Any way you slice it: Asheville pizza makers dish about what goes into a great pie

AMERICAN PIE: From left to right, Andrew Favilla, Malik Moore and Eddie Liotta show off some of the giant pies that are the specialty at Favilla's New York Pizza in West Asheville.
AMERICAN PIE: From left to right, Andrew Favilla, Malik Moore and Eddie Liotta show off some of the giant pies that are the specialty at Favilla's New York Pizza in West Asheville. Photo by Liisa Andreassen

People are passionate about their pizza. In fact, it can be downright polarizing.

What’s that you say? You prefer thin crust over Chicago-style? This relationship will never work. Seriously, most of us have heard more than one heated discussion on the topic. So, what do some of our local pizza makers have to say about what makes for a great pie?

New York, New York

It’s no secret that New Yorkers love their pizza, and I must admit, I’m a bit biased in this category too. A Brooklyn native, a good portion of my formative years was spent at the corner pizzeria indulging in that classic New York-style thin crust variety. And yes, folding the slice is part of the deal. No knives and forks, please.

Andrew Favilla, owner of Favilla’s New York Pizza, does it right. That’s likely why he received the People’s Choice award during the Pizza Pandemonium competition at Highland Brewing Co. last spring.

So, what’s the key to great New York pizza, I asked him. “Well, it starts with a New Yorker,” he laughs.

Favilla grew up working at his uncle’s pizza place in Bushwick, Brooklyn. When he was just 16, he opened his own place. He’s been perfecting the art ever since. Today, he and his wife, Jeanette, can be found cooking, talking with customers and, yes … eating pizza.

Everything is made from scratch, and Favilla says you’ve got to have pride and be consistent. And when you’re making a couple hundred pizzas per day, that’s no small feat. On any given day, this local pizza joint plows through about three to five batches of dough (there are 40-50 dough balls per batch.) Mama mia!

Del Vecchios on Merrimon Avenue, owned by New Yorker Rob Clark, also offers hand-tossed, New York-style pizza. But Clark doesn’t play favorites — he also sells deep-dish, Chicago-style pie. However, the New York-style, he says, is by far the most popular.

“A large percentage of the population seems to relate to it,” he says. “Everyone knows what it is.”

But what about the question of the water? Is it possible to make great New York-style pizza without using the coveted New York City water?

“I think the water thing is overrated,” Clark says. “Sure. A slice of pizza may taste better in New York, but, hey, it’s because you’re in New York. A great slice of pizza probably has more to do with the overall experience.”

Favilla says that while New York water is pretty good, he loves North Carolina water too.

“I’ve had no problems with the water around here,” he says. “Now, Florida, well, that’s a different story.”

Favilla and Clark agree that, hands down, what you need for that great slice is simple, quality ingredients and a time-tested dough recipe.

“And no shortcuts,” Clark says. “The dough should be allowed to proof for at least 24 hours, and the cooking temperature should not be higher than 500. Patience and a deliberate approach get lost in this volume-based industry.”

Kickin’ it old school 

Frank’s Roman Pizza has stood the test of time. With nearly 40 years under its belt, it’s lived to see many ups and downs. And Barry Gardner, owner of the Tunnel Road store, has been there for a good portion of that time. Gardner says the shop’s founder, Brooklyn native Frank Palmeri, really brought New York-style pizza to Asheville when he opened Frank’s back in 1977. Gardner started working there as a driver in 1987, did just about every job imaginable and then bought it in 2001, when Palmeri retired.

Barry Gardner, Frank’s Roman Pizza

One thing that sets Frank’s apart from many other pizza shops that have popped up in the area is its consistent involvement with the youth community. For example, on Saturdays, kids are invited to make their own pizza — a 12-inch with up to three toppings — for $10.

“They make it, we bake it,” Gardner quips. “Our repeat business is great.”

Frank’s also boasts a game room, jukebox and a display of customers’ napkin drawings that have been collected over the years.

“Sometimes, we’ll have a parent come in with their kid and say, ‘Hey, I drew that 20 years ago,’” he says. “That’s what we’re about — combining nostalgia with great pizza. It’s almost become a cultural thing — our guests are 2 to 92, and we take pride in the fact that we’re the oldest in town. We’re kind of like the godfather, and everyone deserves a slice of our pie.”

Takin’ it to the streets

Tin Can Pizzeria sells its pizza from a converted 1976 Chevy step van that makes its rounds to popular brew stops like Highland Brewing Co. and the Wedge. Owners Cory and Michelle Cannon say the margherita — a classic combination of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil — is their most popular pizza. They change their menu on a weekly basis, but this one is always available.

Cory and Michelle Cannon's favorite is the Margherita.
Cory and Michelle Cannon’s favorite is the Margherita.

Like the others, they agree that quality ingredients and a hot oven are key, but they say the effort and love that a person invests in making the pizza is the most important factor.

“The perfect slice of pizza is crispy and has the perfect amount of char but is not burned,” Cory says. “Melted cheese that is molten-hot and fresh ingredients that complement one another are another must-have.”

And Michelle likes to experiment with unique recipes that incorporate flavors not normally associated with pizza. For example, the Pumpkin Pie, a fall specialty, combines pumpkin cream, mozzarella, Parmesan, spinach, pecans and thyme.

Michelle
Michelle Cannon shows off her skills.

Outside the box

Brendan Reusing, chef at All Souls Pizza, changes his specials every few weeks depending on what produce and other items are available. Those specials are typically the top sellers. One recent special featured lamb sausage, fermented pepper marinara, oregano, garlic and cave-aged Asiago.

All Souls also offers a gluten-free pizza with a nontraditional crust made from corn that is sourced regionally and ground by Reusing’s partner, David Bauer, at Farm and Sparrow Bakery. It is then cooked with salt, water and a touch of buttermilk, spread on a plate, cooled, par-baked and then baked to order with toppings.

“It’s difficult to pinpoint that one thing that makes great pizza, but for sure, natural starter, flour, knowledge, the ability to adjust and the care used during every step of the process are surefire ingredients,” he says.

Readers, where do you stand on this? Tell us in the comments section below what you think makes for the best pizza pie.

 

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9 thoughts on “Any way you slice it: Asheville pizza makers dish about what goes into a great pie

  1. H.E. Kap

    We are Brooklyn natives. We think that Standard Pizza in West Asheville represents one terrific pizza and also the best example of the pizza we grew up with. But they all sound good, and we will certainly try a few others just for comparison.

  2. Gary J

    Thanks for this insight! We LOVE thin crust pizza and now I know a couple shops to try. All sound good. And I can attest to the part about “Florida” water, being a native and having spent 20+ years there before leaving over 15 years ago. Made two trips down there this year … and it’s still as I remember it: The water is terrible LOL

  3. Gina Smith

    Thanks so much for the comments. Keep ’em coming, readers!

  4. Sam from Boston

    No offense to the writer, but this is an incomplete story and you clearly haven’t done your homework.

    You’ve omitted the two best pizza places in town, and a local pizza story in doing so, and a third place that has some of the best pizza in town.

    No mention of Grand Central Pizza on Merrimon, which used to be called Circle in the Square. They do NY pizza better than anyone in town except for the Frank’s Pizza you did NOT mention, the one up on Weaverville Highway, I like to call it Frank’s Uptown. And that Frank’s blows the Tunnel Rd. Frank’s out of the water, there is absolutely no comparison. And Frank’s Uptown is right up there with Grand Central. Though IMHO both are good, but not great, there is not great, authentic pizza to be had in Asheville. Also in omitting the other Frank’s, you missed out telling a story about that family and how they ultimately split up and opened up different factions. That’s a story I’d be interested in hearing more about sometime.

    You also ommitted Marco’s Pizza, a major local player in the pizza game, with two locations and the best red sauce in town. They don’t do traditional NY pizza, though it’s comparable and arguably just as good as Grand Central/Frank’s Uptown, they do margherita style and it’s really good.

    • Liisa

      Hello-

      Thanks for the feedback. Please keep in mind that this article was not really about specific places – it was more about what local pizza makers think makes a great pie. There are simply too many great places to mention in one article. And, yes, the places you mention in your comments are all terrific! Again – we’re not biased about any one place – we’re so lucky to live in a town where we have so many great ones to choose from!

  5. Steve Shell

    All of the above are worthy contenders, but on the south end of town no one touches Brooklyn Brothers for solid crust and sauce and a giant chicken parm that won’t quit.

  6. The Pontificator

    For nearly 20 years I’ve tried to duplicate the light airy crunchy crust of Frank’s Sicilian Pie and it still eludes me.

    Someday…..

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