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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

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: