While keeping up with wacky international pizza news is always fun (apparently Pizza Hut is serving marshmallow caramel pizzas in Japan), being able to stay close to home while eating delicious pizza is definitely preferable. That’s why the Pizzacraft team was so stoked when Patxi’s Pizza, a home-grown chain of pizza restaurants, offered us the chance to visit their Lafayette, CA location for a taste test.
Pizzacraft’s culinary manager, Nick Wellhausen, and I arrived before the dinner rush on a sunny Tuesday a few weeks ago. We were greeted by the manager, Carlos, who showed us to our table and gave helpful suggestions about the menu. Nick and I wanted to get a real sense of what Patxi’s had to offer. After all, they were going up against heavy hitters like Zachary’s Pizza and Little Star. In the end we decided to sample a few appetizers, their Spinacini Nuovi thin crust pizza, their Tre Porcellini pan pizza, and their “favorite” deep dish. Obviously, “sample” is the operative word – there was no way we’d be able to eat all that pizza! First to arrive at our table was the antipasto plate. Populated with a selection of cured meats from Zoe’s in Petaluma, some crispy cheese crustini, a handful of peppers and olives, and hot whole seed mustard, it was an auspicious start to the meal. I cannot resist a good, musty-smelling, savory hard cheese, so I dug right in! Nick actually managed to appreciate the presentation before taking some meat and bread for himself.
The burrata bruschetta landed on our table next. A gorgeous dollop of fresh, white burrata sat on a bed of halved grape tomatoes, topped with bright green pesto. It almost looked like an Italian flag-themed sundae! A soft, square loaf of focaccia sat next to it, waiting for us to spread the toppings over its slices. The texture of the “DIY” bruschetta was amazing: the outside of the focaccia was crispy and the burratta melt-in-your-mouth creamy, contrasting with the crisp freshness of the tomatoes and pesto.
Nick and I agreed that we could have used something more to enhance the mild flavor of the burratta, though – and we were halfway done with the dish before we realized there were also a few cloves of garlic sprinkled in with the grape tomatoes. Making sure that you had a clove in your carefully-constructed bite made all the difference, bringing needed depth to the bruscetta’s flavor.
What remained of the bruschetta was pushed aside when our first pizza arrived. The “Spinacini Nuovi” was a thin crust with minimal toppings to keep things light. More grape tomatoes covered our pie along with wisps of spinach, on top of mozzarella cheese and sprinkled with sea salt and virgin olive oil. I was most impressed by the crust. While the center of the pie was thin as thin crust could be, it was light enough to get a good rise and bubble around the outside. With a good, mellow flavor, the crust was light, puffy, and had great crackle. After one tasty slice part of me wanted to reach for another, but I knew I had to pace myself!
With our next course I learned the distinction between pan pizza and deep dish. I’d always conflated the two, but I quickly learned the finer points of pizzas baked in high-walled dishes. Our pan pizza, the “Tre Porcellini”, was cooked in a deep dish pan using their cornmeal crust, but it did not use a second interior layer of dough like a deep dish does. The result was a pizza that focused more on our toppings. I jokingly called it a “meat salad” as I used a fork to take a bite. The ground beef, salami, sausage, and tomato sauce all held their own, overshadowing the mozzarella and most of the crust.
But I say most of the crust because when we got to the end of our slices, the presence of a plastic bear full of honey on our table made sense. Once you had just the crust left from your slice, you were supposed to drizzle it with honey for a sweet finish. I had never heard of anyone doing that before, but I guess people do things like dip their fries in their milkshakes or drizzle their bacon with maple syrup – that sweet and savory combination can be irresistible. To me, it was like eating particularly crispy cornbread, and it was delicious.
Our final pie was the “Favorite” deep dish, which featured Zoe’s salami, mushrooms, and black olives. This was the pie I had been picturing when I thought of deep dish. When you took a slice, strings of melted mozzarella tethered it to the rest of the pizza and needed to be cut away. The cheese and inner layer of dough made these slices more substantial than the pan pizza, and more ooey-gooey, which I prefer.
Although the deep dish crust wasn’t dusted with cornmeal, I was encouraged by Carlos to try some honey on the remainder of the crust. He didn’t have to try very hard!
With our meal over, Nick and I sat and shared our thoughts. We agreed that out of the three pizzas, the thin crust “Spinacini Nuovi” had the best toppings, the pan “Tre Porcelini” had the best crust, and the deep dish “Favorite” had the best cheese. We let our stomachs settle over surprisingly good Blue Bottle lattes before even attempting to get up from our seats. Thanks again Patxi's. . . Pizza taste testing – it’s grueling work, but somehow we find the strength.