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Hook reporter Dave McNair tries his hand at pizza making. He should keep his day job.
As a nurse anesthetist, Sharlene McNeish frees people from experiencing pain, but in a new side venture as pizza maker she hopes to deliver the pleasure that comes from eating authentic Neapolitan pizza.
About a year ago she bought an outdoor wood-fired oven for her home in Troy, Virginia, wanting to bake fresh bread for her family. She even took bread making classes. She eventually began roasting vegetables, chicken, and making pizzas in the oven, and the compliments from friends and family started rolling in.
"Roasting food just takes it to an entirely different level," she says.
On a whim, she decided to take a guided pizza tasting tour in New York City, and experienced the real deal.
"I wasn't really a pizza person," she says, "but after tasting authentic Neapolitan pizza, it changed my palate."
Indeed, it inspired her to launch a whole new career as a pizza chef. She would end up training with renowned "pizzaioli" Giulio Adriani in New York City, owner of Forcella, and one of the senior pizza makers in the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), an Italian organization that protects the professionalism of the pizza makers in Italy and around the world, making sure real Neapolitan Pizza is made according to tradition. She would also make a trip to the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, where she would meet Tony Gemignani, a two-time Food Network pizza-tossing gold medalist, and the first American to win the World Pizza Championship in Italy. Eventually, McNeish herself would become certified by the AVPN in the art of Neapolitan Pizza making and form her new company Bufala!, from the Italian mozzarella di buffalo, traditionally made from the milk of Italian water buffalo.
Now she wants to bring her expertise to Charlottesville.
"This is what C'ville really needs," she says, "C'ville needs to know what real pizza is."
So, what exactly is real Neapolitan Pizza?
Well, it starts with a 200-year-old recipe and a wood-fired oven that reaches temperatures up to 800 degrees. Special flour from Naples, called cabuto, is required, as is a special Italian fork mixer that simulates your hands tossing the dough, very slowly. The dough is then fermented overnight in balls for flavor and spread out by hand the next day. Tomatoes and mozzarella cheese from Naples are also used, and the pizza is cooked for only 60 to 90 seconds in the super-hot oven.
The pizza, best eaten right out of the oven, is soft and billowy on the edges, but crisp, and has a smoky flavor from the fire. Indeed, Dish sampled the thin crust pizza, which is so much more delicate than traditional pizza that it isn't as filling. Flavors from toppings like garlic, prosciutto, shittake mushrooms, or sopressata soak into the smooth, milky bufala mozzarella and seem stronger, more fresh than traditional pizza.
Okay, now our mouths are watering, but there's just one problem. To get this special kind of pizza to town, McNeish needs about $30,000 for a mobile wood-fired pizza oven, the special Italian mixer, and other equipment. Right now, she's got a Kickstarter campaign going (check her website www.pizzastalker.blogspot.com for updates), and is hopeful she'll be in business this fall. She's not so much shooting for a food truck, as she is a cart or trailer in which she can transport the oven and cook in the open air at places like the City Market and special events.
"Naples pizza sellers actually started with push carts," says McNeish, "as far as history goes, it's a poor man's food."
Ah, but wouldn't our already exciting and diverse culinary scene be all the more richer with pizza like this?
Topeka's closes, Shadwell's to open
After four-and-half years, Topeka's Steakhouse on Pantops, right beside the Hilton Garden Inn, will close the week of June 17. The owners of the budding chain, which has restaurants in Richmond and Midlothian, spared no expense when they opened in late 2008, building an elaborate brick building for the steakhouse, a kind of mini, altered version of Monticello, which, according to a building permit at the time, cost over $800,000. Of course, one restaurant owner's bad luck is another's good fortune.
"We got this opportunity because of the misfortune of Topeka's closing," says Matthew Kossin, talking about the new place he and his partners plan to open in the space. "We wanted a local name with a local feel, thus it will be called Shadwell's. It fits the area well and we want it to be known as just a great local restaurant where everyone feels welcome."
Kossin, who says he's worked for 28 years in the restaurant business, hopes to open the first week of July.
"We'll feature fresh seafood, hand cut steaks, awesome salads and a few pastas to boot," he says. "And we'll continue to make our own rolls, hamburger buns, grind our meat fresh, and utilize this great area for its local produce."
Stayed tuned for more as the place gets ready to open.
Charlottesville Restaurant Week!
Noticed your stomach making strange grumblings and your wallet leaping like a hot tamale? Don't worry— it'll all stop the week of July 8-14 with the arrival of Charlottesville Restaurant Week! For the first time, Restaurant Week will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia and pricing from $16 to $36 means there's a fit for every budget. There are 27 restaurants on board, and menus are being added at charlottesvillerestaurantweek.com. Start making plans!