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Everything’s coming up pizza in St. Matthews

by Steve Coomes

If you’re a lover of really good pizza, not just the commoditized stuff, then you’ll be excited to know there’s a pizza war about to break out in St. Matthews.

For weeks now, the painted windows of a former Snappy Tomato Pizza on Shelbyville Road have threatened a coming Spinelli’s Pizza (I stress “threatened” because Spinelli’s took years to open its second outlet on Goose Creek Rd., a delay that was largely out of the owner’s control), and an announcement was made today on LouisvilleHotbytes.com that Coal’s Artisan Pizza will open on Frankfort Ave. (in the old Vogue complex) in December.

Plus, word on the street is Tony “Boombozz” Palombino will open an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria on Frankfort, though Palombino isn’t talking.

This is excellent news in many ways. First, Spinelli’s does a terrific job with slices—best in town at that game, if you ask me—and second, the two new pizzerias are baking pizzas the Old World and old school way: wood and coal respectively.

America’s oldest pizzeria, Lombardi’s Coal Oven Pizza in Manhattan was founded in 1905 and used coal to fire its mammoth oven because it was (back then) more readily available than – and cheaper than – wood.

Though immigrant Gennaro Lombardi used wood in Italy, he knew he could generate the same searing heat of 1,000 degrees as long as the oven design was right — and he was right.

A pizza cooked at that temperature is baked three minutes and is positively ethereal if done properly. The crust is barely more than paper thin, but still chewy-flexible, and the edges are puffy and lightly charred. I’ve had the privilege of eating twice at Lombardi’s and can vouch for that out-of-this-world experience.

Manhattan has about a half-dozen other coal-fired pizzerias (all are really, really good), but there are two minor chains growing out of the southern states that are spreading the coal-fired way. It’s great to see a local independent tackling this challenge—and a challenge it will be.

Mastering this type of oven takes incredible skill and attention. Michael Hungerford, who authored the HotBytes post, is a trained chef from Sullivan University who logged some time at the now-defunct Seafood Connection in St. Matthews, so it’ll be interesting to see how he manages the switch.

Palombino’s pizzeria will use wood in its oven and cook at a slightly cooler 900 degrees. The making of dough the Neapolitan way is both and art and science, and if he pursues the Vera Pizza Napoletana (translated as “True Neapolitan Pizza” and regarded as the international mark of excellence for those who claim to cook pizza in the Naples way) certification, he’ll really set the standard for the humble pie here.

Much like the coal-fired product, a Neapolitan pizza cooks in 90 to 120 seconds and is thin and chewy with lightly charred and puffy edges. The dough flavor will be different, though, bearing a much stronger aroma of yeast and deeper flavors tied to the aging of it’s “mother,” the active portion of the dough added from batch to batch—sometimes over generations.

Rumor has it he’d like to open in January, but I can’t confirm that as of yet.

As one who covered the pizza segment exclusively for nine years as a trade journalist, this has me excited. And what makes it truly thrilled is the fact that so many great beer opportunities rest right in the middle of what could become a pizza triangle. (A good entrepreneur will figure out how to turn this into a pizza and beer tour and shuttle people around.)

As soon as these owners start talking on the record, expect to see more reported here first.

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