If you’ve bitten into the crust of a Cloverleaf pizza, you notice the difference. It doesn’t come with the usual chewy tug of regular pizza dough. It’s a thin, pastry-style crust that is at once tender, pliable and sturdy. It doesn’t shatter like a cracker, but it’s got crunch. There’s no tossing aside these crusts.
The Cloverleaf itself also is a Tacoma institution. It celebrated 50 years of pizza this week. The story of the Cloverleaf crust goes as deep as a Chicago pie. Larry Turco brought the original pizza dough recipe to Cloverleaf Pizza in 1961. In 1971, Turco sold his interest in the restaurant to Lennard Manke, who owned the restaurant until 2004.
The current owner, Debbie Manke, Lennard’s daughter-in-law, told me a bit about the history of the Cloverleaf dough when I wrote an article two years ago about Stonegate Pizza owner Jeff Call. Call’s uncle, Larry Turco, came out of pizza retirement to create the Stonegate pizza dough using Turco’s old Cloverleaf recipe. (The Stonegate is at 5419 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253-473-2255.)
Today’s Cloverleaf dough is slightly different from the one Turco introduced, but it’s Turco’s doughy offspring.
“There was no written recipe and each person was verbally trained by another to make the dough,” said Debbie Manke. “I took an entire year to create a recipe that combined all the others, so now everyone makes it the same, and we use a consistent recipe.”
What makes it such a good crust? The texture. It’s a sticky dough that sits for a day, resulting in better flavor and texture.
My favorite Cloverleaf pie is mushroom and pepperoni. I like the crispy crust. I call it the Turco crunch.
THE CLIFF HOUSE, REBORN
The Dumpster out front was the first sign that the Cliff House is about to get a makeover for its reopening this winter after being closed for most of 2011.
It’s about time that the magenta booths and dated decor disappeared. Diners are ready for a change. OK, well, I’m ready for a change. I reviewed the restaurant in October 2010, and I noted the building was showing serious wear.
Giuseppe “Joe” Nappo, best known for his Federal Way restaurant Verrazano’s, is in the process of restoring the building and continuing its legacy of prom-night dining, waterfront views and upscale regional cuisine. He plans a January 2012 reopening.
The Cliff House first opened in 1925 and is a restaurant with serious history in Northeast Tacoma. But it has suffered through revolving operators for the last two years. It first closed in December 2009 while in the care of operator Robert Denny. Then Sue Glenn, owner of Gig Harbor’s Green Turtle, operated the Cliff House from around June 2010 until January 2011 when it closed again. In the spring I interviewed another woman by phone who said she was remodeling the Cliff House, but she stopped returning my phone calls. I still don’t know what happened to her.
Here’s what’s happening now: Nappo told me he purchased the Cliff House from Guido Brendicke, who owned the Cliff House for more than 30 years. Said Nappo, “It’s got great bones and everything else, it needed to be updated.”
However, he added, “this is such an institution, it’s got such history, I’m treading lightly on what I will be doing and what I won’t be doing.” That means it will be updated, but change will be modest. The wood accents will remain. The basic layout of the dining room will remain. But the bathrooms have been taken down to the studs. And Nappo is creating a bar upstairs.
Both upstairs and downstairs will serve the same menu, Nappo told me by phone. That menu, he said, will provide multiple price points, with some dinner entrees in the mid-teens, and some topping out at $30. Most prices will hover in the high teens to $20s.
The restaurant will serve lunch daily with affordable options in the $10 range, he said.
The menu will look like what Cliff House regulars would expect: “regionally inspired, but with international flare,” said Nappo.
I’ll write more as the opening date nears.
EZELL’S TRIES TACOMA AGAIN
Lewis Rudd is banking on a fifth location being the charm for Ezell’s Famous Chicken in Tacoma. When I talked to Rudd, he was expecting a new Ezell’s to open this week in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, near St. Joseph’s Medical Center.
Ezell’s has tried at least four times before to make a go in Tacoma. Franchise stores opened from 2000-05 on 56th Street, at Tacoma Mall, on 72nd Street and at Sixth Avenue. The 56th, Tacoma Mall and Sixth Avenue stores were short-lived, but the 72nd Street restaurant operated for about three years – first by the franchise operator, then by the Ezell’s corporation.
Rudd said the franchise operator ran into trouble. “He made a couple of choices we would not have made from a corporate standpoint. It didn’t work out well for him. We believe it’s still a good market in Tacoma,” said Rudd, who founded the fried chicken restaurant chain in 1984 in Seattle’s Central Area with Ezell and Faye Stephens and two other Rudd and Stephens siblings.
The chain has six locations.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals. Reach her at 253-597-8270 or email@example.com.