The Best Pizza in America is in Pittsburgh?
Bread and Salt Bakery earns praise from esteemed food writer Mark Bittman
Photo by Hal b. klein
Mark Bittman, in his final column for the New York Times, declared that “…the best pizza al taglio I’ve tasted in the last few years — including all but a couple in Rome itself — can be found in Pittsburgh, at Bread and Salt Bakery, the scrappy place owned by 39-year-old Rick Easton."
Easton’s pizza al taglio for me was a revelation. (Necessary disclosure: he and I are friends; I’ve been eating his pizza since before the bakery opened.)
The long — sometimes as much as 72-hour — fermentation creates, as Bittman says, a crust that is “chewy, crusty, slightly and beautifully sour.” Easton uses that crust as a canvass for highlighting top-of-the-line ingredients; if — when — you go to Bread & Salt Bakery, be sure to take advantage of the “by-the-pound” ordering method and choose several of the daily specials. Because we’re used to buying pizza by the slice or pie in the United States, ordering for the first time can be a hair disorienting, but it’s not terribly complicated. All you have to do is show them how much pizza you want, and they’ll cut it from the tray.
There’s another takeaway from Bittman’s column that likely won’t be talked about as much, but it's one I think is quite important as we evaluate the changing landscape of restaurants in this city and beyond.
“It doesn’t look like a place that turns out stuff you’d kill for, but no one ever said cooking had to be fancy,” Bittman writes.
It’s time to redefine what we think of as a great eatery. Although I’d love for Easton to have a few more tables and chairs (especially with winter coming) and slightly more streamlined service, what he’s doing — which starts with his impeccable sourcing of ingredients — is special. I’d take ‘can’t-talk-this-is-so-freaking-good’ food that’s served in a shabbily rehabbed former butcher shop that’s made by a dude who is covered in flour over so-so food eaten in a hushed space at a white tablecloth-topped table any day.
“Artisan” is currently a term that’s thrown around willy-nilly by marketers. Big companies such as Panera and McDonald’s call their products ‘artisan.’ They’re not. Easton’s are. What this means can sometimes be perceived as a frustrating tradeoff for customers: limited hours (Fri 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-2 p.m.), higher-than-expected prices and, occasionally, what you’re coming in for will already be sold out.
If you’re coming for pizza, and what you saw online is sold out, be adventurous; you might just find a new favorite. (Tip: You can also call ahead and ask to have a loaf of bread held for you.) The cost issue is thornier because, much as we’re used to ordering pizza by the slice, we’re also used to paying next to nothing for it. Fair. But good, responsibly sourced food sometimes costs more, even if that food is labeled “pizza.”
Finally, there’s this: “Easton is the personification of the notion that a sharp palate, detailed knowledge and brilliant execution can converge anywhere, not just in a few self-important coastal cities.”
Preach on, Bittman. Preach on.