Lovin’ the oven
When you’re in the plastic injection moldings business making dough trays, owning a pizza parlor is a natural transition in careers, isn’t it? It was for Mike Madan, who sold his New Jersey business and moved to Reno six years ago and opened South Creek Pizza Co. in October. The place has a comfortable, woody mountain inn feel. There’s seating for 70 and a two-section bar cut from a single piece of timber hand crafted by local artisan Jim Loverin of Custom Manufacturing in Sparks.
I’m a pizza snob. There are three things that make a great pizza: the crust, the crust and the crust. Topping are a personal preference—pineapple on pizza should be illegal—and the sauces vary and are usually good if they are made with fresh ingredients in a simple way. There are two things at South Creek that got my attention: the pizza oven and the fact that everything is handmade with local products whenever possible. The oven bakes them at 900 degrees, and it usually takes less than three minutes to cook.
The oven is 90 percent of the success of the pie. This Ferrera wood-burning, brick oven from Naples is considered one of the most reliable, authentic Neapolitan brick ovens in the world. Quick baking creates a thin crust and a nice cook on the toppings, with a soft middle. High temperature produces flavors that can’t be achieved by slow cooking.
Ian Madan, Mike’s son, is the pie master. He got his schooling in the art of Napolitano pie-making under the tutelage of creative chef Mark Estee at Campo. Now, Ian is putting his own signature on pies like the traditional Naples-style Margherita ($14)—tomatoes, his own mozzarella, basil, olive oil and sea salt—simple. The pizzas are all 12 inches ($12-$21), with a thin but crisp on the outside, moist on the inside crust—high marks on this. Ian makes his crust from “00” flour imported from Italy ideal for pizza dough for two reasons, it’s finely ground, and it has lower gluten helping create a lighter crust. Then the dough is cold-fermented for 48 hours, this is called retarding, slowing down the fermentation producing a soft, chewy mid crust.
Salads ($6-$9) and small plates ($5-$11) are offered. I tried the Fire Roasted Fresh Green Bean with bread crumbs and chili oil prepared in the wood oven melding the tastes of a hint of smoke with a slightly crisp texture held together by the bread crumbs and a nice bit of heat on the finish—very original.
I was there for the pizza and had the Pear-A-Dice ($18) with sliced pears, diced Niman Ranch bacon, fresh mozzarella, smoked blue cheese and topped with arugula and a drip of honey. What a symphony of flavors hitting every note from the slightly sweet to the grand crescendo of the smoky bite of the blue cheese. The fresh arugula greenery atop, dripped with honey, added more texture and an ever-so-slight hint of sweetness complementing the pears and not interrupting the savory, melodic flow of the morsels over the tong. It was flavor imagination at its best.
The simple wine list ($7-$55) has a few by-the-glasses ($8-$10) with good varietals and a fun, eclectic assortment of beers, international to micro brews ($5-$14). I tried the Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer ($6) over ice with a lemon slice. It has a sweet, spicy, almost “hot” taste with a dry finish. It’s a very fresh and very alluring drink, 4.8 percent alcohol content, enjoyably different.
I got the feeling that I wasn’t just getting a pizza a South Creek, I was getting an artist’s creation in the form of food.