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Driftwood Oven Washes Up as a Top 50 Nominee for America's Best New Restaurant

Pizza NewsDan TallaricoComment
Bon Appetite Driftwood Oven top 50

Is it appropriate to say a hot new restaurant has "washed up" onto a list of the 50 best new restaurants in the United States of America? Perhaps not. Washing up implies that nature itself has conspired to bring an unconscious participants to the shore of something great. After writing that I realize Driftwood Oven has done the exact opposite of washing up. Driftwood Oven doesn't float aimlessly through the waters, they have charted a course to deliver quality ingredients and this is their just reward.

As they pick up speed and refine their restaurant, the country has taken notice. Most recently, Bon Appétit has listed them as one of 50 nominees for the The Hot 10, a listing of the 10 hottest new restautants according to them. 

Making a list of the 50 best restaurants is insane. Driftwood Oven is competing with every new restaurant in the United States. Thousands of independent restaurants open each year. To get noticed, a restaurant has to cut through the cacophony of noise to rise above the rest with nothing but the best, most interesting food. 

I reached out to Neil Blazin, co-founder of Driftwood Oven, to hear his thoughts on making this list. He said, "It feels wild to be considered in a publication such as Bon Appétit. Never crossed my mind." 

And, again, that's what's so interesting about Driftwood Oven making this list. They are busy opening a restaurant, running a Kickstarter, and figuring out logistics that they've barely had time to market themselves. Yet, here they are on this list. 

On top of all that, they have to stick out against a sea of pizza, a food so ubiquitous that if you're not doing something amazing you may as well not even exist. Maybe it was Bon Appétite that washed up on the shore of Driftwood Oven...

Making this list is a testament to understanding the importance of sourcing food and going the extra mile to create something delicious. If this was another standard pizza place there's no way they'd be on this list. But, with their consistency and dedication to the craft I wouldn't be shocked if they made it on the Hot 10.

Pittsburgh's Other Top 50 Restaurant - Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette

If I had a sandwich blog (probably named What's "Capicola-ing With You") I'd write endlessly about Bitter Ends Garden in Bloomfield. It is so odd to me that Pittsburgh lacks high quality sandwich shops, but Bitter Ends fills that hole and then some. Everything from the pie to the bread is made fresh. It's one of those places where you can't eat anything bad and I'm so glad they're on this list.

Pizza Remix: Get Pumped Up with Driftwood Oven's Archer Pizza

Pizza VideoDan TallaricoComment

A muse can take many forms. For some it's a beautiful partner, always lingering at their side with wisdom and guidance. For me it's a perfectly baked pizza and amazing lighting. I had extra footage from my visit to Driftwood Oven's new spot in Lawrenceville so I put it to some tunes. 

Enjoy the video and if you've had a chance to make it to Driftwood Oven for their soft opening let me know how you enjoyed it!

Driftwood Oven Looks to Community to Raise Some Dough

Pizza NewsDan TallaricoComment

Welp, the Driftwood Oven boys are at it again. Towards the end of November they announced that they were going to focus their Winter energy on making Matteo's old house their home and open a shop on Butler St. After years of traveling around the city, battling for their lives in multiple pizza dojos, and dealing with the elements, Neil and Justin thought they deserved a solid roof over their heads.

After all, they ventured to the corners of the city to serve us pizza, it's about time we travel their way. 

Driftwood Oven is opening up in the old Matteo's spot on Butler Street. I'm not sure what happened to Matteo's, but I'm confident a somewhat casual pizza shop will do wonders in the Lawrenceville area. But, because they're upgrading from a tent to a sturdy structure with an actual roof they need a bit of help with the extra expenses. So they launched a Kickstarter to raise the extra money

I'm typically a bit skeptical of Kickstarters because creators tend to get a too grandiose with their promises. Typically resulting in failed goals or setting impossible expectations. The steady rolling Driftwood Oven crew has hit a sweet spot with their rewards and have a solid track record of quality to back up their promises. 

The rewards are far from crazy and give you an opportunity to pre-buy pizzas at bulk discounts. For $100 you get an invite to their Kickstarter Party which is already in the running for the 2018 Pizza Party of the year.

Driftwood Oven is a success and pizza shop like no other. They are hard workers who built a pizza empire from scratch. As of this writing the Kickstarter is about eight hours old and has already raised over $10,000. Each of those dollars represents a delicious archer they served in the dark winter nights outside Staghorn Cafe in Greenfield and the long days of prepping dough for those sweltering days outside of Grist House. 

Why Driftwood Oven Going to Kickstarter is Great for the Community

A couple of classic pies from Driftwood Oven

A couple of classic pies from Driftwood Oven

I am a firm believer that everyone's favorite pizza place is whatever they were raised on. Luciano's and Monte Cello's hold a special place in my heart even though their modern forms may not be the greatest version of their pie. Driftwood Oven having a permanent home will give family's another great option for Friday pizzas and I bet you that place will host someone's birthday each weekend. Maybe so much that they'll create a Driftwood Oven Birthday Song?

More importantly, Butler Street is peppered with businesses that are out of touch with the neighborhood. It's the unfortunate side effect of the population boom and investors trying to capitalize on a trend. Participating in the Driftwood Oven Kickstarter gives residence a way to say "I made this happen" and "This is the kind of business I want in my backyard."

Can you even believe that Butler St is anchored on one end by Driftwood oven and on the other Slice Island? Pittsburgh has certainly become the secret pizza capitol of the North East. 

One final thing - their mobile pizza unit isn't going anywhere as they said they'll roll it out of the shop when things get a bit warmer. Stay tuned for more Driftwood Oven pizza updates.

 

 

Driftwood Oven Turns 2! Let's Talk About Driftwood Oven!

Pizza EssayDan TallaricoComment
DriftWood Oven Turns 2

They grow up so fast, don't they? First they're fumbling their little dough balls, struggling to figure out logistics, and experimenting with flours. Now, they are feeding multiple breweries a weekend, growing their staff, and sourcing ingredients so intelligently it would make your head spin. Not to mention the trophy case of accolades.  To celebrate, Driftwood Oven will be at Roundabout Brewery this Sunday at 1pm with some of their pals. More info here, but let's talk a bit about their excellence. 

Driftwood Oven burst onto the scene in a flurry of excellence. From their first pizza everyone knew this was legit. I remember biting into my first Driftwood Oven pie and looking around nodding, waiting to be woken up from another one of my pizza dreams.  

Hard to believe they are only now turning two. Harder to believe a pizza landscape that doesn't involve Driftwood Oven. 

The way Driftwood Oven has woven their way into the Pittsburgh tapestry is remarkable. From hanging out on the fringe in Greenfield, to bouncing from breweries to breweries. From working in a basement to getting prep space in Larimer. They drifted to where they were needed. It seemed like most evenings they were never further than a 5 minute drive or walk from my house, always within an arms reach. 

Despite being a mobile oven, their aura is permanent. A night at Grist House or Dancing Gnome without Driftwood Oven feels empty. Heading to Round About brewery for a drink without that tent outside just seems off

Justin greets visitors at their Greenfield spot. Neil bakes pizzas endlessly. 

Justin greets visitors at their Greenfield spot. Neil bakes pizzas endlessly. 

Justin always greets you with a smile and a large hello. His background in improve and comedy are not wasted in the Driftwood Oven tent. He's quick with quips and makes every pizza patron seem welcome. Neil works diligently behind the oven creating pies after pie. Bouncing between the oven and dough requires supreme focus and Neil never loses sight of a great pizza. And that's the way it has typically been. They've added some help along the way, which was much needed considering an evening at Grist House has them swamped in tickets as soon as the festivities begin. 

And their little oven, who would ever think that physics and science would allow it to make enough pizzas to serve hundreds of people without a single drop in quality? I've never had to wait longer than 15 minutes for a pie, which is a small miracle. And it's not because I write about pizza. You, the clever reader, get the same loving attention and speedy service that I receive. It's a democratic pizza process and they treat every customer like it's their thousandths pie. 

When I spoke with Neil nearly two years ago about his craft, he said, “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.”

That has been a staple of Driftwood Oven during their pizza tenure and it's great to see holding themselves to those standards. RSVP to Driftwood Oven's 2nd Anniversary Party here

Driftwood Oven also has really great t-shirts. You can watch my review below. 

Can't Beat Driftwood Oven's Beet Pizza, The Beetza

Pizza ReviewDan TallaricoComment
Driftwood Oven Beets

In the midst of a summer heat session, sometimes the margherita doesn't feel like the right pizza. The goo-factor of the cheese can clog you up, slow you down, and pump the breaks one of those often sung about summer nights. Spicy sausage or pepperoni exacerbates the heat draining your body of useful liquids. Boy, just typing this sentence is giving me the sweats.

Driftwood Oven has taken in account all those variables and algorithms and created a pizza perfect for summer chowing: The Beetza.

Yes, pizza is perfect for every season, but the weather impacts the pizza nuance. And this Beetza is a quintessential summer pizza. Almost as refreshing as a sparkling spritz or an ice-cold High Life.

We'll get to the beets in a moment, but this pizza has a soft, creamy layer that blends perfectly with a summer evening. The mixture is made up of crème fraîche, ricotta and Old Gold cheese (basically aged cheddar). It's gooey and light, giving you the perfect lubricant to put down a couple of airy slices. Chives are scattered on top of the pizza like celebratory confetti. They provide festive flair and a bit of flavor. The star of the show is, of course, the beets.

UpCloseBeetza

While beets are traditionally a delicious winter vegetable, there's no law against slicing them up for a delicious, bouncy pizza. Beets can be a flavor dead end. If they are not prepared well enough you get that wonderful earthy flavor in your mouth. The kind of flavor worms would die for. The Beetza comes corrects with the beet flavoring. 

Instead of that earth flavor, every bite of beets is a burst of delicious, "rooty," flavor. When combined with the crust, the cream and a bit of caramelized onion, you get a sophisticated flavor in the form of a pizza. 

Of course, the amazingly consistent Driftwood Oven crust plays host to these flavors and doesn't falter one bit under the heap of toppings. 

The Beet Pizza is a potpourri of fun and flavor that pairs perfectly with a well cracked cold one. For those that don't enjoy beets, check this out as I know you'll be pleasantly surprised. 

Finally, here's a photo of a non-beet pizza. Just for fun.

Bonus margherita Pizza

Pizza Shirt Review: Driftwood Oven's Old-Fashioned Baseball Shirt

Pizza ReviewDan TallaricoComment

When I'm not eating pizza I'm thinking about ways to showcase my pizza passion. While some say I wear my pizza love on my sleeve, that isn't good enough. I'm always on the hunt for tasteful, snug, and cool pizza shirts to pull over my body. Luckily for me, Driftwood Oven has hit the point of their success where they are selling t-shirts. A sure sign of a healthy business. Here's my review of the Driftwood Oven old-timey baseball t-shirt.

Dispatch from Pizza Expo 2017: The Prequel

Pizza ExpoDan TallaricoComment
PizzaExpoBadge

Pizza Expo is an astounding event that happens every year in Las Vegas. Last year I sent my associate editor, Tom Tallarico, to the show to cover the pizza news. Tom loves pizza so much he always capitalizes the word. You can read his Pizza Expo Coverage from last year here. With a year under his belt, as well as at least 100 more pizza slices, Tom is ready to tackle the 2017 Pizza Expo.These are his unedited reports.

PIZZA EXPO 2017

Well back at the EXPO again. Been looking forward to getting back since LAST March. And as time passes, Pizza becomes more popular (if that is possible) and takes on more & interesting iterations, i.e. Wood fired, 90 seconds in & out of the oven (as authentic as it gets), creative sauces & toppings & more shops than ever. Over the past year, my Pizza adventures have included:

Periodical Pizza fests around the city with prominent participants including Driftwood oven, Caliente, Graziano’s, Pizza Taglio among others.

Speaking of Driftwood Oven, have enjoyed their fare at various brewerys around town. Also, happy to see press release touting Neil being recognized with a Rust Belt Rising Chef award. Congratulations to him.

 

Eric Von Hanson with his award winning Pan Pizza from Caliente

Eric Von Hanson with his award winning Pan Pizza from Caliente

Speaking of award winners, last year’s Pizza Expo Champion for Pan Pizza, Eric Von Hanson had the Pan Pizza put on the menu some months ago. But the big surprise is they have put the actual Pan winner, the Quack Attack, on the menu as well. Have to get one at least once a month.

Paulie Gee's Logan Square

Always enjoy the Brunch at Spirit Lounge featuring their wonderful pizza product including watching a Steeler playoff game there.

Two class places in Chicago; Bleuna & Paulie Gee’s out of NYC. Went to see Tony Scardino hard at work. He is an associate of Tony G. who I met last year at the Expo.

Up and coming pizza maker, Anthony Scardino with Pizza Walk With Me associate editor, Tom Tallarico

Up and coming pizza maker, Anthony Scardino with Pizza Walk With Me associate editor, Tom Tallarico

Always enjoy mainstays Fazio’s in Lawrenceville & Casa del Sol in Aspinwall.

Many others that I have missed as well. But haven’t been to Spak Bros. yet which I need to get to. It’s on my list.

Vytauras of Citizen Pie waving hello!,

Vytauras of Citizen Pie waving hello!,

Of course, Pittsburgh Pizza fest. I missed it as I was in Ohio. However, on my way home per a colleagues recommendation, I stopped at a place in Cleveland called Citizens Pie. Outstanding Pie!!! Some of the freshest ingredients/topping ever. The Soppressata was cut thick & exceptional. Turns out, Pizza maker/owner Vytauras will be at the Expo this week for the 1st time. One of his guys will be competing in the Box folding contest trying to break the World record.

A slice of pizza from Citizen Pie in Cleveland, Ohio

A slice of pizza from Citizen Pie in Cleveland, Ohio

All that said, now looking forward to a Fun Fun week. Actually the weekend in Vegas was quite fun already. 

Driftwood Oven Experiments With Square Slices - #PGHPIZZAWEEK

Pizza EssayDan TallaricoComment
Driftwood Oven experiments with square slices

Driftwood Oven experiments with square slices

I don't know what kind of witchcraft happens under Driftwood Oven's pizza tent. Over the cold season, Neil and Justin set up their mobile home and zip themselves inside their pizza den. If you're at Grist House, Dancing Gnome or any other location they call home, to order the pizza you unzip their tent and enter the pizza cave.

The Driftwood Oven pizza cave is a warm safe place. Some folks linger inside with their beer and watch Neil expertly work the oven. Justin is a one-man-show ready to entertain anyone that enters. The pizza cave draws people in, like travelers gathering next to a warm hearth to rest their weary legs and tell tales of pizza.

On my most recent visit into the Driftwood Oven pizza cave, Neil had a tray of square slices. Driftwood Oven has been teasing square slices for a long time. In fact, I had sampled some square slices from Driftwood Oven months ago. The ones Neil are selling today is an evolution of that product. I asked him if this means he finally mastered the formula. 

"It's never perfect. You know that. It's a constant work in progress," was Neil's response. I suppose an artist is never truly satisfied. 

But square slices have a nostalgia to them. My uncle was so excited to see the slices on the menu that he ordered six. "Growing up in Beaver, it's all we ate. For your birthday they set down a platter of square slices," said my uncle, Don Erb, about his history with square slices.

Here Don uses the "blow on hot pizza" technique to cool it down a few degrees.

Here Don uses the "blow on hot pizza" technique to cool it down a few degrees.

There is a rustic feeling to the square slices. It recalls memories of grandma pie: dough mashed into a square tray and plopped into the oven. It requires much less finesse than getting a round pie. 

Driftwood Oven's square slices were delicious. The slices were solid, sturdy, and provided a hearty crunch. In past iterations the inside has been much softer, so maybe they're trying to strike that crunch-to-soft-balance. 

still, it was beautiful and it was simple. I'm excited to eat tray after tray of their square pie in the coming months.

What I Order

  • A margherita and something zany on the menu.
  • Gotta grab a square slice as an appetizer.
  • Get a pizza per person.

How to Hunt Down Driftwood Oven

Other Driftwood Oven News

 

Slicing it Up with Dan! Episode 2: Driftwood Oven Pizza

Pizza VideoDan TallaricoComment

In this episode of Slicing it Up With Dan! I eat a slice of Driftwood Oven pizza. This slice-eating takes place in the back of Spirit Lounge during one of the many Pizza Dojo competitions.

It was a stressful night for all participants. All eyes were on them and every pizza popping out of the oven had to be as amazing as the one before it. I don't know how often Driftwood Oven trains, but I ate about 9 slices of pizzas that night and the consistency was amazingly level. From the beginning to the end each pie was masterfully crafted.

A few things to note while you watch me eat this slice of Driftwood Oven pizza:

  1. I fold the pizza in half to start for a big bite, but some of the ingredients hang on for dear life. I have to perform a couple might chomps to salvage the toppings. Unfortunately, this leaves the rest of the pizza a bit bare.
  2. I love tearing up the last quarter of Driftwood Oven pizza. The dough is always soft, fluffy and tears nicely. The crust deserves to have a few moments alone.
  3. I'm washing down the pizza with an IPA from Pizza Boy Brewing. It complimented the pizza perfectly. A+ would wash down pizza with this beer again.

If you'd like to try a slice of Driftwood Oven, please find their schedule on their website

Pizza Dojo 2016: Pizza Boat vs Driftwood Oven, Round 2

Pizza NewsDan TallaricoComment
Here we see a wild Driftwood Oven pizza (left) and a Pizza Boat classic (right). One of them  may  be using a performance enhancing crust.

Here we see a wild Driftwood Oven pizza (left) and a Pizza Boat classic (right). One of them may be using a performance enhancing crust.

Welp, another Pizza Dojo is in the books. I'm working on a video recapping the event with some amazing interviews. I have Dan from Pizza Boat talking some serious smack (most of the editing is bleeping him out), I have a bonafide Pittsburgh legend talking pizza / weather, and a guy that traveled from Boston to eat pizza. 

With a pizza dojo coming once a year, I wonder what happens when Pizza Boat clobbers all the other pizza fighters in their weight class? Will they depart Pittsburgh, looking for formidable opponents? Or continue to terrorize the local pizza makers. 

I was talking to Rico, from Slice on Broadway, and he asked me how he could battle in the Pizza Dojo. If anyone out there has an answer for him please get in touch. I'm sure he'll sign any safety waiver necessary.

Driftwood Oven's Pizza Dojo menu. Delicious and edgy with some clever names.

Driftwood Oven's Pizza Dojo menu. Delicious and edgy with some clever names.

Pizza Boat's spooky (and delicious) menu. Deceptive and full of tricks at every corner.

Pizza Boat's spooky (and delicious) menu. Deceptive and full of tricks at every corner.

The pizzas were off the chart. Pizza Dojo is a unique event in that it gathers the top pizza talent in Pittsburgh. It's convenient for me, a pizza journalist, and you, a pizza consumer. If there's ever another Pizza Dojo I'd like to see a three-way pizza off. Maybe it takes place in a steel cage? Or a pizza cage?

It doesn't take a pizza journalist to come to that conclusion. Everyone I asked had the same synopsis of the event: "well we all win." 

What's a Pizza Dojo without some Pizza Boy brewing beer? This keg kicked in about an hour into the event.

What's a Pizza Dojo without some Pizza Boy brewing beer? This keg kicked in about an hour into the event.

 

 

 

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 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. 

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.

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.