First tacos, now pizza

White Duck Taco Shop owners bring Pizza Pura to the River Arts District

After a year-and-a-half in the taco business, Ben Mixson and Laura Reuss will bring pizza and gelato to the River Arts District with a new restaurant, Pizza Pura.

“I think I've been experimenting with pizza combinations since I was 5 years old,” says Reuss, laughing. “It's like a palette. Each one of these is my little painting.”

A life spent as a pizza aficionado has led Reuss to the Neapolitan-style pie, which she will focus on at Pizza Pura. Instead of making decadent, cheesy meltdowns, Reuss will create scaled-down pies that showcase quality ingredients. “I like the thin crust, the chewiness, the richness of the ingredients, kind of unspoiled, just add a little salt here and there or fresh herbs,” she says. “It's really about the preparation.”

Mixson and Reuss wanted to choose a name for the venture that reflected their approach to the food, so they settled on Pizza Pura. In Italian, pura means pure. “A lot of times, people think they need these really exotic ingredients to make things good,” Mixson says. “The way we look at things, there's a lot that goes into the interaction of the yeast and the water and the dough and the salt. That basic interaction is really what we're after.”

Reuss, the culinary force behind the husband-and-wife team, is working on a fig and local meat variety that she's particularly excited about. Mixson, on the other hand, says his favorite pie is the margherita, with its fresh and straightforward flavors of mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil.

And they're both looking forward to the gelato-based desserts. “Imagine, like, a tiramisu gelato in a dessert-type of an item,” Reuss says. “It's going to be a little off the wall. That's probably where our creative flag will fly.”

This restaurant isn't their first attempt to bring frozen desserts to RAD. “We had actually been looking for an ice cream stand forever down there, but it just hasn't come to fruition,” Mixson says. “The space we have has these big garage doors. We'll open up one of those and turn that into a gelato window.”

Pizza Pura will set up in the Pink Dog Studios building on the opposite end from The Junction. The space in between the two restaurants houses artist studios. Mixson says he's working with Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer, who own Pink Dog, to get the restaurant space in order. He hopes to add a deck to the end of the building and a wood-fire pizza oven inside.

The new space, previously a woodworking studio, is smaller than White Duck. “I don't think it will ever seat as many people,” Mixson says, adding that the two restaurants aren't really comparable. “We're not trying to copy the White Duck,” he says. “The taco shop blew up. We thought we'd get busy, but we had no idea that would happen. The pizza thing is just a new project for us to undertake.”

Reuss says she'll approach food differently at the two restaurants. At Pizza Pura, she'll focus on simplicity. “The taco shop was about creating kind of crazy, fun tacos and getting out of our comfort zone, but these [pizzas] are going to be a little finer, a little more artisan-based,” she says. “Herbs, maybe figs, different types of meat, fresh greens, maybe a few imported olives here and there: These pizzas are, by tradition, very understated.”

In the meantime, White Duck will carry on at the opposite end of the River Arts District from Pizza Pura. In May, Mixson and Reuss told Xpress that they were “moving forward” with a second location of White Duck, but details about such a project have yet to emerge. “The White Duck is on a separate course,” Mixson says. “The White Duck is growing, and we're just not ready to discuss that.”

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