Peter's Blog, Nov. 1st

I'm home, Halloween has passed (we got a record number of kids this year), and I've started a serious diet after last week's blow-out in San Francisco. I'll be back later today with more details on that, but wanted to let you know what else we have on tap for this week in addition to the recap of last week.

On Wed. we'll have a new recipe from Brad, who has been on fire recently with new variations of pizza using the Challenge Pizza Dough.

On Thursday we have yet another webisode featuring Tony Gemignani, whose restaurant was just named best pizzeria in America by USA Today.

And on Friday, well, I'm working on that...

More soon, so do check back.

Okay, I'm back so here's the rest of the story:

Continuing on with the San Francisco saga: I mentioned that a few of us went to Tony's Pizza Napoletana on Thursday night, just prior to discovering the USA Today article proclaiming it the best pizzeria in the USA. It's a good thing we went when we did as Tony called me the following evening and told me the lines were around the block!

As you will see in the photos, one of the pizzas that seems to be generating some buzz, among the eight styles featured on the menu (nine if you count his new gluten-free pizzas), is the Pizza Romana, baked at 700 degrees F. in an electric brick oven. It's long and wide (about 4 feet long and 18" wide, by my estimation), and a great "table pizza" for a large group, as our neighbors at the next table over were -- and they seemed exceedingly happy! You get to choose four toppings from four different ingredient sections, so it really is a  crowd pleaser. Our table didn't order one so I can't report on the crust but, judging from the pizzas we did order, I can't imagine it being anything but great.


Our group, on the other hand, got a few Napoletana-style pizzas (the Championship Margherita, naturally, though they were out of the San Felice dough balls but, as you can see in the webisodes, Caputo and San Felice are comparable so we were very happy). I also ordered a Spacca Napoli pizza from the Napoletana section of the menu, which is made with mozzarella di bufala and cherry tomatoes -- similar to the same version under a different name we had at Una Pizza Napoletana the previous night. The only difference was the crust (Una uses a wild yeast crust and I'm not sure what flour but it seems different from Tony's -- both are superb in their own way and the table was divided over whose version they preferred -- a nice dilemma to have).

But the surprise hit of the night was the Tony Two Times pizza, listed in the Classic American category. I'll return to this in a moment but first let me tell you about all the other categories: there's one called Detroit Style (square, butter toasted corners, takes 25 minutes so you know it's got to be loaded); Sicilian Style (you can see that in last week's webisode); California Style (lots of wild flavor combo's made in a wood-fired oven with Caputo flour -- kind of a Napoletana crust with creative toppings not found in traditional Naples pizzerias); Classic Italian (Tony calls one of them The Cal Italia and describes the crust as "medium" in thickness -- I wish I had tried one of these for comparison purposes but I totally missed it on the far right side of the menu); Coal Fired Style, based on the classic New Haven and Lombardi's/Totonno's NY pizzas, baked in a 1000 degree oven); and finally, St. Louis Style (thin crust, provel cheese -- I'm probably one of the few non St. Louis natives who actually loves this style, but not as much I love the Coal and wood-fired styles).

There are also lots of salads, stromboli, calzone, killer meat balls (Tony is rightfully very proud of these and we got two orders), sausage and peppers, burgers with burrata cheese and other creative burgers, Chciken Parmigiana with pasta -- I mean the menu is like Disney World --something for everyone and too many things to experience in just one or even four visits. So I will be back. I'm especially upset with myself for missing a chance to try the coal-fired clam and bacon pizza. I simply missed it in the nearly hidden bottom middle of the menu, until we had already stuffed ourselves silly. I will be sure to get that the next time I'm in SF.

Oh yes, the Tony Two Times is listed thus: "mozzarella, two times the garlic, and two times the sausage, two times the bell peppers."  Yes, this was a garlic and sausage blast and we all had to have a slice just in self defense! But what really pleased me was how good the crust was. This was, in my estimation, a NY Style pizza crust comparable to the one served at Apizza Scholls in Portland (one of my favorite pizzerias in the country). It was an unexpected surprise and pleased me greatly.

Let me say this: when you go, whether with a group or alone (and I suggest with a group so you can try lots of things), take your time before ordering because the menu is so extensive you will invariably miss something and experience buyers remorse. But it's brilliant on Tony's part because then you feel compelled to return again and again. Of course, this only works if you really believe he pulled it off -- that he can actually back his boast to have mastered all these various styles. Personally, I'm convinced and impressed, and kudos to his team of pizzaioli and also his front of the house staff who were all gracious and friendly, not just to us but to the entire packed house. I have never been a fan of people trying to do too much, but Tony is Mozartian in his prodigiousness. Tony's reminded me of the scene in Amadeus where the king accuses Wolfie of using too many notes and he replies, "No, there are just the right amount." Only a rare few can work on that kind of canvas.  And by way of contrast, Anthony Mangieri is Chopin-esque in his minimalism and tight focus at Una Pizza Napoletana -- I felt fortunate to have experienced them both in successive nights.

Before I sign off I want to mention that, in celebration of completing our successful photo shoot, we (my wife Susan, co-author Denene Wallace, and Denene's mom Dot) headed up to Santa Rosa on Saturday. Denene and I were guests on The Good Food Hour on KSRO radio (one of the longest running radio food shows in the country), with my old friend Steve Garner, where we made the first official announcement of title of our book: The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, with a publication date set for August, 2012. Before the show we stopped by the bakery to see what was there in its place and, low and behold, it was a gluten-free bakery called The Bliss Bakery. Couldn't have planned it better if I tried and I wish them the best of success.

After the radio show we gathered with friends and headed to Guy Fieri's new restaurant, Tex-Wasabi, in downtown Santa Rosa (only a few miles from where Susan and I used to live and where our bakery, Brother Juniper's was located -- it was kind of a homecoming of sorts). Guy is Santa Rosa's biggest star these days and his first restaurant, Johnny Garlic's, is still going strong, just a short hop from where our bakery was and where we first met Guy when he was just a newbie in the business -- who knew??.  The lunch at Tex-Wasabi was really fun--Guy has picked up some great tricks while on the diner and dive circuit and the best of them are on his very eclectic menu, including some innovative sushi and beautifully smoked meats. It was, like Tony's, an example of what a prodigy can do when he has enough money (or backers) to go for the big statement. I'd go back for the roasted chili peppers appetizer alone, but if I still lived in Santa Rosa I could see myself eating there a lot -- it's what I call fun food, and it's done well. Like Tony, he pulled it off. Way to go Guy!

Okay, enough -- my head is still spinning and jet lag is biting me in the butt, but this will give you a taste of how the quest just never seems to end -- and why should it? More soon….

 

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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

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