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: