The first hot rod movement was sparked by people who realized cast off objects still had plenty of potential. Kids walking to school in post WWII America passed junkyards where derelict Model T Fords, relics even then, baked in the sun. An after school job's income could net you one of those heaps, and with it came your first taste of independence. Dropping in a salvaged flathead V-8 could make that old bucket loud, fast, and dangerous. The sexy combination was like flypaper to teenagers and young veterans, and their creativity launched an American culture.
Newly opened PizzaCo, just across the street from Two Roads Brewing Company, is one such hot rod. Once the site of several thoroughly defunct gas stations, the old place has been cleaned up, given a new paint job, and had its own motor swap. The driving engine is now a Marra Forni oven. They call their pizza "Garage Fired," and PizzaCo's edge was hiring world champion Bruno DiFabio to create it.
If the name sounds familiar, it's because you've seen Bruno on the Food Network, or had his pizza at Amore Cucina & Bar in Stamford's Springdale neighborhood. Bruno has won the world pizza championships six times, and owns The Academy of Pizza Science. PizzaCo co-owner Jordan Bochanis has worked extensively with Two Roads designing labels and merchandise, and drove past the location regularly before bringing it back to life.
"We hired Bruno as a consultant, and he hung in there way above and beyond what we hired him to do," he told CTBites. "Bruno created the pizza, worked in our kitchen, and recommended the oven. All of our kitchen staff do residencies at Village Tavern and Amore before they work here."
The dough he created for PizzaCo takes three days to make. On the first day the flour and water are mixed and left to leaven slightly into a "mother" dough. On the second, the fresh dough is mixed with a starter dough from a previously finished batch, and by the third, the dough is ready for the oven.
Walk inside and PizzaCo's heritage is all around you. Vintage fuel pumps, signs advertising foreign and domestic car service, and other automobilia abound. The Hobart mixer has a flame job, and the beer tap has been pinstriped. TVs play old greaser flicks on either side of a bar labeled "LUBRICATION." Garage bay doors promise to let in warm breezes and the sound of revving engines on summer nights.
Over a few trips I was able to sample several different pizzas and side plates. Appetizers are called Engine Starters on the menu, and the meatballs come three at a time, dressed with pomodoro sauce, and gathered around a scoop of herbed ricotta. The meatballs are loosely packed without a lot of bread or other adjuncts, and well spiced under the sweet, fresh tasting tomato sauce. The ricotta almost seems like icing in this context, and adds a smooth roundness to the herbs and meat.
I chose to get the Oven-Fired Chicken Wings with the house made spicy rub - the other options being garlic herb wings - and they arrived with two creamy dips, one with added hot sauce. The rub was extremely tasty. With plenty of heat and smoke, it complimented the chicken greatly. The wings themselves were not as good. They were slightly small, and the meat had pulled away from the bone, possibly during the cooking process. I'll call it a hiccup in quality control during the restaurant's early running until I see it again.
One of PizzaCo's must have pies is the Scamotz (pronounced "ska-moats"), a vintage Bridgeport pizza made with tomato sauce, oregano, garlic, and Scamorza cheese. It's about 12" across, like every pizza there, and the simplicity allows each of the ingredients to be appreciated. PizzaCo seems to have a heavy hand with garlic in all their creations, and I'm a fan, but it highlights rather than overpowers the sweet tomato sauce and pungent Scamorza in the Scamotz.
The crust is arguably the best part about anything from PizzaCo. The rotating floor, gas oven (would you expect anything else in a garage?) is kept screaming hot, and the crust bubbles and caramelizes at its edges without being overdone. The outside of the crust retains a chewy, yeasty interior which makes tossing it aside borderline sinful. The Full Service Special - some may dare call it a Meat Lover's - with tomato sauce, pepperoni, ham, sausage, ground meatballs, mozzarella, ricotta and oregano was the only pie which had the fortitude to make the crust an afterthought.
The Margarita, with just red sauce, basil, and bright circles of melted fresh mozzarella is your yardstick "plain cheese" pizza, and it's likewise excellent, largely due to the quality of the ingredients. Bochanis told us he felt free to use better ingredients in a $12, 12" pizza partially due to PizzaCo's close proximity to Two Roads.
"The people who go there know better quality, and we thought we could establish a place doing craft pizza, and people who looked for craft beer would appreciate it and respond."
The Green Light is a white pizza made with a smaller amount of ricotta and mozzarella, and topped with fresh spinach. The spinach wilts down fairly quickly on the hot pie, but isn't otherwise adversely affected, and the combination of the cheese and greens on a base of outstanding crust, plus plenty of garlic of course, keeps the slices light, yet very satisfying. The plan is to increase the use of seasonal ingredients as they become available, so the menu should change periodically.
PizzaCo serves gelato made for them by Cafe Madeline of Fairfield which incorporates Two Roads Espressway coffee stout. The stout itself is effectively cold brewed with a mixture of Ethiopian and Sumatran beans, and the result is a dense, rich coffee gelato with the barest hint of alcohol detectable right on the roof of your mouth. A spring gelato made with Two Roads Road Jam, and other special flavors, will pop up from time to time. Dessert pizzas are available for the decadent.
I'm off to get my car chopped and channeled. Gotta look the part.
PizzaCo, 1625 Stratford Ave., Stratford; 203 612 7520;
Photography courtesy of ©Sandro de Carvalho, sandro-photo.com