As luck would have it my family and I had reason to be in Three Oaks, Michigan today and so you know
where I had to eat on the heels of Bruce's nomination. (I probably would have anyway, but this settled it.)
As soon as we sat down the waitress began a spiel-- which, given the proliferation of Neapolitan pizza in Chicago, I didn't need but wanted to hear anyway-- about how this is authentic pizza like they make in Naples, less is more, all you need is a few good natural ingredients, tomato sauce is real tomatoes, if it doesn't say tomatoes it's a white pizza, and so on; all so we'd know not to expect an inch-thick, phone-book-heavy pizzhemoth. The most interesting factoids were a mention of which woods were used in the fire (I believe oak, apple and cherry) and the fact that the oven temperature was around 900F on the floor-- and 1300F at the top. I thought that was a curious thing to mention, since my pizza presumably would never get near that industrial-level
But a few minutes later we saw why that factoid was relevant-- our pizza did, in fact, get a few moments of finishing up in that steelworks heat, and emerged from the oven trailing smoke like Chuck Yeager after hitting the eject button.
Another factoid mentioned along the way was that the crust comes from a 10-year-old starter. That led me to expect maybe a little more tang to the crust than it had, but otherwise this was a wonderful crust-- crispy outside, fluffy inside, little burnt bits which added flavor almost like a seasoning does, a deliciously scarfable platform for superior toppings.
With about 1/1000th of the hype that Crust has put into being the first organic pizza (excuse me, flatbread) place in the universe, Stop 50 demonstrates a comparable commitment to high quality, natural locally-sourced ingredients by-- this is so far out-- growing some of them themselves.
Now, I know you're saying, how can I be sure my pizza is natural if the owner doesn't have to fill out tons of paper, document the source of every ingredient, and get it blessed by the EPA and Academy-Award winner Al Gore? Well, Stop 50-- this is just so radical you won't believe it-- just figures you'll taste
the difference. Whoa.
Sarcasm off, the freshness and flavor of the toppings was really stellar, like the little fuzzy leaves of fresh-picked sage on a pizza covered with brightly flavorful sausage (I asked about that and he said they get natural pork sausage from Chicago but season it up a little more themselves).
We had a margherita, the sausage (which I highly recommend) and also this pear and gorgonzola pizza, which was maybe a little too heavy with the cheese:
I admit this appetizer plate, with its big cup of tomato sauce (refrigerator-cold, in the meal's only real misstep) and heavy dosing of parmesan, looks like something out of Macaroni Grill. But again, ingredients make the difference-- the vegetables were flavorful and nicely grilled, and the pepper stuffed with sausage (unrecognizable at right) was outstanding.
We chatted with the owner (when his pizza-making permitted) and mentioned that we knew Bruce-- happy birthday, Bruce! Enjoy the cake! Friendly folks, a real and visible commitment to the craft of classical pizzamaking, outstanding pizza right at the top of greater Chicagoland's burgeoning Neapolitan-style pizza scene-- this is a great neighborhood place and well worthy of extending our definition to take in the vacation communities mainly frequented by Chicagoans around us.
Watch Sky Full of Bacon
, the Chicago food HD podcast!
New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.