When we began building Lockeland Table, I knew I wanted a wood burning pizza oven. I love pizza, and it’s been a part of my culinary story.
My mom and I were talking recently, and she didn’t remember this, but when I was 10 years old she gave me a cookbook by a chef called Mr. Food. It was written for young kids. I remember one of the first recipes I made was a hot dog pizza. They had you make the dough, the sauce and use sliced hot dogs as a substitute for pepperoni. Then you baked it. That experience obviously stuck with me. It was a big deal. My first scratch pizza.
When I finished the 11th grade of high school, I had to go to summer school to become eligible to play sports my senior year. One of the classes offered was Home Economics. That course pretty much solidified my future. I really enjoyed the cooking portions of the class. One day we made a pizza from scratch. I can remember waking up early on a summer morning and thinking other kids were sleeping in or at the pool, and here I was excited about going to summer school to make pizza.
Later, I put myself through college working at Tony’s Pizza Den- my home town pizza shop. When I was at the Greenbier I worked at the Golf Course, which included a restaurant that was part of the resort. That was where I experienced my first wood burning pizza oven. I enjoyed it so much. I knew I wanted one someday. I truly believe that the best pizza comes from high-temperature, wood burning ovens.
Speaking of the best pizza, I believe, as do many chefs, that the king of all pizzas is the Margherita. It defines pizza. Everything derives from it. Dough, tomato, cheese, olive oil, basil and salt. The simplicity of this pizza is what makes it beautiful. It’s a classic not to be altered.
I once had a guest ask for pepperoni on a Margherita pizza. They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t fulfill their request. After all, if you put pepperoni on a Margherita pizza, it’s no longer a Margherita pizza.
That being said, I am willing to add two things to the Margherita- a farm fresh egg and fresh arugula. An egg with a runny yolk doesn’t ruin too many things. And adding fresh arugula to the pizza after it comes out of the oven is a nice addition. I would do it for someone as long as we had fresh arugula in house. Those are my only two exceptions. And that’s as much flexibility as I have on the subject.
At Lockeland Table we take pride in our pizza menu. We are not a build your own pizza joint. In order for us to purchase ingredients and prep properly, we can’t allow guests to add or substitute items. Many people think, “Well, you have sausage for the Pig Pizza, why can’t you just add it to my Margherita?” The reason is because we’re all about the integrity of the food and the dish. It’s up to us to maintain high quality standards. And in doing so, we have to be consistent in how we answer requests.
Recently, my wife and I were traveling and we visited a pizzeria that a Lockeland guest had suggested. The guests were Italian and told us exactly where to go, so we we trusted their judgement. The experience was awesome. We ordered a Margherita as well as another pizza with lots of toppings. After I ate a piece of both, it just clicked again. “Why do I keep trying other types of pizza? I am in love with the Margherita.” It makes me happiest. And if I could only eat one pizza in my life, it would be the Margherita. There’s a place for others, but the Margherita is the one that puts the biggest smile on my face. The level of happiness that it brings my belly, mouth and brain…it doesn’t get much better than this. I think I’ve made my point. I just love pizza production—period.