Disclaimer: Sorry if our posts are redundant, but we both were dying to write about this place, so we decided not to confer at all, and write our own posts.
When pizza is good, it’s really good. Today we drove through oil refineries and steel mills and blighted neighborhoods to eat pizza, and as it turns out, it was well worth it.
On a recent weekend tooling around Harbor Country, Ruby discovered Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria (500 S. El Portal Dr., Michiana Shores, Indiana; 219-879-8777), a bucolic spot every bit as dedicated to Neapolitan authenticity as is Spacca Napoli (1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.; 773-878-2420). “We get some of our ingredients from the same place as Spacca,” says Chris Bardol, the co-owner/chef. Bardol, a former salesman for Sara Lee, opened the place in July after a mind-blowing trip to Pizzeria Bianco, the legendary Neapolitan-style spot in Phoenix. Now he loads his own 900-degree oven with oak/apple/cherry wood that’s been seasoned for a year—and he grows fresh herbs in planter boxes outside the restaurant. The pizzas, of course, are terrific, with that patented tender/crisp, blistered-edge crust; mild buffalo mozzarella; acidic San Marzano tomatoes. Get in your car and go.
I have to agree with the sentiment of this blurb—get in your car and go for sure, but don’t expect Spacca Napoli when you get there (or buffalo mozzarella or San Marzano tomatoes for that matter). Sure, there are similarities to Spacca, but this pie is a distinctly different interpretation of vera pizza napoletana
. The beauty of this pie lives inside its crust. The dough is thin, and has an audible crispness to it, but still manages to retain the distinctive chew of great bread. Born from a decade-old mother, this bread is brought to life by wild yeast that contorts the crumb into something igneous, and the slight sourness of the dough takes the flavor of this pizza into the realms of unicorns and gnomes. It’s what does it for me. It’s what blows my mind. It happened when I went to Una Pizza Napoletana, and it hasn’t happened since…until today. Save for some good olive oil and a little sprinkle of sea salt, “toppings” are completely unnecessary.
But in the real world, pizza has sauce and cheese and other stuff. Bardol is certainly thinking about what he’s putting on top of his pizza, but he’s not necessarily blindly following the dictum thrown down by the powers that be over at the VPN offices. He gets what there saying, and has deep respect for it—but he’s not a slave to it. His tomatoes, for instance, are not from San Marzano, but rather California, chosen for their sweetness (we ate a small bowl of them and they had a natural sweetness that balanced the acidity very well.) He puts a little freshly minced garlic on his pies, but just a bit. And his cheese is not mozzarella di bufula
, but his purveyors use no preservatives, which he says is a leading cause of funky pizza. In other words, the man is thinking hard about the design of his pie, and the results are delicious and unique. And for those of you who refuse to eat your pizza with a knife and fork, Stop 50 slices its pies into wedges with a giant mezza luna, which makes sharing easier.
Again, I still think that when you have bread that’s this good, the fewer things that go on top, the better it’s going to taste. Next time I go (which will be very soon), I’m looking forward to trying the Marinara pizza with just tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, oregano and sea salt. Though Bardol wants to stick to mainly pizza, he offers a couple of other things on the menu like soup and salad and an intriguing panini—a sort of high-brow Italian beef. In the morning he roasts beef in the wood burning oven while it’s warming up (around 400 degrees), and then lets it rest. At lunch he’ll slice it off and add peppers and onions and put it on bread made from his sourdough. Sausage is done the same way. For dessert there is a small selection of house made gelati.
Oh, and did I mention that Bardol is a really nice guy—totally unaffected, warm, passionate and so it’s no surprise that the space he’s created in Michiana Shores strikes exactly the same chord.