We’ve become blessed, or even overwhelmed, with so many choices in foods these days, that its no wonder everyone is a “foodie” or critical of the food around us. Once we get past the food fads like “low-fat, fat-free, Atkins-friendly” people like chefs and cooks in the food service industry really start to become creative. I recognize that there is now a gluten-free society, and I am not sure if its legit or if its just due to an allergy to genetically modified foods (GMOs). I honestly have not done enough research to judge at this point. What I can judge is a chef’s “creativity” based on nothing more than hiking the price of a pizza and making it half the size and calling it hand crafted “artisan” pizza. Artisan, hand-crafted, local, farm-raised are all marketing terms (even on a small local level) that really mean nothing. Yes, local and small can be the largest farm in your state, or the smallest across the country (which is local in that county). Food still has to be prepared by hand in restaurants even if it comes from a can or package. And, unless you have been a pizza maker for 3 generations and/or that is the only thing you’ve done all your life, its just a buzz word or advertising phrase. Yes, you have to pay your dues and it does not mean owning a brick oven and coming up with a fancy pizza that no one else in town has.
Enter the Duck Pizza. It is a brick-oven pizza with duck confit (duck leg braised in duck fat for several hours), roasted parsnip, baby arugula, leeks and fontina cheese. I won’t get into all the things I just don’t get, can’t understand, refuse to understand, or even understand but do not like. But let me describe this pizza to you: Shredded duck with a dominant taste of duck obviously, but not much else other than gamey. But, duck is like that, so we look to the next flavor element; leeks. I really did not taste the leeks at all, I saw them in there, but they were in the melted fontina, which is slightly bitter in taste, so the leeks lost to the cheese; the bitterness of the fontina cheese (creamy) was lost to the bitterness of the arugula which is a leafy vegetable; the roasted parsnips (which are a lot like carrots in taste) added a bit of sweetness; last, but certainly not least, everything that makes a pizza, is the dough and crust. This had that great brick oven taste, but with each bite you were anxious to get through awkward medley of sweet, bitter and savory flavors of a flavor combination that clearly was not working, to get to the thick brick oven crust which would have been fine on its own with no toppings to spoil it.
And, just for the record, while I said I was not going to go into all the things I don’t or won’t understand, I recognize there are plenty of popular food pairings which continue to be classics like grilled peached or bacon wrapped scallops. I understand the charcoal grill taste of food, but not on peaches. I understand anything is better with bacon, but scallops are fine by themselves. When I asked about duck on pizza, one person told me a French place by her did it and she loved it, but she admitted it was paired with caramelized onions and one other ingredient. I would thing it would have been cheese, and I can understand that combination, but certainly not parsnips or arugula. Those are best left in a salad aside from the pizza itself.
This place in town is new, and I am not a gambler, but I am willing to bet money as to how long this place will be in business if they don’t change their menu soon. Its been 5 different owners/restaurants in the last 10 years, that I can recall, and there must be some sort of calling for duck confit pizza, or they would not offer it as one of their prized menu items. Time will tell, however, a brick oven and a laborer that knows how to place a pizza into the oven, look at the crust and decide its cooked, does not an artisan. I don’t discourage local farm and businesses or people who truly go at it with and old and lost forgotten ideal in mind. I do have a huge problem with people using catch phrases and throwing odd items on a piece of dough half the size of a normal pizza and charging twice as much, even though the “fancy” ingredients are actually even less than half of traditional toppings.
I give every place praised 2-3 chances. A friend who owns a restaurant said this was his new “gourmet” pizza place. First time, I decided to go safe and order the margherita, again, fancy name for the simplest original pizza in the honor of the colors of the Italian flag: red, white, green; tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil. As you can clearly see, some of the crust is charred (which is actually what I like), other is white (not thoroughly cooked) and the cheese is not fully melted. Strike one. Strike 2, duck confit. Stay tuned for strike 3: And yes, it happened, sooner rather than later.
I worked 2 Fridays in a row, missing my weekly “pizza night”. And, was not in the mood to cook after working 33 hours in one weekend. So I justified having “pizza” by the fact that it was not really pizza. I mean, look at it. I understand its hand tossed (“crafted”) and they state on their menu the pizza is not always round because each is made fresh to order, I don’t have a problem with that, but what’s with the crust? At 10 O’clock it fine, perfect even, but the bottom half is engulfed with crust. Some say that’s the best part, but again, for me, its has to be a balance. So, forgetting all that, the fail. Caramelized onions are always good, I can eat them with anything and alone. So why not with bread from a wood fired oven? But, the introduction of gorgonzola makes it a fail. The cheese is so pungent and overpowering it overwhelms the sweetness of the onion. Gorgonzola, just so you know, its Italian blue cheese, just much more stronger in flavor. I understand it in a salad or on crackers or in a spread, but like fontina, it does not work on pizza. Forget any of the micro-pieces of walnuts, as you can probably see, there are barely any, and some bites I tasted them but other slices not at all. In fact, I forgot they were even supposed to be on there until my second slice when I finally did taste them.
So, I guess my dilemma, they had 3 shots, starting with the most basic example below. All 3 disappointments. Do I try just one more time giving them points for uniqueness and thinking outside the box? Do I give up on their pizza and try dining in to taste some of their other “artisan” specialties, or do I just quit now that I am nearly $60 and 4 items into their menu? I think, to be smart, I will wait until its too hot to cook or even grill, that should be June that we will see our first day of 90F weather. Then, if they are still in business, I will give it a try. If they are no longer in business by the end of June, than my suspicions would prove true. There is no place for a pizza place that does not know that pizza must consist of dough, cooked in an oven, with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. If you can’t get those 3 basics down, its not worth a 2nd look.
PS – Basil…? Really! I mean Really?! The stuff grows wild like weeds and I pay $14 for what looks like less than one small sliced leaf of it? At least give a customer equal distribution of it, and I hate to see profits cut back by .07 cents per order/customer, but this needs another leaf or two to be spread out and give the rest of the pie some flavor! I truly understand the price point to keep a business alive. And, I understand keeping prices where they are while reducing the product to keep the client base while making a profit. However, how much did they really save or profit by using half a leaf of basil, half a pound of dough and 1/4 cup of tomato sauce?