I don't even want to tell you about Pizza Club. If I do, you're all going to want to join, and then I'll never be able to fight through the crowd and get my hands on a piece of any amazing pizza concocted there again.
Each month on a Sunday, artist Joe Deroache and his wife, Victoria, invite friends over for a different kind of potluck. Victoria announces a theme, and guests bring pizza toppings related to that theme. (When I visited in late March, the theme was "spring.") Dough is provided, and each guest (or couple) makes an inventive pizza designed to impress, to delight and to satiate. Then Joe whisks it away on a long, wooden pizza peel to the wood-burning oven in the backyard.
"Joe makes it look easy," says Tom Sullivan, who also brewed a special toasty, caramel-ly beer he calls "Scottish Wee Heavy." He brews something different for each Pizza Club.
In the beginning, the Deroches didn't have good luck with the oven. "The first two tries after we got it were a disaster," Joe says. He was a little worried — and annoyed. Joe then tells me a story to illustrate his point. "My mother once had a bird named Roscoe she really, really wanted to talk, but when it didn't — well, it still was the family pet — but it didn't get quite the attention it did before."
"That bird was forgotten," Victoria says later.
"I was going to write ‘Roscoe' in big letters across this pizza oven," Joe says. ("I wouldn't let him," Victoria adds). Instead, after those first two tries, they turned the corner pretty quickly.
Luckily. Otherwise, we wouldn't be treated to an earthy fiddlehead fern, pancetta, flat-leaf parsley and goat-cheese pizza. Or one with thinly sliced purple sweet potatoes with mozzarella and Parmesan. Or the most interesting and profoundly spring-like pizza, which was made by Deanna Rodgers and topped with sliced lamb, peas, feta and a blast of chopped, fresh mint sprinkled over top while it stood steaming, just out of the oven.
It was pouring rain that night, and Joe spent nearly three hours soaking wet, feeding the fire and baking pizza, fortified with little but beer and the occasional slice of pizza. "I made dough for 31 pizzas this time," says Victoria, "I had two KitchenAids going." All the dough was used, even the last one, which, when we all saw Joe's face when he was presented with it, made someone say, "I don't know if that (pizza peel) is steaming or Joe's head."
Inside, where it was warm and dry, folks were drinking an Italian summer standard, Prosecco with a lashing of Aperol and soda — a "Spritz." Each pizza that came in from the outside was sliced into slivers so that everyone could get a taste.
"People at Pizza Club are always asking, ‘Am I full?' You only eat an eighth of a piece [at a time]," Victoria says. "But then you pick and you eat, and by the end of the night, everyone says, ‘I am full!'"
I can attest to that. And I had an advantage since I was single-mindedly hanging around the tiny spot carved out from the plates of cheese and crackers and tapenade and other great things to eat on the kitchen island where the pizzas generally landed. All night long.
Here's my favorite (and the most unusual) pizza:
— Created by Curtis Brown
- 1 round of your favorite pizza dough
- 1 quart of strawberries (or to taste)
- Confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh mint
- Balsamic syrup (usually, but not always, called saba)
If you don't have your very own wood-burning pizza oven, preheat your normal oven to 425 degrees F.
Wash and de-hull the strawberries, leaving some whole and a few chopped thickly. Sprinkle the pizza dough with a few of the whole strawberries (six to eight) and lavish with honey. Dust generously with confectioners' sugar. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, watching carefully so that pizza browns and doesn't burn.
Remove from the oven and add the rest of the strawberries or to taste. Sprinkle all over with the chopped mint and more confectioners' sugar, finishing with a drizzle of balsamic syrup. Eat with abandon.