Two millennia ago, Roman panis focacius, a.k.a. Italian focaccia—thick flatbread topped with goodies—was quite popular. A thousand years on, this became known as pizza, and in another 1,000 years people in Naples, Italy, had begun making the thin-crust treat we recognize today. The crux of the Neapolitan delicacy was sourdough, mozzarella cheese and tomato—with all ingredients sourced close to the plains surrounding Mount Vesuvius—cooked at a volcanic temperature. Today, the Pizza Collective at the West Street Market turns out similarly classic pies made with local ingredients in a super hot oven.
The “collective” part of the name indicates that everyone involved in the business has an owner’s stake. My Gen-X self was braced for perceived Millennial ‘tude from the pizza purveyors, but, instead, I found myself wishing to be part of the team. I enjoy making pizza at home, and I got the same vibe from these folks. To paraphrase Monty Python, “There’s love in that pie.”
The wood-burning, ceramic-tiled oven is Italian made, with 900-degree temperatures that crank out a finished thin-crust, 12-inch pie in 90 seconds. Most of the meager 10 minutes we waited between ordering and munching was spent while ingredients were assembled before hitting the furnace. Everything is local, including the wood for the fire. The dough includes sourdough starter and a dash of whole wheat flour, resulting in amazing flavor and a nice balance of chew and crispiness. I personally love the look and taste of char that comes from cooking at these temps.
The chalkboard specialty menu changes depending on seasonal availability and creative whims. If an ingredient needs to be roasted, it’s done in the same wood-fired oven. There is a separate menu of veggie dishes. These include a plate of roasted beets, goat cheese and arugula ($8); an heirloom tomato salad ($11); and roasted summer squash salad ($9). These all sounded great, but we had our mind set on pizza and ended up ordering all five varieties currently on offer.
We started with an oyster mushroom and thyme pizza ($16). The fungi and fresh herb were combined with truffled chevre, fontina and caramelized onion on a crust dressed with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). The truffle aspect was subtle and worked well with the remarkable mushrooms.
The cherry caprese pizza ($16) with sungold cherry tomato, fresh mozzarella, EVOO, balsamic reduction and fresh basil was next and was perhaps even better in its simplicity. The little, bright, almost citrusy tomatoes were a perfect fit with everything else, and my toddler grandson gave it a thumbs up. Prema’s heirloom tomato pizza ($16) with sliced tomato, parmigiano-reggiano, fontina, garlic confit and fresh thyme earned a double thumbs up. The heirlooms possessed a deep, heady aroma and flavor that complemented the magic that is garlic simmered in olive oil.
The margherita pizza ($14) was a classic combination of crushed red sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil, EVOO and sea salt. Upon tasting it, my grandson declared this, too, was the best. I think the kid just really appreciates exceptional food.
La Quercia’s prosciutto and roasted pepper pizza ($18) combined heirloom Berkshire pork prosciutto, roasted red bell pepper, red onion, fresh mozzarella and roasted red sauce. It was good but somehow lost the vote to its veggie cousins. Perhaps our taste buds had already experienced so much excitement, we just couldn’t fully appreciate one more “wow” moment.Ω