Which came first: the pizza or the bread? A trip out to Anchorage to visit the excellent MozzaPi might recalibrate your thinking on this not-so-simple question.
After all, if you’ve been eating pizza in Louisville over the past generation, you may be excused for thinking that pizza is all about the toppings. That’s the way Derby City pizzerias roll at such iconic local places as Impellizzeri’s, Clifton’s and Wick’s, where the signature pie is piled high with such goodies as sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, bacon and more. Crust? Nah. It’s just a vehicle for the goods.
But travel to Italy, particularly to sunny Naples where pizza was born, and you’ll find a completely different approach. Serious Neapolitan pizza is about the bread, not the tomatoes and cheese. We’re talking about crusty, chewy, firm Italian bread rolled out paper-thin, topped only lightly with fine ingredients, and then set next to a searing wood fire just long enough to sizzle the toppings and mark that crusty bread with dark, sweet, charred blisters.
That, folks, is what real pizza is all about.
And that’s what you’ll get when you make the pilgrimage out to MozzaPi, where the owner and certified pizzaiolo Tom Edwards is making remarkable artisanal breads from organic ancient grains grown by Kentucky farmers and milled in-house for the breads and combined with Italian Tipo 00 flour for the pizzas. (The bread business operates as LouisMill, sister company to MozzaPi.)
Head East through suburban Anchorage, and just a hundred yards or so after LaGrange Road crosses the tracks on the way to Crestwood, you’ll spot MozzaPi’s new, brick building, which looks like an oversized barn.
Built by Edwards with his sister and her husband, MozzaPi houses a remarkable pizza oven that’s wrapped in a shiny copper enclosure. “Over the years I have built several wood ovens, and this one is my latest creation,” Edwards said. “The oven core itself is a LaPanyol from France … made from clay that is fired at 2,000 degrees to form modular pieces. This allows for more even heat retention and better performance.”
MozzaPi serves pastries with coffee and espresso drinks weekday mornings; weekend brunch adds sourdough English muffin breakfast sandwiches priced from $6 to $8. Lunch brings pizza time, with a half-dozen nine-inch pies from $8 for a plain cheese to $12 for any of several specialty pies. There’s also Italian sandwiches ($12), salads ($9 to $11) and a house, rosemary focaccia bread appetizer ($3). There’s an extensive list of bottled beers, and a shorter but well-chosen wine list.
The room is large, with offbeat decor touches including a couple of giant chairs and a 12-foot grandfather clock, big multi-paned windows and oversize doors that can swing open in good weather to reveal a pretty patio.
Light and airy, tender-crust rosemary-scented foccacia gave the first hint of Edwards’ bread-making skills. It offered a gentle sour flavor and gained appeal from large, crunchy salt crystals scattered on top.
MozzaPi’s house salads are exceptional. (They’re $9 for a dinner salad, and $3 for a side.) A mix of baby spinach and field greens was carefully assembled, every leaf crisp and clean, tossed with cucumber chunks, halved grape tomatoes and carrot shreds, they’re dressed with a tastebud-tingling, grainy mustard vinaigrette and finished with thin slivers of Parmigiano.
A traditional cheese pizza ($8) and a pleasantly spicy spinach and ricotta pie ($12) were both first-rate, with Neapolitan-style thin, crisp bottom crust and bready edges pocked with charred blisters from the fire. The spinach pie featured a layer of raw baby spinach leaves over surprisingly hot-and-spicy tomato, topped with molten mozzarella slices and sweet ricotta. The cheese pizza was perfect in its simplicity, fine crust topped with sweet (not spicy) tomato sauce and a blanket of mozzarella and shreds of yellow cheese.
One of the best chocolate chip cookies I ever ate gained stature from coarse, wholewheat and a softening touch of rye. A gently sweet, coarse-texture cornmeal cookie was just as good. With ice water, a memorable lunch for two was $31.80, plus a computer-calculated 20 percent tip.
We couldn’t resist coming back for a morning visit, and ate all the pastries. An oversize blueberry muffin ($3) was featherlight, but gained texture from its outer grain; the baked exterior added pleasant crunch. A thick, rectangular cheese Danish ($3.50) was made the old-fashioned way, built on a laminate dough formed from hundreds of paper-thin layers. A pear-ginger scone ($3.50) put a different light on the whole idea of scones with its rich, textured whole-wheat base, a twist that makes extra sugar unnecessary.
With a large soy latte ($6) and fresh, strong coffee, breakfast came to $25 plus tip. We also lugged home a big bag loaded with a big, crusty red-wheat sourdough loaf ($8), and a bag of cold-smoked country-style yellow grits ($6). It’s a long ride out to MozzaPi from our city quarters, but it’s worth it. We’ll be back often.