Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., March 10
Do Wood-Fired Beehives Bake the Best Pizzas?
Pizzeria Calabria's Arne Holt is proud of the fact that he has a beehive-shaped pizza built by Stefano Ferrara of Naples, Italy (see this week's Tin Fork).
It's da bomb, when it comes to baking traditional Neapolitano pizzas (and they say the original pizzas came from Naples, back when Greeks and Romans were running round the port city in togas. Except, turns out, these types of ovens have been around for 6000 years. That's almost before we stood up on two feet).
But it also turns out beehive ovens are very American, too. During the time of the 13 colonies, just about every household had one. They were easy to build, easy to fire (you just stuck some wood in there, lit it, and waited a few hours), and they kept the heat.
The colonists would bake just about everything in them from bread to pies to crackers. How would they know if it was hot enough? Stick their arm in it. If the hairs singed off, it was ready.
Giancarlo, Pizza Calabria's pizza chef, insists his pizzas are better because he only burns oak. But does the wood really make a difference? Heck, is it any different if you cook with gas-fueled flames?
Fr'instance, I was in A Brooklyn Pizzeria (401 C Street, downtown, 619-232-1900) and remember the beautiful red-tile oven with Greek stone floor that you baked the pizza pie on -- but using gas flames. My pepperoni slice tasted great. I wouldn't have known the difference.
Many say the oak affects the flavor in wood-fired ovens. But others, including Wood Stone, the Washington-based oven maker, which makes wood and gas-fired pizza ovens, and started off as passionate "woodies," say they've now concluded it doesn't make any difference.
Having a good stone cooking surface is the most important for caramelization, flavor, they say. The smoke doesn't contact the low-cated pie.
I can't help preferring the idea that flavorful wood is cooking your pie, not yukky gas, but maybe that's one of our nat'ral yearning urban myths.
What do you think?
Pizza Calabria (3933 30th in North Park, 619-291-1759) is open Wednesday to Sunday, 5 p.m - 10 p.m.