Friday, August 13, 2010

The Salty Caper Review – My Search for the Perfect New York Pizza by Rob Green

There are two things in this world that true New Yorkers will refuse to eat (and with good cause) outside of the New York Metro region:  Bagels and Pizza.  All bread dough whether it is for pizza, bagels or various breads contain their fair share of water. Pizza dough has somewhere between 40 and 60 percent water content. This makes New York tap water the most important ingredient in what many consider the finest culinary breakthrough Gotham City has to offer:  New York Style Pizza.  This post is the story of an unexpected culinary pizza surprise while visiting Salisbury, North Carolina.

Setting the Scene
Salisbury, North Carolina is situated approximately an hour north of Charlotte.  It's a small rural town with open fields of soy beans and corn, livestock, fresh clean air, a starry filled night sky and a quietness that allows one to drift into the best sleeps of their life.  Like any other town in America, Salisbury is flooded with its fair share of fast food joints intermingled with the occasional family run restaurant of which nine out of ten offer good ole' southern bar-b-que. 

The Salty Caper: First Impressions and Calzones
The Salty Caper has a simplistic rustic look yet the dim lighting, upbeat music and friendly welcome from the staff made the place feel like it had been my neighbourhood waterhole for years.  I sat at the bar and asked the manager to tell me about the available beers.  He was extremely knowledgeable about all of his selections and even allowed me to try a few before settling on ordering a pint.  As I sat there with a good friend of mine (both of us watching Mikey the head chef toss some pizza dough and apply toppings to it before setting it in a wood fired oven), I couldn't help but take a gander at the menu. 
Much to my surprise, the menu was dominated by several different pizzas with other options including calzones and salads.  In true New York fashion, I decided to take the first jab and asked Mikey if his pizza could stand up to New York’s.  He gave a smile and answered with an enthusiastic "hell yea."  I wasn’t quite ready to take the leap and ordered a calzone.  The calzone came out perfectly puffed up, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  The drizzle of chocolate and sprinkle of powdered sugar over the top capped off a delicious plate.  So these guys can make a good dessert, but there's no way I want to taste that dough baked in a wood fired oven and topped with items that make it slightly resemble a real pizza.

Southern Pizza: The Real Deal
We returned the next night to have a few more beers and of course get in our fair share of New York banter with these southerners and their drawl.  Only on this night, my stomach was craving more than a dessert calzone could satisfy.  I asked the all important question, before even contemplating ordering a pizza.  "So do you import water from New York to make your dough?"  The manager turned around from the beer taps facing the opposite wall and said "No, I import the dough itself from New York".  
Their pizza of all pizzas consisted of a tomato sauce base with mozzarella and gorgonzola cheeses, Canadian bacon, ground chorizo, red onions, pine nuts and a drizzle of bar-b-que sauce.  The ingredients create a perfect harmony of sweet, salty, cheesy goodness with the twang of the bar-b-que sauce that sends your taste buds over the edge.  All of this scrumptiousness set atop a pizza crust that although not perfect, still qualifies as the best pizza dough crust I've had below the Mason/Dixon line.  
To wash it all down, go with one of the Caper's signature beer concoctions: Red Sin.  This mixture combines Original Sin cider ale with a southern soft drink staple, Cheerwine (a black cherry flavoured soda).  The mix combines to form the carbonated, alcoholic version of Snapple CranApple which is the perfect mix of sweet and tangy.

Lasting Notes
To the pizza snobs of the world (myself included), I serve as witness that great pizza can be made outside of the New York Metro region.   And to all those attempting to recreate the real deal, stop buying 55 gallon drums of New York tap water, stop having our water chemically analyzed and buying machines to recreate the mineral content.  Do yourself a favour and take a page out of The Salty Caper's book by leaving the pizza dough making to New Yorkers and putting your twist on a classic New York pie through innovative, creative toppings.  Yes, the importing of pre-made dough from New York will drive the cost of a pizza pie up significantly more than your standard Domino's pie, but that is a price I (and judging by the success of The Salty Caper) and numerous others are willing to pay for a pizza worthy of being called "New York Style."


djoliva said...

now when i go to north carolina, i know to go here!

Dr. Robert M. Oliva said...

This is great news for travelers. Getting New York style pizza outside New York is a God send. I hope we can hear about other great pizza venues in the near future.