The Quest for the Perfect Pizza

My earliest recollection of Pizza was Round Table take out in the early 1970’s. At the time, Round Table was local to the SF Bay Area, and it wasn’t a terrible pie. However, it wasn’t inspiring.

Then sometime in the mid 70’s, we had pizza at a local place. I think it was called Anchors, or something similar. I do know it was at the end of Homestead Road where it hit Foothill Expressway.

Thick, chewy crust, perfectly melted cheeses, and optimally cooked toppings. We ate there often and sat in their dining room.

This was the start of quality pizza in my life. There have been other pizzerias (Stufft, again, a small chain that began in Sunnyvale) and Toot-N-Totem, a staple in West San Jose. All excellent, and all a little different.

Later in life I began working in restaurants and ones that made pizza, starting with Chuck E. Cheese (nobody would consider that excellent) to Florentines Italian, where Pizza was a part of the menu.

This phase of my life taught me a few things:

  • Toppings are crucial. Sure, a margarita (tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and sprigs of basil) is traditional, but there can be a lot of variety.

  • The crust is key. You want a fairly high gluten dough, but unlike with bread flour, you want a fairly fine milled flour to make it silky smooth.

  • How you cook it. Seriously, it wasn’t until I worked at multiple Florentines where I really discovered how important the oven was. There we had locations with traditional pizza ovens, and smaller locations where a shelved “convection” oven was all we could fit in their kitchen.

From there, I have played the amateur, and can make a pretty solid pie. There are ample recipes out there for doughs that are pretty easy to follow (I like the NY Times “basic” Pizza recipe) but they all seem to lack something of the real pizzeria experience.

Not only that, but there are several styles of pizza, from the NY style thin crust, to the inverted Chicago Deep Dish, there are variances between all of them that are distinctive.

This is the start of a series, and I will be chronicling my quest. Fortunately, I have been on this path for a long time, and many of my friends have enjoyed pizza parties, which many have lauded as great pizza. But, I can’t help but to compare to that early experience, and the testure, taste, and experience of the small pizzeria pizza.

Ironically, my recent bread making hobby is partially feeding this quest. I just made my first sourdough crust (the pic at the top of this is the first effort), a recipe that came from Ken Forkish’s “Flour Water Salt Yeast” book.

There are many challenges, and we will explore them as we head down this rabbit hole. I hope you enjoy the ride.

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