There is chewy pizza. There is doughy pizza. There is pizza that shatters like a cracker, and pizza as thick as a pie dish.And there is pizza with a tender, pastry-style crust – a style I find particularly interesting. A pastry pizza crust can be at once tender, pliable and sturdy. The texture is contradictory to the more predictable chewy-thin or doughy-thick pies at the base of so many pies.
The Stonegate, a combination nightclub, lounge and pizza restaurant that opened in October on South Tacoma Way, delivers a crust with a tender crumble, like a delicate cracker with a subtle crunch.....
You might guess that a tender-tasting crust might equal a floppy slice. Not so at Stonegate. Despite its soft pastry mouth feel, even loaded with toppings, it feels solid. Holding a single hot slice without supporting the entire piece, I got almost no pizza flop – a common complaint I have with chewy-style pizza dough at most pizza places. I want to pick up a slice and eat it in hand without the tip folding down, dripping sauce and globs of cheese onto my plate. Floppy equals crummy pizza in my book.
The crust at Stonegate is an interesting story in itself. Owner Jeff Call said when he told his uncle, Larry Turco, of his plans to open a nightclub with a restaurant serving pizza, his uncle offered help with a basic pizza dough recipe. It was an offer Call couldn’t refuse. His uncle is Larry Turco – the man who brought the original pizza dough recipe to Cloverleaf Pizza in 1961.
According to the Cloverleaf, in 1971, Turco sold his interest in the restaurant to Lennard Manke, who owned the restaurant until 2004. The current owner, Debbie Manke, said in an e-mail that she has talked to Turco at length in tracing the history of the Cloverleaf, but she isn’t quite sure how his original Cloverleaf pizza recipe evolved. She recently spent some time retooling the dough.
“There was no written recipe and each person was verbally trained by another to make the dough. 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,” she said.
While the doughs at the two restaurants share a pastry quality to the texture, they differ in flavor. But there are similarities in each that remind me of the other. The Stonegate pizza crust is tender with a flaky mouth feel, and the dough flavor is lightly sweet. The Cloverleaf pizza crust is a bit more crunchy, with more crispness in the crust. Either way, both restaurants make tasty pizzas.
LEARNING THE DOUGH
“When he came (to teach me the recipe), he brought some friends over. My uncle is 89, he can’t see, he has macular degeneration,” said Call. Kitchen assistance for Turco came in the form of former co-worker Frank Bartenetti and his brother Ralph Turco.
“Frank made this gooey mess. When I originally was doing the pizzas, I picked out a spot (in the kitchen) where I could throw up a pizza, but our pizzas are not like that. The dough is more like bubble gum; it’s a sticky dough.” Instead of tossing the pizza to stretch the dough, it must be pressed into the pan.
It’s the stickiness that makes the dough different. “You get the best crust. You get down to the crust, and you’re not feeding the crust to the dog. It’s a thin crust, it’s not a cracker or like a big bread thing, the crust is just perfect. It’s a nice thin crust when you pull it out, the (slice) stands right up,” said Call.
The pies I ordered had toppings that didn’t burden the crust – overloading is one of my pet peeves that leads to pizza flop. The pizzas at the Stonegate skew on the small side at 12 inches. It might be enough for two to share, but you might not go home with leftovers.
Pizza takes time at the Stonegate, just as it does at the Cloverleaf. Don’t expect food on your table in 10 minutes. The pizza has a 20- to 30-minute preparation window.
Stonegate opened with a limited pizza menu, but last week expanded its offerings to include entrees, pasta and sandwiches. Twelve-inch pizzas priced from $8 to $16 still comprise the bulk of the menu.
An adjoining adult lounge specializes in rum-based concoctions. Although the adjoining and upstairs parts of the business seem well-designed, the neighboring pizza restaurant is sterile looking inside, and it needs the addition of some framed photos or something for the bare walls. Call said the pizza restaurant is a work in progress, and he’ll continue to tweak the appearance.
The restaurant offers a few unusual pizza combinations on the menu. The Angry Hawaiian ($16) sounded interesting with a combination of chicken, pineapple, bell peppers, ginger and mozzarella cheese on a sauce base of sweet chili sauce, with coconut milk drizzled on top. I wasn’t brave enough to order the strange-sounding pizza topped with mini hamburgers, bacon and mini fries ($16). I opted instead for The Greek ($16), a pizza with a garlic-butter sauce base and topped with mozzarella and feta cheeses, diced garlic, red onions, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, oregano and fresh spinach. The Italian Meatball ($14) was a thicker pie, and I thought the small meatballs on top added more grease than some palates may prefer. The pizza was topped with a lightly sweet red sauce and mozzarella cheese. The pizza came oven-blasted with a crunchy, blistered crust.
As for the Cloverleaf, I stopped in recently to take the pizza dough on a test run for comparison’s sake. I ordered the house favorite ($9.60 regular/$16.70 huge) and was pleased to find a pie with freshly sliced mushrooms and pepperoni. The white-sauce chicken ($11.85 regular/$20.90 huge) was smeared with a heavy dose of garlicky Alfredo sauce and covered with mozzarella and jack cheese, red onions, fresh mushrooms and garlic. Whether the dough has evolved or changed since Larry Turco first brought the recipe there, I can’t say. But what I can say is it’s some of my favorite pizza in town.
StonegateWhere: 5421 South Tacoma Way, TacomaInformation: 253-473-2255 or stonegatepizza.comWhile there: Check out the Rum Room, an adjoining lounge that servers a wide variety of rums.
Cloverleaf Pizza & Tavern Where: 6430 Sixth Ave., TacomaInformation: 253-565-1111 or www.cloverleafpizza.comWhile there: Check out one of the most interesting hand-painted murals of any restaurant in town – a replica of Safeco Field spans the Cloverleaf dining room.