Reid Duffy dives into a homemade sausage pizza at Pizzology. (Photos by Jennifer Alderman)
It would seem our preference for pizza styles, like chili and barbecue, depends on what style we grew up on and became enamored with in the first place. As a cherished child of Chicagoland, that entailed a thin crust cheese pizza lavishly accessorized with thick chunks of Italian sausage. Later, out of fear I wasn’t getting enough salt in my diet and drama in my pizza, I allowed pepperoni to partner with the sausage for the most satisfying of Chicago pizza wallows. Chicago is also the birthplace of the deep dish pizza, as concocted by Ike Sewell over a half century ago in his still thriving Pizzeria Uno’s and Duo’s pizza palaces near downtown Chicago. Italian sausage is still a favored ingredient of the Chicago deep dish, but jackknifing through about a foot-and-a-half of mozzarella to get at the hefty chunks always struck me as too much of a good thing.
Pizzology chef Alan Henry stretches the dough before topping the pizza and sliding it into an 800 degree wood burning oven.
Thus, I and other members of my Windy City pizza posse were quick to look askance at the emergence of the so-called “gourmet pizza,” supposedly harking from distant lands and cultures. Plopping down a Dole’s pineapple ring from the can reflects the “Hawaiian pizza”; or liberally sprinkling feta cheese and olives unveils the “Greek pizza”; or blasphemously substituting sausage for shredded chicken and barbecue sauce for tomato cringingly creates the “barbecue chicken” pizza. Even so, we found ourselves occasionally concluding, “Hey, this stuff ain’t half bad.”
For many diners long wondering whether there is more to pizza than sausage, pepperoni and mozzarella, “gourmet pizza,” with its many cheese options and endless topping ensembles has been enthusiastically embraced. Notable Indy market pioneer providers include Bazbeaux, Some Guys and Puccini’s and acclaimed independent newcomers such as Jockamo’s in Irvington (on the far eastside of Indianapolis), and Napolese from Martha Hoover’s Café Patachou dining kingdom on the near northside.
Steamed in their own homemade broth, Pizzology's mussels are beautiful and delicious.
Thus, practicing foodies from the pizza maven division were intrigued to learn in mid-November, 2009 that local celebrity chef Neal Brown was bringing the abundant think-outside-the-oven creativity, showcased in his acclaimed and aptly-named L’Explorateur Restaurant in Broad Ripple, to a very crowded, well-chained comfort food market. With the recession taking its toll on upscale eateries, Brown and his wife, Lindy, decided to apply his culinary inspirations to the pizza, opening their pizzeria in one of a cluster of shopping strip centers adorning the northwest corner of Hazel Dell Parkway and 131st Street. They dubbed it Pizzology, which members of my Chicago pizza posse of yore, intellectuals all, would have surmised was the “Study of Post Meal Burpage and Belchism.” Pizzology shares the center with businesses of instant convenience to the free-wheeling pizza chomper, namely, a dry cleaner and a dentist’s office presumably offering professional flossing.
Pizzology offers a comfortable, cozy atmosphere, fully inviting chatty informality, but with a touch of sleekness in the 75-seat dining room that sports a wood floor and metal tables covered in disposable brown paper. Five of those seats directly face a glassed-in section of the kitchen to watch a Pizzology pizza maker up close. Also glassed in is a 50-seat patio area for munching under the sun and stars after the spring thaw.
Flanked by the dining room and patio is a small horseshoe-shaped bar, with a carousel of flat screen televisions hovering above. On the afternoon I graced the premises, I noticed one of the flat screens was tuned to a cable sports station showing a full replay of the disconcerting Colts-New York Jets opening round playoff game. The heart-stomping, waning moments of that contest had the potential of adversely affecting my appetite and digestion, with no remote within reach to change to a movie channel offering something more cheerful and uplifting like “Nightmare on Elm Street VIII.” Fortunately, a good pizza has the ability to temporarily divert the memory bank from a whole season’s worth of distressing memories.
The menu board on the wall at Pizzology.
Toward that end, Neal Brown and his executive chef Erin Smith focus on the Neopolitan craft pizza baked in a wood and gas powered oven at 800 degrees. The emphasis is on thin crust, a deceptively simple approach to toppings and an obsessive attention to freshness, where scant is the ingredient liberated from a can or box.
Brown is a long time devotee and crusader of the Slow Food movement, celebrating fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices; and locally raised and processed meats, poultry, and fish, free of artificial additives and injections. The Slow Food philosophy urges diners to take time to savor and immerse themselves in the dining experience, be it at the restaurant or the home table, as opposed to our contemporary habits of dining and scarfing on the fly between twitters and tweets.
Thus, the Neal Brown pizza kitchen makes its own mozzarella, crafts its own fennel-seasoned dry sausage from pork provided by Moody Meats, and makes its own dough using wild yeast, spring water, and imported Italian flour. In keeping with the Neopolitan pizza tradition, Brown keeps it deceptively simple for his dozen featured pizzas, all of which are 13 inches with two to four toppings for $13. Seven-inch personal pizzas are offered for lunch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and 11-inch concoct-your-own mozzarella pizzas are available for $11, with each vegetable topping $2 and each meat topping $3.
The featured pizzas are divided between “Pizza Rossa,” with tomato sauce, and “Pizza Bianca”, without tomato sauce, replaced by judicious applications of extra virgin olive oil. The Pizzology pizza sauce is not your sainted Italian grandmother’s tomato sauce lovingly cooked in the pot for half a day, but pureed Roma-like San Marzano tomatoes, lightly applied to the fresh, melted mozzarella on the “rossa” pizzas. Among the “Pizza Rossa” offerings are the Margherita pizza with mozzarella and basil; the Napoli rendition of mozzarella and oregano; the “Four Cheese” ensemble of mozzarella, taleggio, caciocavallo, and pecorino romano; Sicilian Egglant, augmented with capers; the Olive and Onion sweet duet, with garlic, olives and olive oil.
Homemade sausage pizza!
Naturally, I had to sample the “Homemade Sausage” pizza, featuring the fennel sausage, and festooned with raw onion strips and roasted sweet peppers. The first thing that struck me about Pizzola’s pizza creation was the flavor effectiveness of the very fresh dough. The wood ambiance came through and rendered it cracker crispy on the edges, becoming soft and chewy toward the center, where the toppings started commanding the proceedings. The finely ground sausage was pleasantly tasty, not in the muscular, artery-clogging chunks that adorn the Chicago pizzas of my ever-distant youth, but in plentiful supply. The peppers gave the pizza a welcome, subtle zest.
The “Pizza Blanca” pizzas offer more flavor potency and manliness from their toppings thru the showcasing of such Italian deli meats as prosciutto, well-spiced capicola, and mortadella, augmented by sharp-flavored spices. That cherished salt lick of the sea – anchovies, capers and tomatoes highlight the pie dubbed “The Purist,” while the “Lombardy” (named after the Italian region, not the fabled Green Bay Packers coach), features prosciutto, the salad green arugula, parmesan reggiano cheese, and smoked mozzarella.
Making the biggest impression from the Pizzology’s “Bianca” division is the pizza with the lyrical moniker of “Old Kentucky Rome,” featuring large thin strips of prosciutto, cured by a Kentucky food artisan who crafts her prosciutto ham in very limited, highly prized amounts. Arugula and roasted, carmelized figs are also prominently showcased on this arrangement, with the figs effectively providing a mild, pleasantly sweet contrast to the natural saltiness of the proceedings. The flavor balance is solidified with soft taleggio Italian cheese, in tandem with the excellent crust, thin enough to not make me feel so sheepishly and routinely stuffed and lethargic as I have upon completion of just about every pizza I have ever attacked.
Lindy Brown, in her capacity as a certified sommelier, provides an impressive wine list, with an emphasis on vino Italiano. The beer trust sports a nice array of domestic microbrews, including those from Hoosier-blessed Upland and Sun King, that reliably complement the pizzas.
Executive chef Erin Smith lays on a half-dozen well crafted pasta dishes ($15 full order/$7 half order), highlighted by penne pasta with prosciutto, artichokes and olives; and fettucini in a sauce of parmesan, garlic and butter. A standout from the appetizer roster is the Italian mussels ($8) in their winsome parted black shells, displaying tender garlic-seasoned mussels, sweetly flavored in a broth of white wine, olive oil and cured salumi pork. Tiramisu ($6) from Circle City Sweets, and gelatos courtesy of the Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato & Sorbetto lay in wait for those in pursuit of the sweet send-off, or simply dispensing with the dietary nuances of their 2011 New Year’s resolutions.
Pizzology has found a very comfortable niche in the commendable colony of gourmet pizzerias, bringing a contemporary flair in honoring cherished Old World pizza traditions. And while immersing yourself in a Pizzology pie, you may keep an eye on the Browns’ latest intriguing culinary adventure – Neal Brown’s take on the taco experience, with a taqueria concept called Tiger & Taco, time and place to be announced.
13190 Hazel Dell Parkway
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Entrée price range: $7-$15