Dig In: The Next Wave of Pizza in Pittsburgh
Now is the time to be eating pizza in Pittsburgh. Pizza makers are crafting pies in a variety of styles from New York to Old World. We round up our nine favorite destinations.
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2549 penn ave., strip district
Dave Anoia was between kitchen positions in 2005, so he picked up a job making pizza at Three Brothers Italian Restaurant in Ocean City, Md., to pass the time. He found a lot of joy in making pizza but dropped it from his professional repertoire when moved to Pittsburgh in 2007 to work for chef/mentor Brian Pekarcik at Steelhead Grill and later at Spoon. He never lost his passion for the craft, though, and when he and his wife, Aimee DiAndrea, opened DiAnoia’s Eatery in the Strip in 2016, he added old-world style pies to the menu. The all-day restaurant offers pizza until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with additional takeout hours Tuesday through Thursday as well as brunch pizza on Sunday. They will open an attached pizza shop later this year.
Anoia’s pizza begins with detailed attention to dough work. Antimo Caputo 00 pizza flour is mixed with dry yeast, olive oil, salt and a pinch of sugar and left to bulk ferment for 24 hours. It then is formed into balls and fermented again for an additional 24 hours. It’s baked in 18-inch rounds on the third day directly on the surface of the restaurant’s four-deck Peerless baking oven. The crust is crisp, with a little chewy give in the center, and a warm, breadstick-like rind. Anoia’s sauce is an uncomplicated blend of whole San Marzano tomatoes, salt and a pinch of sugar — it’s layered on thicker than other styles of pizza. Unless you order a margarita, which is topped with fresh mozzarella, provolone is the cheese of choice here. Anoia prefers classic Italian toppings such as prosciutto and arugula or hot soppressata and mushrooms but says he’s happy to use anything he has in the restaurant’s deli case.
A perfect pizza: “The number one thing is the crust. If you don’t have a good, crispy crust on the style that you’re making, you have a flimsy pizza. Slow fermentation and cooked properly in the oven.”
smallman galley, 54 21st. st., strip district
Pete Tolman is making the buzziest pizza in Pittsburgh right now, yet he’s a relative newcomer to the art of the pie. A visit to Brown Dog Pizza in Telluride in 2015 inspired Tolman, then executive chef of Giant Eagle Market District, to start experimenting with Detroit-style pizza. He felt confident enough in his ability to craft a lofty, cheese-ringed crust that he entered the competition to become one the second cohort of restaurants at Smallman Galley. Not only did he land a stall in 2017, Iron Born draws huge crowds and now is the preeminent space at the Strip District restaurant incubator.
Tolman’s pizza hews close to Detroit-style, though he’s augmented his dough to make a crust that is fluffier than what’s typical of the style. He builds the airy base of the Iron Born rectangle with a two-day fermentation of Central Milling high-gluten flour. Tolman breaks from tradition by adding cheddar to the brick cheese most associated with Detroit-style’s addictive baked ring of cheese that lines the outside of the rind. He cooks his pies in a convection oven lined with additional steel plates for faster heat recovery time, but he feels like he still could get the bottom crisper in a different oven. Most pizzaiolos strive for purity over complexity, but Tolman isn’t afraid to get wild with his topping builds, using his culinary background to think about complementary flavors and textures, as well as whimsical builds such as deconstructed Buffalo chicken.
A perfect pizza: “Perfectly cooked, with a crispy bottom and topped with thought. Not over heavy, not too many ingredients.”
Update: Iron Born opened a second location [413 Grant Ave., Millvale] in October 2018]
Style: classic nyc
1955 lincoln way, white oak
Josh Sickels had two career goals as a teenager in the 1990s: make a living as a touring musician or, if that didn’t work out, open a pizza shop. Well, he did make a living in music, touring with bands such as The Takeover UK and 1,2,3. But his infatuation with NYC-style slices, particularly the cheese-heavy variety served in Queens, was intense. Plus, he felt western Pennsylvania was lacking in this style of pizza, and, even in New York City, it was a dying art. With no formal training, he plunged into obsessive research, relying heavily on sense memory, advice from members on the respected message board pizzamaking.com and even YouTube videos to develop an NYC pie he felt proud to serve. One year later, and 20 pounds heavier, he opened Rockaway Pizza in White Oak at the start of 2017.
Sickels’ 18- to 21-inch pies cook for about nine minutes in a Bakers Pride Y600 deck oven and hew close to the prototypical Queens ideal. However, Sickels breaks from the local custom of same-day, room temperature fermentation by cold-proofing his General Mills All Trumps unbleached, unbromated flour overnight; he feels this best-of-both-worlds approach builds extra flavor while still retaining the desirable, slightly leathery chew of an NYC slice. His thin sauce — Stanislaus 7/11 tomatoes and salt — is simple, tangy and a little sweet. Sickels goes all in with cheese, a base of full-fat whole milk mozzarella that’s blended with pecorino and 18-month Parmigiano Reggiano. Therein lies some controversy — studious pizza lovers will notice screen marks on the pizza base. Although many consider cooking on mesh screens a no-no, Sickles says that, after a significant amount of experimentation, cooking on heavily sanded screens for the first 30 percent of the bake, what he called “The Queen’s Melt,” gives the cheese fat a chance to melt and unlock the flavor of its butterfat, and that cooking directly on stone for the rest of the time still gives it a classic finish.
A Perfect Pizza: “I like so many different styles of pizza. I love Detroit style. I love Chicago deep dish. I love pizza when it’s done well. But, that New York slice that’s thin, but not too thin, and has a good chew and a crispy end crust.”