Guest Bloggers
Hens, Mussels, Devils, and Ears
Brad English

New York.

I grew up in New Jersey.  New York was the big beast that my dad went off to on a hot -- or cold -- bus for the day, depending on the time of year.  Unfortunately, the bus wasn't cold in the summer and it wasn't hot in the winter  the way you would like it to be (as he tells it).  Either way, it was a long trek from our small coastal town on the Jersey Shore to the big city.  

The Jersey Shore was an ideal place to be growing up in America in the 1970's.  I was free to ride my bike to school, walk all over town, and play hide and seek on the roofs of the empty summer homes that were only inhabited 3-4 months a year.

While visiting back here, I think about the freedom I had compared to my own kids, now growing up on the west coast in Southern California in a different time and place altogether.  We rode our bikes everywhere.  Now, my kids ride bikes, but I take them to the beach, or the park to do so.  Things sure are different.   

I have been working back here in NYC and staying with some friends and family, commuting into the city and passing many landmarks that bring back all sorts of memories.  There's the railroad bridge that crosses Sea Girt Lake, where I remember playing endlessly on these very railroad tracks, on the bridge, and under the bridge.  We would lay pennies on the tracks, throw rocks into the lake, try to set crab traps, build rock walkways, fish, build forts, etc.  As I roll over the same bridge now, in my adulthood, I remembered as clear as if I were that ten year old boy lowering a fishing pole, or laying a crab trap down from between the railroad tracks into the water.  My friend Richard and I once were startled when the sound of a train horn came bearing down on us.  You never saw two kids drop what they were doing so fast and escape to the "safety" of the rocky slope just off the edge of the bridge.  Our trap had fallen into the water -- gone.  As we settled into our safe position, panting, we peered down the tracks awaiting the rushing train, and watched as a fire truck rolled across the railroad tracks and continued down the road.  No train.  No dramatic swooshing rumbling rush. What a let down! And now, we didn't have our crab trap.  I wonder what we would have done with any crab if we had even caught one? (End of memory riff...)

Now I'm back in New York.  What a great city.  I can hardly process it all.  Imagine what we could do here on a Pizza Quest?!  We could literally set up shop and start questing and likely never leave this town.  The pizza is spectacular.  The food is amazing.  The variety and flow of it all is breathtaking.  To refer back to an article I wrote recently, I guess I can't help but to keep my eyes out for those "chalkboard" signs that will lead me to something new, amazing, or different.  There are so many here, literally, on every corner.

One of my favorite new joints in New York has to be The Spotted Pig.  I was meeting a friend for dinner and got there a little early to be seated, but the downstairs bar was full.  So, I wandered upstairs and found a couple of seats at the bar. I ordered my first Old Speckled Hen and asked for a menu while I waited for my friend to show up.  The bartender said, "As soon as I get it, it's yours!"  He was waiting for the daily printing of the menu.  This is evidence of part of the magic of this place.  I've been here multiple times during my trips to NY.  The menu is always changing.  I love that they are literally waiting for the final menu as they are already opening service for dinner. 

Everything on the menu is familiar, comforting, but also challenging and slightly different.  The dishes are simple, but explosive with flavor.  I sent a text to a friend (Dave Wilson - who has shot most of our videos on Pizza Quest and is a fellow foodie), who I knew would be thoroughly jealous that I was here.  He shot a text back saying, "Get the Deviled Egg, the Mussels, and the Crispy Pigs Ear!"  I snapped a photo of my Old Speckled Hen, knowing this back-lit glistening beer would really set him over the top, and sent that off.  Just then, I got another text, "I was just going to tell you to have an Old Speckled Hen for me!" 

My friend Steve got there and by now there was no way I was leaving this bar stool -- no need to get a table.  There's something about this place that makes me really feel at home.  It's more like having a beer and some great food in your friend's basement bar, than being out at a restaurant.  The only caveat to that is that there is one MAD Chef in this kitchen pushing the experience beyond sustenance and into the realm of experiential and memorable. 

So, in Dave's honor, having never had a fried crispy pig's ear in my life, I decided that if it was on this menu it was not only going to be good, but great.  My friend looked on in horror as I continued my order. I added the Steamed Mussels with Prosciutto, Cava and Samphire.  The pig's ear was accompanied by a small endive salad with a lemon caper dressing.  Now Steve felt pressured; he's not the most adventurous eater.  So, he took a leap and ordered the Char Grilled Burger with Roquefort and Shoestrings!  I've had it before -- it's really good.  We shared the Deviled Egg appetizer followed by another round of Hens and, as a follow up, because we didn't get enough Deviled Egg the first round, we went for round two. 

This isn't a review of the food, or this restaurant.  I am just sharing the experience as a way to further explore our journey here on Pizza Quest.  We are intrigued by the passion it takes to bring memorable food to the table.  Our focus is on pizza, but the elements are similar across the board.  It requires a balance of passion, dedication, taste, vision, with perhaps a dash of insanity. 

As I write this, I can sort back through my visits here and recall the welcoming feeling and satisfaction I have experienced every time I come here.  This sometimes comes accompanied by great food.  It can also come from experiencing great food with great people.  Or, perhaps we can have fond memories because of the place, or the timing, or so many other aspects that add value or meaning to our lives.   But, in far fewer circumstances, you will find all or many of these aspects of enjoyment coming together at once.  For me, I found the spot -- or, should I say I found the Spotted Pig?!

 
A Sommelier's Reflections on the Beer/Food Connection
Peter Reinhart

Note from Peter: Alan Henkin is a partner at Pizzeria Basta and is also the restaurant's beverage director. We were so impressed with his knowledge of both wine and beer, and his thoughtful list, that we filmed some special webisode segments with him, which we will show in the future when we run the Bruery Beer and Pizza Challenge series. But, as the time draws near for the Great American Beer Festival and the unveiling of both the Challenge Beer and the Pizza Quest/Basta pizza, we asked Alan to share some thoughts about the creative process he goes through in pairing food with beer. This is the first of what we hope will be more Guest Columns from him. Enjoy!

 

As a Sommelier, I have always been trained to use deductive reasoning when tasting wine, especially when blind tasting.  By eliminating as many options as possible, you can sometimes identify the origin and make-up of a wine.  For me, great beer is not as cerebral and feels more emotional and nostalgic...more like food.  After all, beer is not capable nor is it trying to express the terroir of where the malts and hops are grown.  This is not to say that beer can’t be linked to certain regions and producers through educated deduction, it is just not as specific.  That being said, I now believe that great beer making more resembles the work I see happening in great kitchens, right down to the way both chefs and brewers organize their pantry and clean their equipment at the end of a shift.  I see the same passion in the eyes of great brewers as I do in great chefs, and their ability to excite and inspire their staff is as important as any classic technique or encyclopedic knowledge of product.  

There are many great brewers in America right now who have this passion and that is why there is so much great beer to choose from.  At Pizzeria Basta we have only four beer taps and about eight bottles on our list, but we put a lot thought into each selection.  Sometimes it can be hard to decide what to serve and, other times, certain beers are so highly allocated that you can’t get them even if you want them.  This is all part of the process and choosing great beer to accompany our food is fun.  One brewery that we have focused on since we opened is The Bruery, located in Orange County, CA.   This relationship started as soon as we opened the doors of our restaurant.  We knew we wanted to offer at least one large format, 750ml bottle of American craft beer, but there were so many to choose from that we were not sure where to start.  We wanted something different than what other restaurants in Boulder were serving, and we wanted something new and fresh; something with balance that would go well with Chef Kelly Whitaker’s wood-fired cuisine. 

The Bruery fit this mold perfectly.  A young brewery, about 2 years old at the time we opened Basta, that only produces bottle conditioned, unfiltered, large format beers.  After sampling a few of their bottles I was instantly impressed.  The beers were impeccably made so that you could taste the craft behind the product.  On the nose they displayed a beautiful malt-driven sweetness with an underlying yeast component.  Even though most of their ales were over 8% abv, you could barely tell, and they wore their alchohol content like a suede jacket.  The hops were there, but were used in a way as to not dominate the rest of the beer.  In other words, the ales were perfectly balanced and tasted like they had been made by people who love the craft of brewing. This was the kind of beer I wanted to drink, and the kind of beer I wanted to serve to our guests.  We eventually devoted an entire tap handle to The Bruery and have served a large portion of their portfolio.  The similarities between their company and ours would later become very apparent to me when we visited them,  as you will read in some of the other posts by Peter and Brad on Pizza Quest. I hope to write more about that in future Guest Columns.

Alan Henkin, Boulder, CO

 

 

 
Pizzeria Bianco and Big Brother
Brad English

Note from Brad: Ever since reading Peter's "American Pie:  My Search for the Perfect Pizza" I have been trying to get myself to Phoenix, Arizona to experience what Chris Bianco is capable of doing with our favorite food -- pizza!  I have to admit, this may have become more and more of an obsession as we developed Pizza Quest.  I will also admit that my obsession may have, just a little bit, turned toward a somewhat consistent nudging of my sister to go there on one of her many trips to Phoenix to visit her in-laws over the last few years.  Maybe.  Who wouldn't slightly nudge in this case?

The good news is that even though I haven't made it there myself yet, my sister finally listened to me!  You know how little sisters can be.  I had almost forgotten my requests when one day I got a text photo of Pizzeria Bianco.  She was there!  When she got home, she sent me an email and some more photos from her trip and I knew we had to share her story with you.  BTW, the photos are hers, but the captions are mine!

Enjoy and please send us more stories of your own adventures.


Pizzeria Bianco and Big Brother

For at least 5 years now I have visited the in-laws in Scottsdale Arizona, each time being pressed by my beloved, pizza fanatic brother Brad, co-founder of Pizza Quest, to go to this one pizzeria.  It was an amusing process, sometimes receiving several calls from him on my vacations to see if we were thinking of going, and then to push an itinerary if I said yes.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a pizza lover and always go for a good recommend, but Bianco’s was only open for dinner and the wait was two plus hours long.  So, when it came to the end of a long desert day, we always seemed to settle on local food that we could spend less time acquiring.

After all of these visits to Arizona I must admit that I started to antagonize my big brother by

 
Making Pizza for our Guru, by Cary Steiner
Peter Reinhart

Note from Peter: Cary and Lillian Steiner are friends of mine from New York who have their own wonderful pizza blog called Passion-4-Pizza (you can link to their site through our Sites We Like section). In fact, the photo of me used on all my postings was taken by Cary when he and  Lillian brought me to Umberto's in New Hyde Park to experience my first "Grandma's Pizza." It was there that I learned not only of their pizza journey but also of their spiritual journey and of their Teacher, Guru Shri Anandi Ma. The following is a memoir of Cary's experience making pizza for their Teacher. For those who have ever tried to cook for someone important in their life you should be able to relate to how such a simple act can also affect us on so many levels. Thank you Cary:

When Peter and his friends launched Pizza Quest, calling it “a journey of self-discovery through pizza,” the idea resonated very strongly with my wife Lillian and me. We had created www.passion-4-pizza.com as a sort of love story, our love of pizza paralleling our love for each other and our passion for life. The idea of pizza as metaphor was not new to us.  Creating balance on a pizza and finding balance in our way of life are regular and rewarding challenges: the scope and scale may be very different, but both call for creativity, flexibility, and faith. And sometimes the metaphor turns out to be a literal reality!

We’ve been students of Shri Anandi Ma and members of Dhyanyoga Centers since 1996, and being involved in a community of seekers has presented us with many opportunities for growth and

 
The MacBeth, A Pizza Memoir
Peter Reinhart

*Note from Peter: "The MacBeth" is a delightful pizza memoir sent in by a friend of Pizza Quest named Jeffrey Ippolito.  We loved it and thought it was a fun piece celebrating fond memories, good pizza (almost), and good friends.  We hope you enjoy it as well, and keep the conversation going. If you have pizza memoirs that you'd like to share and see published here please send them to us at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


The Macbeth

“The 2nd Best Pizza That Never Was”

About 20 years ago, when I was living in Columbia, Missouri, seven friends and I went to Shakespeare’s Pizza, a great local hang and pizzeria, after an Oklahoma/Missouri football game. We were starving.  Since most of our party was from out of town and I was the local ambassador, as it were, the group entrusted me to order a couple of large pizzas on behalf of the table.  I knew immediately one would be the tomato and pepper cheese.

That was, then, and remains today, my all time favorite pizza.   To me it’s pizza perfection, from it’s foundation of hand-tossed crust, a generous amount of sauce and bed of fresh cheese, to the whole slices of tangy tomatoes and spicy chunks of melting pepper cheese.  It has taste, texture and a lot of cheesy gooeyness.  The T-P-C was a standard, a must have.

However, I wasn’t sure what toppings to get on the next pizza.  As I approached the counter to order, I scanned the menu painted on pizza boards on the wall behind the counter, looking for

 
Wine, Food, Gardens, Bocce ...
Wes Bailey

Note from Peter: Wes Bailey, a good friend of Brad and Jeff's, was on his way to a long vacation with his family to Napa Valley.  After hearing about these plans, Brad suggested that Wes keep an eye out for a quest-worthy story or two.  Wes sent us this reflective essay that seems to capture the essence of the dichotomy of living the quest, as opposed to the idea of documenting it.  We can certainly relate, and thought it would be fun to share it with you.

*Feel free to send us your own journey or quest stories, where you set out in search of that elusive "aha," or you stumbled upon it.  If you're like Brad, you may have followed the signs - tracking down a memorable pizza served in someone's Tyrolean basement restaurant, or like Wes, made a grand plan and found something you didn't know you were looking for.  Either way, we would love to hear from you and have you share your stories because they all help to define what Pizza Quest is about.

You can write to us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

Wine, Food, Gardens, Bocce and Dinner Parties!  We are in love!!

By Wes Bailey

 

Almost six weeks ago, I headed to the Napa Valley with my family for the longest vacation of my lifetime.  A year in the planning, we had rented a home near St. Helena, where you will find the heartbeat of life in picturesque wine country.  Over a month to seep into the local culture, mix with the natives and soak up life a world apart from the madness of Los Angeles.

But of course, I brought ulterior motives.  I packed in my Canon 5D Mark II, an incredible camera capable of shooting both professional quality images, as well as stunning HD movies.  Napa Valley would be the backdrop for a new project: a travel website, with informative videos to take the viewer inside the lifeblood of wine country.  No, wait.  Maybe a winery review television show, where viewers could feel like they had really been to many of the legendary wineries. Or maybe...well, I wasn’t sure.  But it would be beautiful, it would be awesome, and it would catapult

 

StartPrev12345678910NextEnd

 

Login Form

Who's Online

We have 42 guests online

Peter's Books

American Pie Artisan Breads Every Day Bread Baker's Apprentice Brother Juniper's Bread Book Crust and Crumb Whole Grain Breads

… and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com

Home Guest Columns Guest Bloggers