The Pizza of Our Youth

Michael in front of his toaster oven as it reconstitutes treasures from his youth.

There’s something so special and untouchable about the pizza you grow up eating. Every Sunday night you’d gather with family at the same restaurant and order the same dishes and eat them the same way. You’ll eat better pasta, better chicken marsala and better pizza in your life but somehow it will never make you feel the same as those family get-togethers. Sunday nights were particularly special for my friend Michael Berman, who would spend them at a restaurant called Pines of Rome in Bethesda, Maryland. Michael is a fantastic photographer, recent author of a great book about things to do in NYC with kids, AND he runs an excellent blog called PizzaCentric. I was deeply honored when Michael invited me to his Brooklyn abode to share some of the pizza he carefully transported back from his favorite pizza restaurant in Bethesda after a Memorial Day weekend visit.


Actual conversation between two adult males about pizza transportation.

I tried to visit Pines of Rome on Michael’s recommendation when I was in Washington, D.C. a few months ago. I got there 30 minutes before closing time but the pizza guys had already gone home, leaving me with a consolation prize of eggplant parmigiana, which I ate on the bench out front. I knew in my heart that one day I would make good on my blood oath to Michael to eat his favorite hometown pizza. 


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Last Week’s Loaf

Just some details about my latest bread-baking session last week…

Step 1: Making Dough

I began with a starter fed with rye flour and water. Once it doubled in volume, I whipped up a batch of dough with the following amounts:

  • 387g total starter
  • 306g Trader Joe’s white All Purpose flour
  • 156 room temp tap water
  • 12g salt

I let the mixture sit 20 minutes before adding that salt, then I kneaded it all until I was convinced the salt was evenly distributed. It’s a wet mix, so kneading is done more by lifting and folding than by pushing.

I then put the dough into my mixing bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. That sat in the fridge overnight, actually about three days.


Step 2: Shaping and Proofing

The shaping process is hard to describe in text, but it basically involves folding the dough together and tightening its form so it will capture more gas during the proofing stage. I let the shaped dough sit in the base of my cloche (sprinkled with semolina to avoid sticking and give texture) until it reached room temperature and filled with some gas. On this particular day, I turned my oven on for a minute and then switched it off so the dough (in the cloche) could sit in the warmth for a bit to speed up the process.


Step 3: The Bake

Once the dough had rose sufficiently (ie I was running out of time) I sprinked some flour on it and scored a pattern so it would A) rise and open, and B) look cool. It worked! Bake temp was 450 F but I let the oven preheat for about 35 min at 550 F with a Baking Steel in there. Since I didn’t preheat my cloche, I figured I’d use the steel’s fast conduction to throw heat into the clay and give the dough some nice spring. The bread baked in the cloche for about 30-35 min before I removed the lid for the final 7-10 min. That last bit gets the top nice and golden brown! 


Step 4: The Crumb Shot

You gotto wait at least 30 minutes (it’s fun to listen to the little crackling sounds) but then you get to cut in and find out whether or not you’ve made anything worth eating. Sometimes the outside looks great but the inside is dense and undercooked. This loaf came out awesome and the crumb is clear about that! Funky, uneven holes but dense enough to spread some butter or jam. 


Is your brain even prepared for our amazing new POCKET PIZZA JOURNALS??? Everyone who takes a pizza tour with us gets one of these adorable little books to keep track of the day’s research but we also have them available at wholesale prices for any fun store that wants to carry them! New upgrades include:

  • more topping options
  • improved overall rating system
  • crust measurement in centimeters for better accuracy
  • crust-o-meter for base stability
  • a mushroom that is slightly tilted because one person said it looked like a dog’s nose
  • pizzeria location data section
  • WORD SEARCH on the back page!!!

Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. Special thanks to our designer Ciara Gay and the incredible team over at Scout Books, who tells me there’s a decent chance traces of recycled pizza boxes may be found in these pizza journals. 

Secret Pizza Party Belongs in Your Pizza Library

I love books about pizza almost as much as I love animals dressing in disguises just so they can eat pizza alongside humans without getting chased away with a broom. That’s why I absolutely adore Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri. It perfectly captures one raccoon’s pizza obsession and the lengths to which he will go just to savor a slice. Go buy it for everybody you know!