The Most Compelling Newfangled Pizzas Around the U.S.
Explore these regional pizza styles with the Modernist Pizza Podcast
Hosted by Michael Harlan Turkell, the Modernist Pizza Podcast started its first season, and runs through early February on the history, and culture of pizza. It’s a spinoff of the newly released Modernist Pizza book, the compilation of in-depth interviews, conducted by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya of Modernist Cuisine. On the podcast, you’ll find some of the best pizza makers who are shaping the future of the world’s most popular food.
Each slice of this series examines a different aspect of pizza, from deep dives into flour, sauce, and cheese; to its roots and the evolution of regional styles. Listen in as we talk to experts, enthusiasts, and the pizza elite who put this humble pizza pie on the map. Read on for outtakes from a handful of under-the-radar pizza destinations around the country. Interviews are edited for clarity.
Umami-Packed Pizza at Nana’s Bakery & Pizza in Mystic, Connecticut
Mystic, Connecticut, may be known for its seaport, but it's also known for a 1988 movie entitled Mystic Pizza, featuring Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish, and Lili Taylor as sisters and friends working at the local pizzeria during the summer while in high school. The Zelepos opened the real Mystic Pizza in the early 1970s, their own “slice of heaven” which inspired the movie. James Wayman is the founder of Nana’s Bakery & Pizza (32 Williams Ave., Mystic), who serves sourdough pies with extra umami; he’s a part of Mystic’s current sea change. From James:
“I was lucky enough four years ago at this point to delve deeply into the world of koji, which when you say to umami, koji is a mold spore that helps to create that. So I think if this is kind of the foundation and flavor base in everything from our drinks to our pizza to our baked goods and to me, that's the power of koji.
You can take things that are already delicious, really flavorful, really great ingredients. And if you add that, it kind of amplifies those even more. One of the things that koji does is creates amino acids, something that our bodies crave. So it makes us very craveable food and pizza, which is already supremely craveable.”
Reducing Recidivism by the Square Slice at Down North Pizza in Philadelphia
In North Philly, Down North Pizza (2804 W. Lehigh Ave., Philadelphia) has become a second chance for those formerly incarcerated: It offers opportunity with a fair wage in an equitable workplace. Muhammad Abdul-Hadi, founder and owner, and Michael Carter, executive chef, are on a mission to change Strawberry Mansion, the predominantly black neighborhood in which Down North resides, by serving square slices with a purpose. From Michael:
“Growing up, Ellio's pizza was a big thing in our community… For us, Friday night, we knew it was is a good weekend to come if we had that white box in the freezer. So….combine that nostalgia and ..reducing recidivism, which is our mission: How can we marry all of these things together and make this concoction that could potentially be groundbreaking?”
Great Grains Are Affordable at Pizzeria Vittoria in Savannah
Seasonal and regional, Pizzeria Vittoria Napoletana (2411 DeSoto Ave., Savannah) is located in Savannah's Starland District, but in no way is Kyle Jacovino a southerner. An Italian-American originally from Waterbury, Connecticut, he’s always preferred New York-style slices over New Haven’s offerings. The felicity of his culinary career found him cooking in Atlanta for years, dreaming of opening up a Neapolitan-inspired restaurant. From Kyle:
“Part about being a chef throughout the years was being affordable for everybody, because you get all [this] beautiful produce and get all these cuts of meat and like, it's just not accessible to everybody.
…Pizza is one of those things where a lot of work and it's a lot of labor: but you can buy the most expensive, most beautiful grains and ingredients in America and still, you can charge $12 to $14 for it. Everybody can afford that. So that's the beautiful thing. I just really feel like we just got to get out out of this cheap wheat, cheap ingredients, and pizza and get back to, like, putting the best possible thing on a slice of pizza so we can all eat it and enjoy this stuff, man.”
A Fire in the Oven at Hog & Hominy in Memphis
There used to be a pizzeria in Memphis, Tennessee called Hog & Hominy (707 W. Brookhaven Cir., Memphis). By “used to be,” it opened in 2013, but months before the pandemic shut down restaurants, it burned down. Over 1000 days later it has made its resurrection: Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman opened up their pizzeria as an extension of their brand, Ospitalita del Sud: Italian cuisine with Southern flavors. That must be why they grew up eating biscuit pizzas?! From Andy:
I was at home with the flu. Mikey called like 2:00 in the morning, like, 30 times. He told me that Hog was torched — and then I remember having 104° fever that night. Like, it was bad. As soon as he told me, that fever completely went away: Like it just disappeared. Mike went up to the restaurant and I met him there shortly after. It was just a random dumpster fire…. I was 1000 percent in shock. I remember it really felt like a nightmare.
Andy and I are always really big believers and everything happens for a reason. And I don't know if we ever grieved for it or not, or properly grieved…. It's like that happened in January and then we're still trying to figure out what the heck we're going to do. And then March comes along and pandemic it and it’s been just a dumpster fire: dumpster fire after dumpster fire since then.
Don’t Pan Deep Dish at Milly’s in the Pan in Chicago
Robert Maleski started Milly’s in the Pan (1800 N. Spaulding Ave., Chicago) in honor of Burton D. Katz, a pizza-maker and owner of Burt's Place, in Morton Grove, Illinois. Having his pizza was a life-altering experience. But what is it all about the pizza, or the pan? From Robert:
“I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and I spent a summer basically traveling the world and trying different pizzerias around the world and also here in Chicago locally — and I stumbled across Burt’s Place. I was pretty determined to figure out how to make that pizza. So I pretty much dedicated myself to learning that craft and that specific style of pizza.
That's the pizza I make at Millie’s. Pizza in the pan. Burt Katz, he's a legendary pizza maker in Chicago. He's responsible for opening up Pequod’s. Pequod’s is one of the most famous pizzerias in Chicago — and he started that place. Bert’s isn't really a deep dish, it’s more like a pan pizza. It's an oval pizza. The main difference preferential is the frico crust on the outside has a nice caramelization and he loads it up with toppings and the sauce is heavily seasoned. It's really really good.”
Peachy Pie at Myke’s Pizza in Mesa, Arizona
Myke Olsen worked in accounting and started making pizzas at his friend’s small bakery that operated out of a garage in Mesa. A weekend pop-up turned into a regular gig at a cidery. Myke’s Pizza (31 S. Robson #103, Mesa) has turned its underserved suburban food scene into a destination for fruit-on-top pizza. From Myke:
“Our peach pizza: It's a seasonal pizza and it's one that I look forward to just when August rolls around and peaches come into season. I mean, that's one thing I think that Chris Bianco tries to do is using seasonal products that are endemic to the area here. And that's something that Sarah Minnick in Portland at Lovely’s Fifty Fifty does: She uses all seasonal and local produce, so you end up with some unconventional combinations. I mean, those are the best pieces I've ever had in my life. So to me, it makes sense to try and kind of go beyond the conventional pizza toppings and kind of maybe push the boundary a little bit and end up with something that might really surprise you and please you.”
Making Pizza Pho Real at Hapa Pizza in Beaverton, Oregon
In Beaverton, Oregon, Aaron and Natalie Trong have found that the sauces they knew from their Asian-American childhoods, though unexpected on pizza, defied fusion, and became accepted as “pizza” at their pop-up turning brick-and-mortar: Hapa Pizza (12375 SW 5th, Beaverton). From the owners:
“I really wanted to make a pho pizza, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get that soup flavor onto a pizza: Those two don't seem very compatible. The way that we did it was we found a way to turn the broth into a bit of a sauce, and then we slow cook brisket in the broth so that it kind of infuses all of that beef broth flavor into the meat itself. We put that on the pizza and then throw on the bean sprouts and veggies and herbs that give it a little bit of a fresh crunch.
I remember the first time we tried it, we both looked at each other like, our eyes are huge: Just like, ‘what did we create here?’ This is crazy, but it tastes awesome. That's my favorite one out of all the pizzas we make.”