizza.” The dude travels the world and when he comes back all he wants is to kick his shoes off and make a pizza.

That’s the power of pizza.

So. Pittsburgh is a place you can’t go to a bar more than twice without becoming best friends with the bartender. It’s friendly and has more pockets of communities than the roads have potholes. So it goes without saying that Pittsburgh has a strong pizza presence. Especially so in 2015.

I wanted to run down my nine favorite pizza events that happened in Pittsburgh in 2015. So here's 9-7

9: Andrew W.K. Threw a Pizza Party in Pittsburgh

If you’ve eaten at Spak Brothers you’ve seen this photo of Andrew W.K. with a pizza guitar they have hanging by the register. The dude loves to party and he knows the number one ingredient for a party: pizza.  In a recent advice column he says, “Pizza is a state of mind. Pizza is way of looking at the world. Pizza is part of a true belief that we as humans can create our own sources of true joy. And the joy that pizza brings is real and tangible. “

On June 7th this year Andrew W.K. threw a pizza party / concert down at Roberto Project in Garfield.  The event sold out so hard that they had to add a second night!

Andrew W.K. could easily be the poster child for pizza and the fact that he made it to Pittsburgh to throw a pizza party is incredible. Of all the cities! Wondering how enamored with pizza he is? Read his advice column where he counsels a pizza addled youth.

8: Slice on Broadway gets their own day! April 14

I Love what Rico has done with Slice on Broadway. He went from one shop serving up pizzas with prosciutto and soppressata to multiple shops. He’s passionate, overly friendly and a pizza entrepreneur.

His pizza shops bubble with life and I’ll bet my pizza license that after you have one slice of Rico’s pizza you’ll be a lifetime convert. It’s fresh, exciting and delicious. It takes something classic and adds a modern spin. Something that is very Pittsburgh.

Well, let me just quote the official document stating that April 14th is Slice on Broadway Day in Pittsburgh.

Whereas, Slice on Broadway, owned and operated by Rico Lunardi, has become a beloved Beechview neighborhood institution, and;

Whereas, Slice’s success has helped contribute to the ongoing renaissance and redevelopment of Broadway Avenue, which has in recent years become a dining destination for people from all over the city, and;

Whereas, Rico and his employees have never deviated from day one from their mission to deliver the “best darn pizza, sandwiches and salads money can buy,” and;

Whereas, Slice makes it a priority to make everything by scratch using the highest quality ingredients and pizza-making methods, including whole tomatoes and dough made fresh daily, and;"

You can read the whole thing on the Slice on Broadway Facebook page. Don't forget to celebrate next April accordingly.

7: Pizza Taglio & Slice Island & Bread & Salt Open

A slice from Pizza Taglio.

A slice from Pizza Taglio.

It was on a cold January night that a bright star shined above Pittsburgh. It was the start of 2015 and all was well in Pittsburgh. Things were popping along and the city was poised to grace many a top-10 list.

Like the three kings of legend wandering towards a bright light—three Pittsburgh pizza makers were inspired to set up pizza shops underneath the Pittsburgh umbrella. Yes, in 2015 we saw the opening of three of the most innovative, progressive, delicious and outstanding pizza shops.

Bread & Salt was first, opening on January 30th. I stopped in February after they opened hoping to get some pizza. Unfortunately, their system wasn’t what it was now and they didn’t have any! They've come a long way since then (which we'll get to later!). They are one of the first places to serve pizza al taglio in Pittsburgh.

Bread & Salt Margherita.

Bread & Salt Margherita.

In April we saw the opening of both Slice Island & Pizza Taglio.

Pizza Taglio is headed up by Tony, who I think might sacrifice his own life in order to get the finest / freshest ingredients into his shop. When I first met him he talked to me for 15 minutes about the nuance of the cheese he purchased.

Slice Island, a pizzeria in the Spirit Lodge, is run by the folks behind the fan-favorite Pizza Boat. They docked their ship to open up a traditional shop. They serve boxes of pizza that are so simple and complex it’s like eating a paradox.

Slice Island Peppers and Sausage

Slice Island Peppers and Sausage

These three pizza makers are cutting edge. They’re making pizza that you could only get in the depths of New York years ago. It’s some of the best pizza Pittsburgh will ever see and it all happened in 2015.


Alright! That's part one of my three part review of Pittsburgh pizza. I'll be posting parts 2 & 3 tomorrow. Honestly, there was a lot of pizza happenings and it took some strategy to get the list down to 9. There has never been a better time to be eating pizza in Pittsburgh.

Driftwood Pizza Oven Brings Pizza to Pittsburgh Pizza Deserts

Pizza EssayDan Tallarico1 Comment

Driftwood Oven is a mobile pizza unit that drifts from one Pittsburgh neighborhood to the other on a regular basis. Here’s a look at one of their recent schedules:

They’ll set up shop outside coffee shops, breweries, neighborhoods and just about any location that needs an oasis in a pizza desert. I met the Driftwood Oven duo, Neil and Justin, while they were in Greenfield. "We see the most characters in Greenfield," Justin tells me, as a man walks by blurting out an out-of-the-blue confession that he has lived in Greenfield for 40 years and thinks his son should open up a pie shop called We Got Pies.

"I always have the best names, but no money." the Greenfield Citizen says with a hearty laugh, masking any hints of regret. Can you believe he just gave that idea away to us for free? And now I'm here broadcasting his thought to the world? Man. 

The curious citizen / entrepreneur wanders off and Justin continues to tell me how he got in this business when Neil approached him about a bread partnership.

Justin was working at the front of the house with Neil down at Legume / Butterjoint. Neil does the baking and heads up the dough making for Driftwood Oven. Neil approached Justin with a business idea of making bread. Justin basically said he'd be crazy to not follow Neil into bread battle. And now here they are.

They started with bread, but bread is just a gateway grain to improved, complex, foods like pizza. Neil is a big fan of sourdough bread, he says “I was really interested in sour dough bread which translates well to pizza. I started baking, pizza is a nice combo of baking, cooking and manipulating food at the same time.”

Neil began to create pizza simply because it’s fun. He says, “You’re trying to do the same thing with the pizza [make something perfect]. With bread you don’t get to touch it, you put it in the oven and it’s done. You hope everything is perfect. But it’s not hands on and fun like wood fired pizza.”

And eating their pizza is fun. The telltale sign of a Driftwood Oven pizza is its lillypad nature; the pizza is light, floppy. There’s a crunch to the crust, but the charred coating is merely a thin piece of armor. A trick to scare away would-be predators? Inside the pizza guts are soft, chewy, almost like a naan.

I had their margherita and Archer. I found the margherita a bit too salty. Maybe because the sea salt ontop of the pizza was a bit too much? Despite that, I devoured the pizza. The crust was calling my name and a bit of salt wasn't going to stop me from enjoying the rest.

On the opposite end, the Archer had the perfect amount of sauce and sausage. The sausage had a pleasant heat to it. A warmness that was much appreciated on a cold Greenfield night. Combine quality meats with a stunning crust and you have a pizza that you'll write poetry to.

The pizzas they serve host an entire pizza ecosystem. They're more mature, the ingredients are precisely installed on the dough and cooked with a keen eye. These pizzas just seem wise and cultured.

Is it the presentation? The look and feel of the pizza? Everything feels at home. The cheese settles in just the right valley of crust. The sauce spread itself just thin enough.  Each time they pop a dough into their oven a big-bang like event occurs and a billion years of pizza evolution happens in just 10 minutes. The finished product is a pizza built with the knowledge and experience of every pizza that came before.

But that’s due to Neil’s obsession. He's just as worried as what you put in your body as he is.  He says, “I care a lot about what goes into this. Everything on the plate is good for you. I’m not going to serve you anything that I wouldn’t eat.”

Neil's studious and careful nature doesn't end at ingredients. As you read this there is no doubt Neil is tinkering with his bread recipe and has multiple kinds of bread rising in the wings. Neil says, “I have four or five different recipes that work with our timing schedules. There are some rising now. So, our pizza is going to be different depending on when you eat it, but it’s pretty close every time. It’s a good system.”

While I was loitering outside Driftwood Oven, I saw families come and go, a policeman call in a pizza and then drive across town to pick it up. I saw Neil and Justin introduce themselves to newcomers. Their excitement around the oven built as the night went on.

While the mobile oven doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any time soon, Neil can envision a world where him and Justin grow some roots and open a store. Neil says, “This is a nice opportunity to build a skill set then transfer it to a brick and mortar place. I hope I can have a little spot some time soon.”

Watch Driftwood Oven batter Pizza Boat in the Pizza Dojo:



Pizza Dojo 3 - Pizza Boat vs Driftwood Oven. Is the World Wide Enough for Two Mobile Pizza Units?

Pizza News, Pizza VideoDan TallaricoComment

The build up to Pizza Dojo 3 was tense and uncomfortable. Witnessing two pizza artists prepare for battle is never easy. At the end of the day, can't we all just survive alongside one another? Pizza Boat and Driftwood Oven thought otherwise; two pizza makers would enter the Pizza Dojo, a parking lot conveniently located behind Spirit Lounge (Pizza Boat's HQ), and maybe only one pizza team would survive. Or both. The rules are somewhat unclear what "winning" is considered at these events.

Much like the famous duel between Burr and Hamilton, this was a battle that would change the course of the pizza stream flowing through time. Would a victory propel whomever to grow and prosper? Would defeat mean that Driftwood oven or Pizza Boat was legally obligated to never make pizza again? 

Luckily, this battle was too close to call. I think at the end it was a honest-to-goodness tie. 

Neil and Justin work the pizza oven. They hired a ninja to work the front of house. 

Neil and Justin work the pizza oven. They hired a ninja to work the front of house. 

Pizza Boat and Driftwood Oven each brought two types of pizza to the event. One from the family of Pepperoni and another filled with vegetables.  For $15 you got to have one of each - this may go down in history as the pizza deal of the year.

Driftwood Oven prettied up their pepperoni offering by topping their pie with chili flakes and Spanish chorizo. On a cold autumn evening, the extra spiciness was a welcome reprieve from the surrounding cold.

Here's the Roni from Driftwood Oven. I love how the pizza crust forms a valley of pizza. 

Here's the Roni from Driftwood Oven. I love how the pizza crust forms a valley of pizza. 

On the other end, we have Pizza Boat who kept it simple. They know what their audience wants and that's a pizza cooked to perfection, with a soft and chewy dough topped with fresh pepperoni. 

There was no decadence with this pizza. This was pizza 101 performed by a master of the craft. Unlike most pepperoni pizzas, there wasn't a pool of grease to traverse. I'm inclined to think that if you looked up "pepperoni pizza" in an encyclopedia you'd see a photo below of Pizza Boat's pizza.

Pizza Boat's Pepperoni Pizza. Textbook execution.

Pizza Boat's Pepperoni Pizza. Textbook execution.

With another Pizza Dojo in the books we close a chapter on a pizza rivalry. Was there a winner? Well, no. Choosing a winner at a Pizza Dojo isn't up to us. Only history and pizza historians will truly be able to judge the winner.  I'm sure they'll cover this event at Mozzarella University in Pizza History 201.

Pizza Dojo isn't about a single night in Pittsburgh, it's about trying something new in the Pittsburgh pizza scene. Pushing one another to innovate and make better pizza.

Instead of existing side-by-side for years on a street in Squirrel Hill and pretending that the world on the other side of the counter hasn't changed, the pizza makers that enter the Pizza Dojo emerge with a new perspective. A new definition of pizza. Confidence to try something new and push the pizza envelope to the edge of the table.

The Pizza Boat crew worked efficiently through the night. A well oiled machine that made sure you didn't wait more than five minutes for a pizza.

The Pizza Boat crew worked efficiently through the night. A well oiled machine that made sure you didn't wait more than five minutes for a pizza.

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