Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: Wewalka Classic Pizza Crust - European Style Dough

For home pizza makers, the biggest challenge is the crust. There are plenty of good recipes to make your own dough - this one to emulate Roberta's pizza is one of my favorites. I often opt for a shortcut, buying a ball of pizza dough from a bakery, Trader Joe's, or Whole Foods.

Earlier this year, I tried a pizza-ready dough by Pillsbury, where the crust is rolled in parchment paper. Unroll it onto a baking sheet (including the parchment paper), add toppings, and bake. I was pleasantly surprised by the result - a thin, chewy, and tasty crust that held up well to my toppings.

Thanks to a reader comment on that review, I discovered a similar product by Wewalka, made in Austria and carried in Giant supermarkets in my region of Pennsylvania. I found a "buy one get one" sale and picked up the "Classic" (14.1 ounce rectangular crust)  and the "Bistro" (7.8 ounce round crust). 

To compare it to the Pillsbury product, I chose the rectangle crust for my first attempt. There is a big calorie difference here, worth noting. The Pillsbury crust has 600 calories, which works out to 75 crust calories per slice if cut into eight servings. This Wewalka Classic checks in at 1040 calories, which comes to 130 calories per slice. The Wewalka Bistro, weighing 6 ounces less, has 560 calories.
Summer tomatoes
The dough rolled out a bit more easily than the Pillsbury dough, and it filled most of a large baking sheet. For my sauce, I diced some red and orange summertime garden tomatoes, and drained them for a few hours. I saved the juice and boiled it down with some olive oil, salt, and a pinch of sugar. I then took that thickened liquid and combined it with the fresh diced tomato. (I generally avoid fresh tomatoes on pizza due to the excess moisture, but this labor-intensive process solved the water issue.)

I used two cheeses - some Priano fresh mozzarella (from ALDI) and some Asiago. I added some red and orange sweet peppers (mostly for color) and thin slices from a large clove of fresh garlic. Finally, I squeezed out 4 ounces of fresh (raw) Italian sausage from its casing to make lovely chunks that cook on the pizza. 
Following package directions, I baked the pie for about 18-19 minutes at 425 degrees. Out of the oven, I topped the pie with fresh chopped basil. The overall product was delicious, but that was mostly due to the sauce of summer tomatoes, the excellent cheeses, and the sausage. The crust was thin, dense, golden brown, chewy, and sturdy enough to support the toppings.

Out of the oven
However, the crust was blandly flavored. I remember the Pillsbury crust being oddly reminiscent of a Chinese dumpling in texture and flavor, but this crust had little distinct flavor. It served nicely as a vehicle for the toppings, but did not stand out in any other way. 

Based on results to date, my top choice for home pizza dough (beyond make your own) remains the $4 dough ball at Whole Foods. The $2 dough ball at Trader Joe's would be my next choice. Due to its convenience and low calories, the Pillsbury dough comes in third. I enjoyed our pizza on the Wewalka Classic crust, but it's in fourth place here.
Underside of crust
I'll update this post if I get a different result with the Bistro crust. Add your experience in the comments section.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Review: EVO Pizza, North Charleston, SC

Coastal Carolina is a wonderful place for visitors - historic mansions and plantations, pristine beaches, the charm of Charleston, and of course that low country cooking. During an 8 day stretch spent on Kiawah Island and in Charleston, I had (and fulfilled) great expectations for local fare like shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and okra gumbo.

My pizza bar was set a bit lower - but I did some scouting ahead of time and found four pizza places of interest in or near Charleston. I expected nothing better than ordinary tourist stuff around Kiawah, but we were astonished and delighted to stumble upon La Tela in a modern shopping center just a mile or so outside the island.

We struck gold again on our short trek from Kiawah to Charleston, stopping at Crust Wood-Fired Pizza on James Island. Before we even got into our hotel room in the French Quarter we'd found two wonderful Neapolitan-style pies. That's already two more than I had anticipated.

Our last day was a Sunday with a short agenda. We had visited the wonderful Drayton Hall on the outskirts of Charleston and found ourselves in a remote area with time to kill before a late flight home. Since we hadn't yet visited the top pizzeria from my scouting report, we decided to head to EVO in North Charleston on a hot afternoon.
What remained of our corn salad
EVO ("Extra Virgin Oven") is located on a quiet boulevard that looks like an old-time Mayberry-ish strip of downtown storefronts, except that every one had been updated to a hip destination for dining or yoga or other services. We felt that we could likely get a good meal in any spot there.

The interior was comfortable and casual, and we were greeted promptly and warmly. Because the personal size pies were listed at 12" and we had no capacity for taking home leftovers, we decided to split one salad and one pizza.

The salads come in two sizes, and the large size ($11) is big enough to be a meal. From an inventive list, we chose the Corn Salad, which featured tender mixed greens, fresh roasted corn, and a cured meat that (I think) was bacon, all in a savory dressing. We were hungry and that salad was terrific, which explains why there is only a picture of it after more than half was eaten. 

The pizza menu likewise offered options that were inventive without venturing into the weird or the excessive. We settled on a special "speck and mushroom" pizza ($15) that featured that wonderful cured meat (speck is - to me - the best take on prosciutto), deeply flavored mushrooms, and basil pine nut pesto.

The pizza arrived at our table cut into 6 slices. It looked beautiful, top and bottom. A big and puffy cornicione, plenty of leopard spotting, and a generous distribution of curled and crisp speck.

EVO is both a bakery and a pizzeria, and it seems they have some special bread skills. The pies at Crust and La Tela had both sported flawless Neapolitan or Neapolitan hybrid crusts, but this crust was at another level. It had all the elements of great bread - flavor, a tender chew, structure to support the toppings, and a crisp crunch.

But the crust was only the beginning here. Some white pies can be tame in flavor, lacking the acidic punch of a good red sauce. Here, though, was an explosion of deep savory flavors. I wish I had taken note of what kind of mushrooms were used (shittake?), but there was an umami party going on here.

While the cured meat and mushrooms provided the first burst of flavor, it was the basil pinenut pesto that brought all the elements into harmony. I'm sure the cheese was top grade, but it took a bit of a back seat to the intense flavors even as it was an essential element to balance the textures.

Mrs. Quixote rarely battles me for the last slice, but here we instantly lamented when it was gone. This was about a perfect pizza, and she said it was the best pizza of her life. I'm not ready to go that far, but it's the most flavorful pizza I can recall and this pie should make anybody's Top Ten list.

The "Extra Virgin Oven"
There's a thousand reasons to visit the Charleston area, and EVO may be the best of them. Absolutely destination pizza, worth the trip no matter where your starting point may be.

Evo Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Crust Wood Fired Pizza, James Island SC

Crust Wood-Fired Pizza occupies a cozy spot in a James Island strip mall on Maybank Highway, just south of the Charleston peninsula. We visited at lunch time on a Friday and chose patio seating despite the intense heat of a Carolina July day; shade and porch fans kept it comfortable.

From a list of creative pizza options, we chose to share two 12" personal size Neapolitan pies. One was a fairly conventional pizza with red sauce and mozzarella, albeit a bit heavily loaded with the three-meat topping of pepperoni, sausage, and bacon. The second pie was the "Crustacean" with spicy shrimp, prosciutto, arugula pesto, feta, fresh mozzarella, fresh arugula,  and chili oil.

At a pizzeria named "Crust," the expectations are high for the dough base of the pie. I'm happy to report that Crust earns its name. This is a pretty pure version of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, made in a wood-fired oven (although not a dome oven) with the characteristic puffy cornicione and leopard spotting.

On both pies, the crust was soft but not floppy, thin everywhere except the cornicione, and delicious all by itself. On some Neapolitans, the white pies work better because the reduced moisture load (no red sauce) prevents the pie from becoming soggy in the middle. 

Here, both pies were expertly crafted and there was no hint of the wet center that spoils so many otherwise tasty Neapolitan pizzas.

The Crustacean pie sported several large brick red pieces of shrimp, made dark by spices. Seafood on pizza is a difficult challenge, because the intense heat required for any pizza - and especially a Neapolitan - is a threat to obliterate delicate seafood like shrimp. The shrimp here did not seem to suffer; perhaps they were added toward the end of the bake cycle.

What dominated that pie, though, was the arugula pesto. It blended smartly with the fresh mozzarella cheese and prosciutto. There were a lot of flavors going on here, and the shrimp got a little bit lost in competition with the meat, cheese, pesto, chili oil, and fresh arugula. All told this was a wonderful pizza, but I think it would not have been very different if made with any spicy meat in place of the shrimp.

The three-meat pie was also a bit of risk of too much bulk in the toppings, but the crust was up to the job. The red sauce was simple but prominent among the flavors. 

The pepperoni was thin and nicely crisped, and adhered well to the base as did the bacon. The sausage, pre-cooked large crumbles, added another dimension of flavor.

On most pizzas, Neapolitan or otherwise, I prefer traditional dry mozzarella to fresh mozzarella, because it doesn't release much water into the pie and it typically has more flavor. On both of these pizzas, however, the wonderful flavor of the fresh mozz was a standout. It seemed creamy and somehow more dense than most fresh mozzarella. It helped turn good pizza into great pizza.
The wood-fired oven
Just days earlier, we'd eaten shockingly good pizza at La Tela, also on James Island just outside Kiawah. Here again, we found pizza that was essentially flawless. An ideally-rendered and authentic Neapolitan crust topped with deeply flavorful fresh mozzarella and well-mated toppings. We asked ourselves if Crust or La Tela had better pizza - but the answer is that they are both wonderful.

Crust Wood Fired Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato