Monday, April 18, 2011

Post-Tax Pizza Party

On the long list of inspired ideas my friend Tyler has had, his (along with his brother Zach's) improvement of a wagon we bought almost a decade ago (for the purpose of hauling beer around San Marino during a Christmas Caroling party) has to rank as number one.

Last on the list would be a night in Philadelphia when we were young and dumb and he decided we needed one last drink for the evening. It was his birthday but still a bad idea. The details aren't needed.

The second best idea, perhaps, was his decision to throw a "Post-Tax Pizza Party" at his house Saturday night. You may recall - if you were reading this blog two years ago; odds are you were not - a pizza party I once attended at his house, one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have ever spent. Tyler built a wood-fired pizza oven in his backyard, and he makes his own dough. It takes him several days, and they are always fantastic.

Tyler made 20 balls of dough for this party. (They were all eaten within three hours.) I tried to take pictures of as many different pizzas as I could, but, considering I had to get in everyone's way to take the pictures, there were some that I sat out. It's possible this post has more pictures than any I have ever done, so I will break it down into a few pics at a time.

Only a small fraction of the ingredients on hand for the occasion.

When I first showed up, the pizza being put together was a mega-meat pie. I think there were four kinds of meat on it. But hell, maybe there were more.

Tyler made a pepperoni sauce, one of the best pizza sauces I have ever had, if not the best.

This pizza came out of the oven shortly after I arrived; I overheard a woman say it was pear and gorgonzola. I have never been a fan of pears, always finding them too sweet, but this pizza was delicious.

Roasted garlic and leek. I don't think I tried any of this one, although I may have grabbed a slice for Elizabeth and taken a bite. As every single pizza I had - and I had a lot - was delicious, I will spare you from constantly repeating that I enjoyed the slice.

Two giant balls of dough, just waiting around to be used.

Earlier in the week, Tyler had asked if I had any brainstorming ideas about a unique pizza we could make. Years ago, we had the idea for a fish & chips pizza. I'm not sure where it came from, but we could never figure out how to get it done. Do we use tartar sauce as a base, put fried fish and fries on top, then load that with peas and cheese? Of course not, that would be disgusting. Do we do an homage to fish & chips, with a grilled piece of fish, some fried potato strands and lemon-soaked English peas? Perhaps... but that seems a tad pretentious.

This time around I suggested a carne asada pizza. The idea was met with approval. Zach picked up some carne and I was charged with putting it together. I drizzled a piece of dough with a mix of chipotle salsa and roasted salsa, then placed carne asada on it. My original idea had been to use only cotija cheese, but Tyler mentioned that he has never been able to get cotija to melt in a regular oven. ("Maybe it will melt in a 900 degree pizza oven?" he offered.) So in addition to the cotija I also used mozzarella. I had intended to pick up some green onions for the pizza but I forgot, so I simply used caramelized onions instead.

Zach is The Man, and here he is putting the pie in the oven. I have never been trusted around 900 degree ovens and this evening was no exception.

Blisteringly hot, it was gorgeous coming out of the oven. "The cotija melted, the cotija melted!" Tyler yelled with a tremendous amount of excitement.

"What are you making next?" I asked of Zach as he started to sauce a pie. But before before he could answer a little girl sitting on a barstool screamed the answer:

"A kids' cheese pizza!"

So this pizza was just cheese and, I believe, only for the children who were present. There were a couple slices left but I did not take any.

The next pizza: pesto sauce, roasted garlic - Tyler roasted somewhere between 50-1000 cloves of garlic, it appeared - cheese and bacon.

Into the heart of the beast here. Zach's idea was for a pastrami pizza, so he smoked a pastrami himself.

Earlier in the afternoon Zach called me and said "I don't think we can use only mustard as a base." I agreed. He suggested a mustard-barbecue sauce. I thought that sounded good.

"Can you take care of that?" he asked. I went to Whole Foods thinking of a particular brand of mustard sauce I would purchase, but they did not have any. So I simply bought a bottle of Memphis Championship Barbecue's sauce. The one time I ate at one of their restaurants was a tremendous disappointment, but I have always enjoyed their sauce. At home I mixed a fair amount of it with yellow mustard, a touch of vinegar, and some cracked black pepper. I poured it in a Mason jar and took it to the party with me.

Zach assembled it with some caramelized onions and mozzarella. I asked if we could put pickles on it. The answer was no.

This pizza was a huge hit. The fantastic smokey pastrami mixed wonderfully with the spicy mustard-barbecue sauce. It disappeared immediately and everyone loved it. When I first told Elizabeth that we were making this pizza she rolled her eyes and said she would not be trying it. But she saw me eating it and took a bite and admitted that it was "much better" than she ever imagined it could be.

Energized by the success of the first pastrami pizza, Zach had a stroke of inspiration for the second: he thinly sliced pastrami and layered it on the pie at first, then topped it with cheese and onions, and then added more roughly chopped pieces of pastrami. He is an artist. I did not get around to taking a picture of this second pizza when it was finished, but I heard it was even better than the first.

The prettiest pizza of the evening was put together by a woman whose name I did not catch: an olive oil base, arugula, goat cheese and prosciutto. I only took one slice of this for Elizabeth and me to share; I wish I'd taken two.

The final pizza I tried was barbecue chicken. I was completely stuffed by this point but this is one of my all-time favorite pizzas so I had to try it.

Tyler picked up a bunch of pizza boxes for people to take leftover pizza, but to be honest I did not see any leftover pizza.

There was a nice selection of wines. Unfortunately I was driving so no wine for me: I had a couple Amstel Lights instead.

Jack (Tyler and Zach's dad) somehow ended up with glass of chardonnay and a can of Korean lager. "My cup runneth over," he said.

"That's going on the blog," I said.

A bunch of friends gathered around the bar by the outdoor pizza oven while the moon, a day away from being full, rises in the sky. It beats a sharp stick in the eye. If everyone had a party to like this to attend every year, Tax Day would be more popular than Christmas.


Michelle said...

Are you kidding me? I want those!

mindful mule said...


SuperLarge said...

Absolutely beautiful.

Anonymous said...

straight up epic, PP.

JustinM said...

Michelle: Yes you do, they were awesome.

Mindful: Was that in your Huell Howser voice?

SuperLarge: If you had told me I could have had a reservation at the French Laundry that night, I would have passed it up to be in Tyler's back yard.

Anon: Well, Tyler and Zach did all the work. I was just the gnat getting in everyone's way taking pictures and scarfing down pizza.

Diana said...

All of those pizzas look delicious. And I'm just a boring pepperoni and cheese girl (though, to be honest, there really aren't any good pizza places in RI).

That pepperoni sauce too! Could you snag a recipe by any chance? It looks/sounds delish.

Liz said...

The pizzas were amazing! I really like the special dough. And I was most surprised with the pear and gorgonzola pizza. It was such a fun evening.

Banana Wonder said...

Those pizzas look AMAZING. Really hating on you now, Justin! These look better than Mozza.

JustinM said...

Diana: I think a good place to start would be this recipe and then adjust it to your tastes.

Liz: I agree that pizza was a tremendous surprise.

Anna: Don't be a hata! If you're around next year you can be our date for the party. Damn right it was better than Mozza.

ben wideman said...

You had me at "takes days to make his dough" and "built his own pizza oven", but when I saw the photos I was blown away. That pizza looks incredible.

Unknown said...

Justin! Dad and I really enjoyed reading this blog entry finally. I nearly died when I got to the end and read what Dad said hahaha. It was a great night and we were all happy to see you documenting it. Thanks, see you at the next one!


JustinM said...

Thanks Jenny! I'm glad you liked reading about it... but I enjoyed eating it more. BTW I never wrote about the meal we all had at Tasty Garden a loooong time ago. Maybe I should still do it?