I love Spring break. It’s the rare occasion I’ll allow myself the debauchery of a full week of pizza-binging. So, as you can imagine the Luther family Spring break vacation is a highly anticipated trip.
But, this year with a pandemic on the rise I reluctantly canceled our long-awaited travel plans to New Smyrna Beach, Florida. With potential lives at stake, beachside pizza loses all it’s fun.
One thing was for sure though, I was in no-way-shape-or-form going to settle for any old boring staycation-pizza.
I decided that for the vacation vibes I was after I would just go on a week-long Tour-de-Pizza hitting all my favorite Madison spots. A trip around all the local joints would surely lift my spirits.
Then Wisconsin governor Tony Evers restricted all dining-in restaurants and bars, closed all non-essential businesses and recommended everyone stay at home. That idea was squashed like a dough ball.
What else could I do besides frozen pizzas and no-contact delivery?
As I mulled it over, it became apparent that social distancing and self-isolation would provide a great opportunity to dial in my home-made pizza skills.
So, while everyone else was grasping for TP I cruised the grocery store for the core pizza essentials and set out to create my own destiny.
I even took the idea one step further and decided to recreate the New Smyrna Beach pizza I was counting down the days for.
For months I’d been daydreaming of a pizza in New Smyrna Beach from a restaurant called Third Wave Cafe. Last year Tess and I stumbled across the little spot while frolicking down the main drag Flagler Avenue.
On a whim, we ventured into a dark, unmarked entrance outlined with palms. Walking in was like going from the grey scheme of Kansas to the technicolor of Oz, as we discovered a lively tiki-themed bar complete with live music and a new American menu that highlighted wood-fired pizzas.
Third-wave’s concoctions were something you’d expect to see on a trendy big-city pizza menu, not in a little beach town. This year the pie I looked forward to the most at Third Wave was called the “Honey Baby”: A sweet and spicy combo comprised of Calabrian chiles, spicy soppressata, and drizzles of honey.
Creating the “Honey Baby” at home.
We started with a ball of cooled, pre-prepped pizza dough that we tossed on our flour-dusted counter and went to town stretching. I had a brief stint in the pizza biz after college, so I called upon all the dough stretching skills my muscle memory could muster.
Our primary goal was a faux wood-fired crispy crust and for that, we turned to the gas grill. After a liberal drizzle of olive oil, we tossed the bare pizza-skin on the grill, heated to 500°. We were after a par-baked crust and it didn’t take long for the dough to start getting firm and bubbling up.
Next, it was time to dress the par-baked crust with cheese, sauce, and toppings and finish it in the oven.
I took a trick out of my all-time favorite pizzeria Gus’s playbook and used slices of mozzarella instead of shreds. On top of that, I sprinkled diced-up hot cherry peppers, pepperonis and sent the pie off to a preheated 450° oven. Once the crust and cheese were golden brown I removed it from the oven and then drizzled it with raw organic honey.
It was spicy, sweet and savory; exactly what I was looking for. To quote the late, great Tanners from the sitcom Full House “Whoa “Honey” Baby!”
What pizza taught me:
The bright side can be easily lost in troubling times, but it’s always there. On my mission to salvage my Spring break pizza-eating session, it took a few pivots but I found my way. The next few months will probably take similar adjustments, but by being adaptable we will prevail on the other side.
What I’m eating: Homemade pepperoni, hot cherry peppers, mozzarella, and honey drizzle.
What I’m reading: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft -Stephen King