There are certain foods in this world that go beyond sustenance. Their importance in our lives is the distillation of decades, even centuries of history, tradition and, perhaps most importantly, of geography.
Take, for instance, the beloved po-boy, which seems to diminish in its greatness the farther one travels from New Orleans. I once had a “po-boy” in Boston that was little more than a sad, soggy hoagie filled with tiny, over-fried shrimp, wilted lettuce and mustard. It was heartbreaking.
As I felt about that unfortunate sandwich in Boston, so did Michael Friedman and Greg Augarten — owners of Pizza Delicious in the Bywater — feel about the state of pizza in New Orleans.
“We’re both from New York,” said Friedman, who met Augarten when the two were undergraduates at Tulane, “and we both found ourselves complaining about the pizza down here. And we’d always be excited when a new pizza place would open, hoping that maybe it would be ‘the one,’ but it never really was, sadly. We were looking for love in all the wrong places.”
In an inspired moment, the two decided to take the task upon themselves, even though they readily admit their initial ignorance of the pizza baking arts.
Said Friedman, “We just decided to make pizza one night ourselves. It was our first time — neither of us had tried to do that before — so we found a good dough recipe in a cookbook and gave it a try. For never having made our own pizza before, we thought it was better than anything we’d had in New Orleans, and it got us thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own place, where we could make great pizza and people would love it?’ ”
Where similar daydreams might fade, Friedman and Augarten followed through on their mission to bring a proper New York slice to hungry New Orleanians. The pair began modestly, experimenting with recipes in a community kitchen in the Bywater until they’d perfected their pies.
“With a lifetime growing up with (New York pizza), we knew exactly what we wanted; it was just a matter of nailing it,” Friedman said. “There was a lot of trial and error based on information that we gathered online, where there’s a ton of people talking about pizza, more than you could imagine. We’d take a recipe, try it, and say ‘This doesn’t work,’ or ‘It’s too dry,’ or ‘Too crackery.’ And while we weren’t experts in making pizza, we were definitely experts in eating it. So when we finally found a recipe that worked, we said, ‘Well, this is good!’ And we just went from there.”
Friedman and Augarten then founded Pizza Delicious as a popup restaurant on Sunday nights, which quickly found popularity, with the two budding pizzaioli running out of pizza rapidly each week.
After a Kickstarter campaign netted them enough cash to purchase a proper pizza oven, the enterprising pair set their sights on a brick-and-mortar restaurant, which officially opened on Piety Street in late 2012.
As a decade-long Brooklyn resident, I can attest that a visit to Pizza Delicious will result in a true-to-form New York pie: Generously-sized triangles of thin, perfectly crispy dough topped with just the right amount of sauce, cheese and toppings, with the option to spike your pie to your liking with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, or parmesan.
It is not an analogue or simulacrum, but a genuine New York slice, something beautiful and rare in a city known for its food, if not its pizza.
“You want the slice to be crispy, but also kind of kind of chewy, with a fresh tomato sauce and not too much cheese,” Augarten said. “You should be able to pick it up and eat it, and not have to use a fork and knife.”
“Also,” Friedman picked up, “we use real tomatoes in our sauce, not just canned tomato sauce and water, so we’re crushing tomatoes by hand every day. And that adds a real fresh flavor and elevates it above a regular corner slice joint. As much as possible, we try to make everything ourselves, by hand, using local ingredients whenever we can.”
The pizza — which rotates through a stable of 20 specialty pies, two at any given time, and is available by the pie or the slice — is certainly the main attraction of Pizza Delicious’s menu. However, Friedman and Augarten have gone beyond the simple slice and offer elegant salads, pastas and desserts as well.
On a recent visit, I was on a mission for pizza, and of course, garlic knots (small puffs of pizza dough seasoned abundantly with fresh garlic), but I was delighted by the handmade parmesan gnocchi with braised pork cheek, kale, bacon and onion jam, which, at only $12, is a steal.
A salad of local arugula with Louisiana strawberries, pistachios, shaved fennel, bleu cheese and a white balsamic strawberry vinaigrette was similarly refined, and could easily have graced the menu of any genteel, white-tableclothed New Orleans restaurant.
Also worth note are the handmade desserts, which on my visit included three different kinds of cookies: chocolate pistachio, chocolate walnut cherry and a “dark and stormy” cookie made with rum-soaked raisins.
An excellent list of beer and Italian wine is available to accompany your meal, as is Toulouse red absinthe, the restaurant’s sole spirit offering (and a great digestif, if you happened to indulge in one slice too many).
As for the temperamental nature of pizza dough and the constantly changing daily challenge of running a restaurant, Augarten and Friedman remain undaunted.
“There are a lot of different factors, and every day is a different day,” Friedman said. “Ultimately, we just want to make the best pizza we can possibly make. We want to make everything good, all the time. It’s as simple as that.”
Copyright © 2015, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved