[Photographs: John Arena]
Walking behind the counter at a pizzeria always seems a bit dangerous. This is where the action happens and customers certainly have no business getting in the way. But for one glorious three-day span I wasn’t a customer; a white chef’s coat scored me access to the inner sanctum of a busy family pizzeria in Henderson, NV. I was there to experience the realities of working the make line (and hopefully not give anybody food poisoning).
Metro Pizza is consistently given top honors in the local press as well as a recent Food Network Magazine credit as having the best pie in Nevada (photo #28). Metro Pizza stands as a shrine to all American pizzerias, with a huge map on the wall indicating the country’s most significant pizzerias. They’ll even give you a $25 credit if you bring in a photo of yourself standing in front of one of the mapped locations! This is the perfect place to start my journey behind-the-scenes of the pizza industry.
Day 1: Playing With Dough
My first day began with a test: I was given a piece of dough and asked to open it into a skin. Much to my relief, the dough was about the size I’m used to working with at home. I did what I could to delicately coax the dough into a usable shape but apparently it wasn’t enough. The result was too small and uneven to be sold to a customer, so I was shown the house method for stretching.
At Metro, they begin by forming a ring of indentation about 1 cm from the dough’s outer edge, followed by gentle pressing from the center toward the newly formed barrier. Next came a few back-and-forths between the hands to warm and extend the diameter, followed by a slight stretch over the back of the hands to finish the job.The result was an even thickness and an untouched border.
Of course there’s more than one way to open dough, but I wanted to forget any prior approaches and start from scratch to get the full Metro experience, so I stuck with the prescribed method for all the doughs I stretched during my short tenure. Oddly enough, this wasn’t so much the case with the other employees. As my shifts progressed, it became apparent that everyone had their own twist on the method. I suppose they’ve become comfortable enough with the dough to modify their approach depending on texture and temperature. Still, it’s amazing how consistent these pies came out even with so much technique variation.
I started on a Saturday night, not exactly the best night to take things slowly. John Arena, one of Metro’s founders and my personal pizza guide through this experience, set up a table behind the make line and both of us spent the night opening doughs for the pizzaiolo. While not your average Saturday night on vacation in Las Vegas, I honestly had no desire to be anywhere else. The orders came in like crazy and it seemed like we were constantly pushing out dough skins for the entire 3+ hour rush.