The Pizza Guy, or is he the "Other Pizza Guy? Let me explain.
I found myself driving through the desert thinking a lot about pizza. Having thoughts of pizza dance around my head wasn't out of the ordinary, but you don't often connect pizza with the desert. I was cruising east at about 5 miles per hour over the speed limit to avoid being taken down by one of the open highways finest on my way from LA toward the big Pizza Expo that is held in Las Vegas once a year. I was going to finally meet John Arena, who often writes on our site. What had me so excited was that he had expressed to Peter that he wanted to make some pizza with me. So, as I drove my mind wandered through the possibilities of this new experience.
John is more than a pizza chain owner. He is a pizza encyclopedia who walks the walk and talks the talk. He is a pizza guy from Brooklyn who struck out to find his slice of the American Dream when the opportunity to buy a small pizzeria in Las Vegas came up. I love his story! He and his cousin sold everything they had to come up with the down payment for the business and, through a moving service, shuttled a car out to Los Angeles for someone. On their way, they dropped off their possessions in Vegas. After delivering the car to LA the next day, they returned to Vegas on a Greyhound bus. A few weeks later, when they opened their pizzeria, the two of them had less than $100 between them.
Here's my favorite part: As their business grew he and his cousin started noticing folks saying "Hey, there's The Pizza Guy, and the Other Pizza Guy." I can't remember if John is THE Pizza Guy, or the OTHER Pizza Guy, but he is definitely our Pizza Guy!
Today he is opening his sixth Metro Pizza in Las Vegas. Talk about a Pizza Quest! You can see why I was excited to meet John, eat his pizza, and be shown the ropes of his hometown event - The Pizza Expo.
True to form, John was my ambassador and tour guide for the Expo. We walked the floor, meeting people I knew from a year of operating this site but had never met in person, and ran into a number of friendly faces. I was there to spread the word and look for potential sponsorship interest in our site as well as just connecting with the industry of pizza. The convention hall was filled with ingredient companies (Flour, Cheese, Tomato, Meats, Toppings), oven manufacturers, pizza box makers, and all the little things that you need to operate a pizzeria, or restaurant. It was also filled with hot ovens pushing out tons of delicious pizzas, calzones, panini and all sorts of other "samples".
After my first day, where I met a host of characters, including Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours in NYC, John invited us out to one of his Metro Pizzerias for dinner. I was full from testing and tasting pizza all day, but I was really excited to get out to one of John's pizzerias and see what he does. It looked like we wouldn't have time to make pizzas together on this trip, but I was happy to go and just take in the atmosphere.
John started cranking and the food just kept coming. First came the fried garlic knots. Then came these delicious meatball sliders made on the same garlic knots, but not fried. Stop the presses! I loved these!! I would be in trouble if this were my local pizzeria. Next came a giant, massive, Sicilian Pizza. It was done perfectly. The crust was thick and light. It was moist and crispy and juicy. I had stepped behind the counter to talk to John and snap some photos. I didn't think about it then, but he was in performance mode. He was delivering his pizzas to some pretty insane pizza lovers at the table where about ten of us sat awaiting the next course. He checked the crust on this Sicilian over and over, pulling it out, looking at the bottom and sliding it back in. He wanted to get the timing just right, and he did.
Earlier in the day, as we walked the floor of the Expo, we ran across a few booths doing fried pizza crusts, and fried paninis. John talked to me about how this was the new craze. I had just had my first fried dough in NYC at the new Don Antonio by Starita and thought it was definitely interesting. John explained that back "in the day," Italian immigrants would set up on the street and make deep fried calzones. They had a sidewalk business that consisted of a pot of oil and a burner and would serve up amazing calzones right off the street. So, this led to John's next treat, which I don't think was on the menu. He made us up some traditional deep fried street calzones. Watching this Pizza Guy make his food is like watching a master artist mixing his paints to create the exact colors he sees in his mind. John was set up on a prep table in the middle of the restaurant, but I could see he was not only here in this space, but also somewhere back in time, connecting to his ancestors. He comes from a long line of family members that worked in and around the pizza business. You can see that his heart is connected to his past, their shared experience, and also the present, where he is truly fulfilled sharing his soul through his pizzeria.
The deep fried calzones were amazing.
Out came another pizza. It's called the Seafood Fra Diavalo. Did I start the presses again? If so, stop them again. You will be seeing this baby being recreated by yours truly on these pages soon enough. It was really good and it was also interesting. Then, out came a tomato pie with roasted red and green peppers, tomato sauce, olive oil and oregano.
Let's just restart the presses tomorrow.
My favorite moments of the night were still about to happen. John finally finished making and delivering platters of pizzas and appetizers and came out and sat down. We were all talking and laughing and he looks at me and says, "What's this?!" while pointing to my plate, which was now full of left over pieces of everything I had been eating. I looked down over my bloated belly and smiled, thinking how good everything was and how full I was. He then said, "Great! Brad English doesn't like my pizza!" I laughed and realized he was kidding, but then I started to explain that I was stuffing every bite I could into my mouth but, after a day of eating pizza and now a night of it, I had finally reached my limit. I assured him that Brad English did indeed love his pizza.
The punchline of this piece of the story is that when I was back in my hotel room and called my wife, I relayed this part of the story. She started laughing hysterically. She said, "You're THE Brad English? You're named now?!! Hahahaha".
Metro Pizza bills itself as a family-style pizzeria. They are that and more. There's a huge wall-sized map of the United States with famous pizzerias marked on the map. John is such a pizza fanatic that he will give you a free dinner if you take a photo of yourself in front of a pizzeria in another city and give him the photo to post on the wall. Talk about a pizza guy on his own pizza quest. What a great way to build a family.
Thanks John for the great pizza and the personal pizza tour throughout my days at the Pizza Expo.
Brad English - Yet Another Pizza Guy.