Pizza Walk With Me

Let's get hyped up over some pizza.

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 TallaricoComment
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 TallaricoComment

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.

Like this pizza article? Feel free to follow me on Twitter for even more pizza updates. 




Pizza Dojo 3: Driftwood Oven vs Pizza Boat

Pizza NewsDan TallaricoComment
Pizza Dojo 3: Driftwood Oven vs Pizza Boat, a match of the millennia 

Pizza Dojo 3: Driftwood Oven vs Pizza Boat, a match of the millennia 

When last we left the Pizza Boat gang, they were serving up pies against Rick Easton's exquisite Bread + Salt pizza, hoping a loss wouldn't send them to the nether realm of pizza: Slice Island. 

That was back in July of 2014. Since then pizza empires have risen and crumbled into nothingness. The sauce that flooded the streets after Pizza Dojo 2 has dried up and crusted around the gutters. The world was quiet and peace was brought to Pittsburgh's pizza world. 

That is, until Driftwood Oven showed up. Seemingly inspired by Pizza Boat, Driftwood Oven is a mobile pizza unit that travels around the city, hangs outside of breweries and even has a semi-permanent residence at The Vandal every Sunday. Driftwood Oven has taken over the mobile pizza game. 

Neil serves up some pizzas in the heart of Greenfield. 

Neil serves up some pizzas in the heart of Greenfield. 

Pizza Boat sensed a disturbance. They broke free of their Slice Island prison in the basement of the Spirit Lodge and warned Driftwood Oven of their trespassing.

Pizza Boat was ruthless in their criticism of Driftwood Oven. Was it jealousy? Did Pizza Boat lose faith in their craft and now resort to lashing out at their competition? No one said the pizza business was easy, but some folks think that Pizza Boat went too far. 

With one final insult, Pizza Boat hit the right button and Driftwood Oven caved into their demands. 

Then, Pizza Dojo 3 was officially announced

No one is sure what happens during a Pizza Dojo. Do the pizza gods momentarily stop their work to witness to pizzerias slice and dice to the death? Anthropologists think that the Pizza Dojo is an ancient ritual performed by pizzaiolos during 5,000 B.C. The purpose was to find who was building the best pizzas, with the winners being sent into isolation to refine their pizza technique. That's how Italy was established.

In the modern era, Pizza Dojo is used a last resort to settle pizza disputes. It's the modern day "Bring your six-shooter, kiss your kids goodbye and meet me in town center at high noon." In the Pizza Dojo, there can only be one winner.

Driftwood Oven declined to comment about the Pizza Dojo. They are masters of their craft who prefer to focus on their dough than chilidish antics. There's no doubt that Neil is tinkering with a revolutionary dough recipe that will make Pizza Boat look like fools.

Driftwood Oven taking the high road is honorable, but, this may be their undoing. The Pizza Dojo is no place for rules or honor. A sense of pride only gets in the way of victory.

Since Pizza Boat has lost their souls during the Pizza Dojo: Anticrust event (which was technically Pizza Dojo 3), I'm confident they'll pull out any tricks to emerge victorious. 

But the true winners are pizza enthusiasts like you and me. For only $15, you get a pizza from both competitors. Come by The Spirit Lodge in Lawrenceville this Saturday, November 14 at 6pm to see Pizza Boat and Driftwood Oven square off in the pizza ring. I'll be covering the event on site.

Missed what happened during the 2nd Pizza Dojo? Here's a special report from  Pizza Correspondent, Chad McMutrie.


The True Watermark of Success for a City is Pizza - Pittsburgh is Swimming in Delicious Grease

Pizza EssayDan Tallarico3 Comments

That’s not humidity clinging to your body. Those aren’t beads of sweat forming on the bridge of your sweat. Those are droplets of grease; our atmosphere is ever-changing but right now the climate is stunningly pro-pizza. Staggeringly so. There was a time where the best pizza in Pittsburgh was locked in a 50 year old pizza house that hasn’t changed their formula in years. Now, you need a Pizza Tour Guide to help you scout out and find every pizza gem in the city. You could spend an entire day eating pizza and barely scratch Pittsburgh’s doughy surface.

Pittsburgh swells with innovation, health, bike lanes and great food. Bakery Square is becoming its own personal pan pizza with every amenity and topping to keep residents from venturing outside its crusty walls.

Luxury apartments are going up in Lawrenceville, The Strip and any place where water is nearby, like a family of sea monkeys brought to life with some of earth’s water. Where once you could see a bright yellow bridge you instead see a new PNC building or a hotel. Contractors can hardly finish their Primanti’s sandwich between having to tear down old warehouses and build rows of apartments. Whatever yeast has been sitting dormant in Pittsburgh is now beginning to proof.

It’s all exciting stuff and there’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is growing fast. But to me the true testament of growth for a city is the wealth of pizza options. Whereas a few years ago answering “Best Pizza in Pittsburgh?” took a moment. It was a dry question, easy to swallow and easier to spit back up.

Just a stack of Pizza al Taglio

Just a stack of Pizza al Taglio

 

But answering that question today? Man, you have to narrow it down. Do you mean neapolitan pizza? Roman? New York style pizza? Wood-fired oven? Brick oven? Vegan? Gluten free? Which neighborhood? Delivery? Sit down?  The age-old pizza question is impossible to answer without specifying what pizza breed you’re talking about.

Because the secret is that the best Pizza in Pittsburgh is everywhere, and most of it didn't exist five years ago.

Some of Pittsburgh’s best pizza comes from Bread and Salt, a bread shop in Bloomfield. They’ve received nation attention for their pizza al taglio, which is the second place in Pittsburgh that is bringing that Roman delight to Pittsburgh. The second being Pizza Taglio in East Liberty, and both are thriving.

Then of course you have your utility pizza. This is the kind of pizza crave after a night of drinking, after a hard day of work, and when it’s too hot or too cold outside. It’s pizza you convince yourself you need when life is tossing a few sucker punches your way. These days, every neighborhood has easy access to one or two of these shops. I can actually walk outside my door in Lawrenceville be outside The Pizza Company, Fazio’s or Graziano’s in two minutes.

Slice on Broadway keeps Beechview flowing with pizza.

Grab your dead cat and swing it around your head. I’m confident your cat corpse will graze against a building that contains bags of cheese, a dough mixer and pumps out pizzas frantically on Sunday and feeds the masses Friday and Saturday night.

The delicious grease can be found in any neighborhood no matter the price of real estate. Can you believe the author of The Pizza Bible, Tony Gemignani, chose Caliente (Yeah, Caliente in Bloomfield) spent his one day making pizza in Pittsburgh. Caliente doesn’t have a steep legacy of feeding the Steelers. They aren’t written about in the New York Times. But the folks at Caliente care and they put their heart into the pies they make. And every pizza that they make perks Bloomfield up just a little bit more.

Beyond pizzerias there is a wave of mobile pizza units sprouting around Pittsburgh. Like the seeds of a dandelion plant blowing through town, you never quite know when you’ll stumble into a mobile pizza unit. A cart, a truck, a table with a quaint tent and an oven is all anyone needs. Pow - you got pizza in your zipcode.

Pizza Boat, one of the first Pittsburgh mobile units, served up some of the best pizza in Pittsburgh. They're now at home at Slice Island at Spirit Lodge in Lawrenceville.

I try to eat at as many mobile units that I can, mostly because the reaction from natives is always new. “Where did yinz come from?” they’ll ask, their tattered Polamalu jersey flowing in the wind. With each question they come to terms with the idea that there’s pizza available a block from their house today, but tomorrow they’ll be gone. Those that give in are rewarded with fresh ingredients, most are sourced locally, and an investment in a unit that could become a weekly staple in their neighborhood.

Between Driftwood Oven, Flatbread Pizza, and The Brownstone, you have a Ringling Bros. Pizza Circus forming.

Spak Brothers organized a pizza eating contest at this year's Pizza Fest.

Spak Brothers organized a pizza eating contest at this year's Pizza Fest.

Most of the pizzerias I listed here didn’t exist five years ago. And no one is showing signs of slowing down. Pittsburgh never got too fancy with their pizza. It was a Friday night thing for a long time. Slowly and surely, Pizza is evolving in Pittsburgh. Its tentacles are finding its way into all aspects of the city, integrating itself with the steel core.

Pizza is so personal to every citizen because it’s introduced to us at such a young age and so often. Fridays after school you’d get pizza. Sleepovers you’d have pizza. If you read a book you got pizza. Kid’s love it and it’s affordable. As we develop pizza binds itself to our DNA. Whether we realize it or not pizza is a dish that has made a tremendous impact on us all. It’s a food for everyone.

When I delivered pizzas it wasn’t uncommon to take two pies out for delivery, one to a house that looked like could have been a half-way house and the other being a tiny mansion in the city. The only difference being the amount of 2-Litre Pepsi bottles I had to carry up their steps.

Before long Pittsburgh won’t be heralded for its medical advancements or sports teams. Or its education institutions or livability. Or whatever criteria someone decides to use to rank cities. Pittsburgh will be known far and wide for its illustrious pizza eco-system. And the fact that this basic food is thriving in Pizza is all you need to see to see that Pittsburgh is doing better than ever. 


Pizza is a food of the people. As Pittsburgh grows and thrives it only makes sense that more pizza shops open up to meet the demand of every Pittsburgher.

 

 

Pizza Pitruco Mobilizes Wood-Fired Pizza

Pizza VideoDan Tallarico1 Comment

A while back I was lucky enough to attend my pal Scott's wedding. It was a great time full of poignant moments, dancing, and a sea of friends. Stellar stuff.

After all the festivities, everyone shuttled back to the hotel to find food truck waiting for us. In the thick of the night, the Pitruco food truck glistened and we fluttered over to them like moths to a flame. They served dozens of wood-fired pizzas from their truck, each one more complex and delicious than the previous pizza. 

I was lucky enough to make my way on the truck and interview one of the owners, Jonah. Enjoy the video and if you're ever in the Philadelphia area be sure to track down the Pitruco food truck!

 

Pittsburgh Pizza Update - 9/2 - Spak Interview, Pizza Company & a Trip to Pizza Taglio

Pizza UpdateDan TallaricoComment
A slice of pizza from Pizza Taglio.

A slice of pizza from Pizza Taglio.

Pittsburgh! The most livable city, dripping with pizza. 

Maybe not entirely true, but man oh man is there a lot of pizza activity happening in Pizza. Each week I hear about a new mobile pizza unit, a restaurant trying some new pizza stuff or innovation happening with cooking techniques. Here's some pizza news for you to chow down on.

Spak is Back Baby

I spoke with Ryan Spak of Spak Brothers about their pizzeria, the surge of community support and their role as a pizza shop. They do their best to give back to their community. One of my favorite tidbits from the interview is that thanks to everyone spreading the word about Spak on social media, they saw their highest sales ever

The Thursday and Friday immediately following were our best sales to date which is just awe-inspiring.
— Ryan Spak

The Pizza Company Opens in Lawrenceville

The Pizza Company exudes a sense of gawdiness and luxury that is foreign to most pizza places. Most pizza shops favor the neon or plastic sign to advertise their business. They spend most of their time in the kitchen, they'll never see it.

But The Pizza Company opts for a gold-plated sign. What does this mean for their pizza? I'm not sure. I haven't eaten their pie yet, but I know they offer a myriad of slices and their website ends in a .biz. I can't tell if that's genius or what.

The Pizza Company is a franchise local to the Pittsburgh area. The founders, Ray Stahl and Larry Stahl, opened a shop in 1992 then quickly opened three other locations. Is it manifest destiny that compels them to dot western Pennsylvania with pizza franchises?

I'm worried they put an emphasis on business first and quality second, but I'll be stopping in soon for a proper review. 

A Quick Trip to Pizza Taglio

I'm trying to do a better job of chronicling pizza trips. They can get a bit crazy and a series of photos just don't do it justice.

Here's video and some thoughts on my most recent trip to Pizza Taglio. Take a look and let me know what you think. 

On the pizza innovation side of things, Tony at Pizza Taglio is working on perfecting the 2-minute pizza. He's experimenting with different flours and dough to see what works best. Stay tuned for more coverage on that process right here on Pizza Walk With Me!

Interview with Ryan Spak, an Owner of Spak Brothers Pizza in Pittsburgh

Dan TallaricoComment
This is the shirt Common Wealth press designed to aid Spak Brothers. All proceeds go to Spak, you can buy the shirt here.

This is the shirt Common Wealth press designed to aid Spak Brothers. All proceeds go to Spak, you can buy the shirt here.

As you're aware, near the middle of August, Spak Brothers had a run of bad luck that the likes of Mr. Magoo couldn't evade. No amount of charm or whimsy could sidestep a broken door, a stolen register and a deceased cooler. 

The Spak Boys were down on their luck. The cooler and the register of a pizza shop are keystone items. Without them there's no way to keep the dough chilled or make money. Their systems were crippled and faced a crossroad. Tough it our or sell their soul to the devil. Or, reach out to a Pittsburgh message board, Never Tell Me The Odds.

How did people ask for help before the Internet? Did every business have a custom spotlight? Classifieds? Either way, once Ryan Spak wrote that note Pittsburgh took immediate action. You never mess with a Pittsburgher's Pizza Shop.

A thread on Reddit, a note in Pittsburgh Magazine and a post on I Heart PGH was enough to build a Spak Milita. They opened that Thursday and Friday to record sales.

Ryan Spak says, "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."

Much like how every slice of pizza is just as important as the next, every little bit of support helps a business in a pinch. This wasn't lost on Ryan and the Spak crew.

It's hard to put words to the emotions but the outreach was humbling to put it lightly. From Dan and the crew at Commonwealth Press going way above and beyond to all the people that wrote articles and blog posts on the fly to everyone who took the time to share a Facebook status or grab a slice I just want to say that there were times that I got misty eyed just waking up to all the support.

A very, very special shoutout to all of the incredible employees/friends at the shop who worked themselves ragged to pull everything together. Without all of them we are nothing and every single person here went way above and beyond what they needed to do.

I've heard comments and rumbling questioning this initiative. "Why should we help out Spak? My car died, can I get some help?" Hey, that'd be great, but Spak never asked for handouts. They have spent the years they've been open giving back to the community. Because they know without a neighborhood to eat their pizza, their pizza may as well not exist.

"We see owning a business as more than just making money," Ryan Spak says. "I guess a good way of saying it is that on a grander scope every donation to a cause that promotes equality, compassion, empowerment and education is an investment in the future. Things take a long time to change in our world and the fruits of our efforts may not even be apparent in our lifetimes. I'm ok with that and think often of the countless people who came before that had the presence of mind to plant the seeds of rights and opportunities that we tend to take for granted now."

So what's next for a pizza shop thriving in the heart of Garfield?

"We have outgrown our current location and are planning big things for the future but all that takes time (or lots of cash flow ha) but stay tuned for amazing things to come."

And it wouldn't be an interview with a pizza shop owner without a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Reference. As a thanks, Ryan told me to tell you all:

Cowabunga dudes and dudettes, we love you all xo
— Ryan Spak

 

 

Pizza Sleuthing - Clue’s to a “Hip” Vocelli’s Spin-Off?

Dan TallaricoComment

Today I got a hot pizza tip from my pizza pal, Chad. He sent me this photo from a storefront in Downtown Pittsburgh:

V3 Pizza

Okay. Cool. We got a new pizza place opening up in Downtown Pittsburgh that’s eager to hire team members. Nothing wrong with supplying jobs! I love it. 

Nothing encourages a pizza culture like a new, original pizza entrepreneur opening up a restaurant service slices to the city.

But what is “V3 Pizza”? I did some Googling and found absolutely nothing.

Something was odd. There was no Facebook page, no social media, no website. Surely even an amateur pizza shop would have some web presence. Then I stumbled upon this trademark page for V3 Pizza

V3 Pizza Trademark

There wasn’t much information here, except for some lawyers, the fact that it’ll sell pizzas and the address of a holding company. The owner of the trademark is Ablak Holdings, LLC, located on South Bee street in Pittsburgh. 

And you know what else Ablak Holdings has trademarked? Vocelli’s. That’s how they got their start, actually. They do “brand management with style” which is something I can’t begin to comprehend.

But how is V3 and Vocelli’s connected? 

Vocelli’s Pizza Franchise support center is located on South Bee Street, the same place as the holding company and the same place that V3 is supposedly HQd according to the trademark page.

Other franchises owned by Ablak Holdings: Rock N’ Joe (which “Vocelli’s” purchased back in 2014) and Zafer Solutions, which doesn’t seem to have a web presence. 

All signs point to this being an experimental pizza brand for Vocelli’s.

So what is V3?

Outside of a pizza place, I don’t know what V3 Pizza is. It’s not unusual for a traditional pizza place to spinoff a brand as an experiment. Aiello’s did this with Pizza Sola before selling it off. 

So, heres my guess V3 Pizza:

  • Will sell slices.
  • May sell six packs as pizza places tend to do.
  • Takeout & delivery
  • Some artisan elements such as prosciutto. Really cashing in on the rise of decadents pizza.

I’ve reached out to Vocelli’s for a comment on this. Hopefully I’ll hear back from them soon.