Our search for the perfect pizza started 8 years ago, 1661 miles away.
Mr. Crumbs was born and raised on the East coast, home of floppy, foldable (yet still crispy) pizza. When we got married, he relocated to a state where Tex-Mex and BBQ tied for first place cuisine. Of course you could get pizza. But 9 times out of 10, fajitas or steak won out for dinner plans.
After a few months of being away from the coast, Mr. Crumbs started going through pizza withdrawals. We tried the typical pizza chains, but according to Mr. Crumbs’ standards, they weren’t very good (for numerous reasons). Being a new wife (and knowing NOTHING about East coast pizza), I wasn’t going to argue. So the quest for the perfect pizza began.
We used the internet to search for “New York style pizza” in our area and one by one, made our way through the results. Several of them were “okay,” but none of them earned the title of “I’ll eat here again.” Until one day, we accidentally found a shop that wasn’t on our list.
Mr. Crumbs decided to meet me that day for lunch. Dining options by my work were extremely limited, with your choices being either Subway, or whatever restaurant happened to occupy the building across the street. I explained our options to him and when we saw that the business across the street was a New York style pizza shop, we gave it a shot.
Compared to the pizza we had been eating, our lunch that day was nothing short of amazing. Thin crispy crust with large floppy pieces, plenty of cheese and a good, tomato-y sauce. Mr. Crumbs gave it two thumbs and after just a few bites, he said (with a mouth partially full) that he would eat there again. Pizza for lunch on Mondays became our new newlywed tradition.
That is, until the pizza shop was unexpectedly closed.
One Monday, we walked across the street as usual. Only this time, the lights were out and no one was inside. We crossed our fingers, hoping it was a fluke. That the owner was sick or they ran out of cheese.
Unfortunately, they never re-opened.
It was a sad day in our quest for perfect pizza. Given that we had already exhausted most of the other shops in our area (at least, the ones we felt safe eating at), the hunt was officially on hiatus. If we ever craved pizza, we broke down and ordered Pizza Hut. Although it was never as satisfying as the pizza from that New York shop.
Nine months after the pizza shop closed, we moved 1661 miles away to California. With a completely new area to explore, the hunt for the perfect pizza started i[ again.
We ruled out those two major chains and tried three other shops in town, but none of them came even close.
Once again, we turned to the internet to find “East coast style pizza.” Except this time, we read every review we could possibly find. We crossed our fingers that someone else from the East coast had already traveled West, done some taste testing and paved a way for the rest of us. As it turns out, someone had!
The pizza shop recommended was 37 miles away – a steep drive for a quick dinner (and very expensive gas). We took the plunge anyway and knew we found something special when we saw this sign out front:
Yep, that’s me with The Boy. He was 17 months old the time and I was five months pregnant with The Girl. Such a sweet picture looking back!
We ordered the usual – a large pepperoni – and sat at one of the three long tables inside. No more than 15 minutes later they brought out a piping hot pizza that was exactly what Mr. Crumbs had been looking for over two years.
It was love at first bite, and we’ve been telling everyone we know about the place ever since.
By the way, if you’re ever in the Gilroy, CA area, this is a must-stop for the best pizza on the West coast (next to our house of course. 😉
We visited the pizza shop every month for well over a year, sometimes even twice a month. The Olivari family (the owners) always greeted us with a smile and after a few visits, started making our order without us having to tell them what it was. Visiting them was like seeing family, and we anxiously looked forward to pizza night.
On the weeks we weren’t able to make it to the pizza shop, we tried our hand at making it at home. We tried dozens of pizza sauce and pizza dough recipes, but for one reason or another, none of them were as good as the shop.
We took the best recipe of the bunch and compared it to the pizza shop. What was different?
What makes the dough flaky? Does the dough need butter? Olive oil?
What kind of tomatoes do they use? Did they season the sauce at all?
Three years later and literally hundreds of homemade pizzas, we have fine tuned both the pizza dough and pizza sauce recipes.
- Combine warm water, yeast and sweetener in either a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Allow it to sit and bloom for five minutes.
- Add semolina and whole grain flours plus 1½ cups all-purpose flour and salt and knead for 10 minutes, or by hand until the dough is elastic and springs back into place after the thumb test. Add additional flour, ¼ cup at a time, as needed for the dough to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- Cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, 1½ - 2 hours.
- Lightly flour the counter and shape into two round balls. Cover with a towel until you are ready to pound or roll out into a pizza.
Tips on Pizza Dough:
If you want a light pizza crust, don’t add any more whole grain flour to the mix than mentioned in the recipe. That little bit of white flour is needed to give it a light and airy feel. We prefer spelt over the whole wheat, but use whichever you have in your kitchen.
To get a crispy crust, you need an exceptionally hot oven and a pizza stone (see below for my recommendation). I preheat our oven to 550F when I start making the dough. This creates a great warm environment for the dough to rise, plus plenty of time for the stone to get piping hot.
If you prefer more of a Sicilian type pizza (thicker, more doughy crust), try my focaccia bread spread out over a 10″x13″ cookie sheet, then topped with this sauce and your favorite toppings.
- In a blender, combine tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Blend on low for 15-30 seconds, or until ingredients are blended well.
Tips on Pizza Sauce:
The key to the a true, delicious pizza sauce is in the tomatoes. Trust me when I say that no ordinary tomato will do, because we’ve tried every single tomato available on every store shelf in our area. I kid you not.
When it comes to pizza sauce, you want whole, peeled Italian tomatoes. The tomatoes that come diced, stewed, crushed and pureed take a huge beating in the canning process. (See how it’s done HERE.) Those tomatoes are bred for that beating, so they’re not really flavorful. The whole, peeled tomatoes are naturally sweeter since they don’t have to withstand as many steps in the manufacturing process. The ones from Italy are sweeter still, with the amazing soil and climate available in the area.
After trying all those tomatoes, we finally settled on a canned Italian tomato that really was good. It wasn’t until recently that we discovered these jarred tomatoes and tasted first hand how much the canning process and BPA really affected the taste of a tomato. The taste was night and day! The jarred tomatoes blew our old brand out of the water, and the only other time I’ve ever had a tomato that was as sweet, fresh and natural tasting was when I was eating them off my step-mothers plant last summer.
In reality, you can use any tomato you want in this recipe. However, whole peeled Italian tomatoes will always taste the best (unless of course they’re from your garden!). If you’re taking an alternate route, avoid tomatoes that have added water since that will make your sauce runny. Although it’s more difficult, you also want to avoid added citric acid or salt since both of those alter the flavor of the original tomato and might cause heartburn and indigestion.
The easiest pizza sauce (and best pizza sauce) can be made with just four ingredients: tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper.
Tips on Pizza Toppings:
When it comes to cheese, we’ve found that fresh mozzarella sliced thin makes for the best cheese. Other than that, fresh, unprocessed toppings always taste best. We’re still on the hunt for nitrate-free pepperoni, but I hear Applegate makes some that is good. Until I find it locally (for an affordable price), pepperoni is one of the few foods that fall into the 80/20 rule.
Other (and Optional) Equipment We Use:
We’ve invested in a few pieces of pizza equipment over the years. These are by NO MEANS required to have a homemade pizza night, but they do help. They are on the pricey side, so I’m only offering them in case you’re needing gift ideas for the fellow pizza lover in your family.
- pizza stone – This was our first investment piece, and a birthday gift to Mr. Crumbs. We’ve had it for over 6 years and it’s never cracked or even chipped. I have friends who have purchased lesser expensive pizza stones and they’ve cracked after the first use. I’m not saying other stones aren’t good, but after researching thickness and size and material and customer reviews and DIY versus buying one… this one came out on top and I’d recommend it ten times to anyone who asked.
- pizza peel – After reading a bazillion specs on pizza peels (can you tell we like to read what others think? LOL!), I finally bought this one for Mr. Crumbs for Father’s Day a couple of years ago. It was the only one that was big enough to fit our pies (at least 15″, to match the stone)) and didn’t have a crazy long handle that you’d find in a pizzria. Our kitchen isn’t wide enough for one of those things! This peel is the same one you see in the pictures on this page. We love this thing, and it’s a tremendous help in getting the pizzas both in and out of the oven.
- serving board – This cool cutting board fits both our stone AND the peel, and it too was given to us as a gift many years ago. In fact, this is one of the few pieces that made the 1661 mile trek to California! Pizzas go from peel to stone to serving board without any slices or edges fall off. (Note the consistency in size here…)
- rocking pizza cutting – This amazing pizza cutter was also gift from a friend of ours several years ago, when she saw how much we loved pizza. Definitely not a cheap cutter, but I promise you won’t be disappointed. Say bye-bye to pizza cheese being dragged across your pie!
Finally, 8 years in the making, but the quest for the perfect pizza has finally ended.
What kind of pizza do you like? East coast, or Sicilian? What are your favorite toppings?
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