We pay tribute to the delicious marvel that is cheese, sauce and dough with a menu of 12 gourmet pies you absolutely must try. by Jennifer Bowen, Elaine Cicora, David Searls, Beth Stallings, Carly Toyzan and Jim Vickers; Edited by Beth Stallings
1. Amy’s Fresh Maine Lobster
If it is true that we eat first with our eyes, hungry pie heads would be wise to gaze upon Fahrenheit’s sumptuous lobster pizza, an ivory disk of melty magnificence, ringed in a golden band of crust, punctuated by crimson orbs of oven-dried tomatoes and bejeweled with rosy bits of fresh Maine lobster meat. It’s a veritable feast for the eyes, but the indulgence hardly ends there. Rather, the interplay of vibrant flavors is what really feeds our soul, from the punchy funk of French Brie to the sweet salinity of the lobster meat, itself. For Fahrenheit executive chef Rocco Whalen, this ’za (named for a longtime customer) is a labor of love, starting with the Neapolitan-style crust made with extra-fine Tipo 00 flour to ensure crispiness and a touch of honey “to help the browning.” Over top, he tosses a blend of Asiago, provolone and mozzarella cheeses along with a hint of roasted garlic; then on goes the Brie and the raw lobster along with sweet-tart toms, which have been cored, seeded and tossed with garlic oil, basil, salt and pepper then baked for four hours in a 180-degree oven. Whalen likens the resulting pie to a successful love affair, with ingredients that “marry well yet continue to speak for themselves.”
Whoever first referred to a cheese pizza as “plain” obviously never ate at Players. Despite the more than 50 toppings offered to crowd your pizza crust, the simplest option here is one of the best. The Quattro Formaggio blends four cheeses in sweet yet biting harmony thanks to Gorgonzola, which at first overtakes each piece before kindly giving way to the milder mozzarella and fontina and salty parmigiano-reggiano. The pizza’s buttery olive oil and garlic sauce is enhanced by juicy cherry tomatoes baked on top that burst open as you bite into them. The crispy crust is a Players’ signature, according to executive chef Anthony Romano. At first reluctant to share the secret, he eventually confesses that he partially bakes each crust for five to seven minutes before adding toppings. This gives the dough — a mixture of whole wheat flour and finely ground cornmeal, the latter an addition Romano made to the recipe 10 years ago — ample time to crisp up. “It makes for a crispier crust and prevents it from getting doughy on the top,” he says. “It’s the right way to do it.”
The secret ingredient at Euclid’s Beach Club Bistro doesn’t come from the pantry. It’s the dusting of local history that makes each of these specialty pizzas pop — that, plus the exuberant toppings, ranging from salsa, pineapple and bacon (The Noble Beach Club) to stuffed eggplant, spinach and roasted red pepper (The Brookwood Club). Our pick is The Henn Mansion, a hearty homage to Buffalo wings with a crazy-good combo of zesty barbecue sauce, roasted white meat, thinly sliced celery, blue cheese crumbs and a fistful of provolone and Asiago cheeses. Rousing yet delightfully well balanced, it offers a playful assault of sweet, peppery and salty flavors, stacked on a thick-yet-airy crust with crispy edges. As for the Henn Mansion name, we initially assumed it’s a play on words until manager Tammy Sloat sets us straight. “While most of our pies are named after the area’s former beach clubs (the early 20th-century structures that once dotted the Lake Erie shoreline), the Henn Mansion’s namesake is an actual mansion still standing in Euclid’s Sims Park,” she tells us. Got a taste for local history? Beginning in mid-February, the mansion is open Wednesday nights for public viewing. Enjoy your pie, then swing by the park for a peek at the real deal.