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    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar

    “It’s funny because I feel like people have said there’s always a lot of pizza places in Louisville,” says Max Balliet, co-owner and head chef at Lupo in Butchertown. “There’s been the joke on Bardstown Road about there being six in the same block.”

    Lupo opened at the tail end of July, around the same time as Butchertown Pizza Hall just down the street. The MozzaPi food truck now has a brick-and-mortar in Anchorage. Parlour serves pizza across the river in Jeffersonville. Bar Vetti, an Italian restaurant from Feast BBQ/Royals Hot Chicken creator Ryan Rogers, is opening Monday, October 16 in the 800 Tower City Apartments building south of downtown. Sarino will make pizza in the former Goss Avenue Pub location in Germantown.

    Balliet welcomes the onslaught. “If it’s something everybody wants and everybody loves, then just let people enjoy it,” he says. “Let six restaurants doing the same thing open and figure out which ones are doing things you like.”


    Photo: "Keep Calm and Curry On" pizza from Parlour.

     Lupo is just beyond the floodwall after Frankfort Avenue crosses Story Avenue, a location off the beaten path for most Louisvillians. It’s easy to accidentally drive past the restaurant that looks like a house that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in Old Louisville. “We were OK with the idea that this is a little more of a destination,” Balliet says. “This is right outside of where people are familiar with. It’s all ours.”

    Lupo, Italian for “wolf,” comes from a Roman fable about a wolf nursing Romulus and Remus. The restaurant name, Balliet says, is a nod to his pizza’s Roman qualities, to how pizza was originally conceived: Neapolitan-style, with a wood fire charring crust and melting fat dabs of mozzarella. “The mother of all pizza,” Balliet says. (The name is also unintentionally appropriate, seeing how the interior is entirely brick, not to be huffed and puffed down.)


    Photo: Lupo's interior.

    Balliet, who has run the Holy Molé taco truck for years, started as a dishwasher at since-closed Primo downtown on Market Street and worked his way up to operating the wood-fueled oven there. But his wood-fired pizza obsession began when he was 18, on a trip to Italy to visit a girlfriend. On a brief trip to Naples, he tasted pizzas from 10 different spots. “After that first one, I had to have as many as I could,” Balliet says. He repeated this trip “for research” with his sister Sarah and her husband, Adam Turla (both are in the band Murder By Death), then opened Lupo with them.

    Balliet tested and tweaked Lupo’s dough recipe, a months-long endeavor with fine-milled Italian flour. “It’s a lot of really intentional, really small details that I obsess over,” Balliet says. In less than a minute, the 900-degree oven, which burns hardwoods sourced locally, leaves black polka dots of char along the crust, called “leoparding.” The crust is both airy and crunchy. The melted mozzarella curds become a milky white that stretches between your mouth and the slice. The tomato sauce is simple. “Just salt, olive oil and tomatoes,” Balliet says. “No bullshit.”


    Photo: Neapolitan, with delicata squash, sweet corn and Teleggio cheese from Lupo.

    Allan Rosenberg, who operates Butchertown Pizza Hall in what used to be Hall’s Cafeteria, says Lupo is “like the fine dining of pizza,” describing his own restaurant as more casual, with a “Great pizza, shitty beers” motto. Lupo’s pizzas include the Sopressata, with Italian sausage and a drizzle of spicy honey; a creamy béchamel base pizza topped with clams and garlic; and one with charred eggplant, salty capers and rough-chopped walnuts. “You’re never going to see me do a cheeseburger pizza,” Balliet says. “No Hot Brown pizza will ever exist in this space.

    “Pizza is important and it means something,” Balliet says. “I don’t want to stray too far from what the geniuses who pioneered pizza have already figured out.”

     

    “You’ll never hear me say that we have the best pizza,” says Tom Edwards, owner and head chef at MozzaPi, who shares Balliet’s obsession with baking pizzas. “But I try every day to make the best pizza I possibly can.”

    MozzaPi’s pizza is also wood-fired, but Edwards describes it as a combination of Sicilian and Neapolitan: The dough is shaped and fired before coming out of the oven and getting covered with toppings, then is pushed back into the oven for a second round. This process creates a firmer (but still thin) base, a necessity for pizzas topped with rounds of Andouille sausage, bourbon-soaked cherries or a mountain of cashews, cilantro, bean sprouts, grated carrots and spicy Thai chicken.


    Photo: Spinach pizza from MozzaPi. 

    Anchorage’s MozzaPi is a working bakery open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., serving pizzas for the final three of those hours every day. Late afternoon on a Thursday, Edwards, his sister and her husband are prepping boule dough for a morning bake. The wood-fueled oven is in open view of the dining room. Beneath its copper-toned exterior, quarter-sawn logs stack neatly next to black metal pizza pans. Edwards’ brother-in-law closes a heavy, cast-iron oven door, the fire still blazing and expelling heat. Edwards opens a plastic tub filled with charred dough that was baked when the oven was too hot.


    Photo: MozzaPi's interior.

    The MozzaPi interior feels as though you’ve just taken a gulp of Alice’s shrinking potion. The “short” ends of the building house two-story-high twin doors, pitched open during nice weather to reveal a forest. Two wooden chairs, magnified, nearly touch the ceiling. Lampshades are wooden cutouts in the shape of a light bulb, three times the normal size. All handmade by Edwards, also a woodworker. “You don’t really know what a house is going to be like until you get the furniture in,” Edwards says. “When your furniture is a 23-foot grandfather clock, I was really worried when we put it in here, it would be like, ‘Well, that’s weird.’” The point, Edwards says, is to stop people in their tracks, make them abruptly end their cell phone conversations in wonder and forget to call their party back. His goal with food is no different. “My litmus test is if I can’t interrupt people with food (or) if I can’t change their discourse with food, then it’s just not worth the time,” he says.


    Photo: Giardiniera pizza from MozzaPi.

    MozzaPi is also home to Louismill, Edwards’ venture that grinds wheat and corn on an Austrian stone mill. Windows separate the dining hall from the classroom that houses the mill, where Edwards hosts weeklong bread-making classes. He sells some of his flour to restaurants like Proof or Harvest, some turns into bran muffins or loaves of sourdough and some goes into the pizza dough. The centerpiece of a MozzaPi pizza is sourdough. It starts with a starter that Edwards calls “Mom.” Mom is bubbly and viscous, a simple mix of flour and water that can almost smell like beer, sweet and yeasty.

    “It’s just this obsession,” he says. “It’s hard to make really good pizza.” 

    This originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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