There are lots of pizza places in this area. There are many more places that also serve pizza. The pizza places have checkered tablecloths made of plastic, and most have memorabilia on the walls. They are all different but they are all the same. When I’ve visited these places I’ve found the pizza framework to be similar as well. Some make their own crust, others buy from the back of a truck. Each pizza tastes good enough, with the only nuance being how crispy the crust is, how soft the vegetables are, how lively the sauce is, or isn’t, and how much fennel they decided to dump into their sausage. Pizza, most times and most places, is pizza.
While on my strictly carb diet, I heard from friends and clients about a place in East Troy. It’s a farm, they’d say. They make wood fired pizza. It’s only on weekend evenings, only in summer, only this and only that. It sounded exclusive. Like one of those basement restaurants in Portland that people can only get into after tussling with Antifa. Not only did it sound unique, it sounded good. Fresh ingredients, local everything. Wood fired, farm, local, pizza? I was intrigued. That’s why my wife and I picked our son up from lifeguarding duty and drove in his new-to-him-car to East Troy, carefully avoiding the Phish people along the way. After a twenty minute drive (from Williams Bay), we pulled into the farm.
That’s what this is, after all, a farm. It’s a working farm with a farm store where they sell everything from pasture raised pork to local wheat, milled into a whole wheat flour. The farm produces milk that is turned into cheese. It’s that sort of operation, and I’m glad that it’s here in Walworth County. We drove in slowly, past the farmhouse and around the corner to a gravel and grass makeshift parking lot where we joined 20 or so other cars who had beaten us to the Saturday evening pizza party. We could hear the live music as we followed the smell of wood smoke up to the location of the kitchen. Perhaps fifty or sixty people milled about, hiding under small umbrellas from the intense summer sun. A few kids ran in a sprinkler. The guy played his guitar (the music was too loud), the man at the pizza oven shoveled pizzas into and out of the smoky inferno, and two girls waited at a small folding table to take our order. It was a scene, but I was still formulating my feelings about it all.
The sign next to the pizza station was inspiring. Fresh mozzarella, organic pork, organic vegetables, wheat flour from Pfeiffer Farms in Delavan. This was a truly local operation, and I was proud to see my community delivering such fine ingredients to this pizza. When I approached the ordering table, I was given a few options. A Classic pizza was $25, with some basic ingredients. For $30, I could get their Specialty pizza, with four options. I chose the Pork in The Woods, with onions, Crimini mushrooms and pork sausage. The play on Hen Of the Woods was not lost on me. I would have opted for the Carnivore, but the inclusion of “beef wieners” did not interest me. I want my hot dogs on a bun, not a crust. At $30 this was the most expensive pizza I had ever ordered. I paid the ransom and we retreated to a small picnic table and waited.
It was hot out there. There was very little shade to be had, and while I appreciate the bootstrapped nature of the scene and the operation, I would have preferred to wait for my pizza in the shade. The website warns visitors that they might want to bring their own shade and tables, chairs, etc, but I wasn’t interested in a camping experience, just a pizza. If this were my business I’d take a bit of effort in preparing the scene. A dozen uniform picnic tables and a large tent, or series of smaller tents, would be a nice touch. In fact, it’s nearly a necessity. We waited for the pizza and I gazed off into the sunset, wondering how much better my life on that Saturday night would have been if only for a dose of shade and an indoor lunchroom table that wasn’t delaminating before my eyes. The musician pumped out his loud music, which included a Weezer cover, so things were looking up for at least the duration of that song.
We waited around 30 minutes for the pizza. That’s a fine wait given the circumstance. When the girl brought our pizza out, I immediately noticed the large cut slices of white onion scattered about, and the exceptionally heavy dose of cheese. This was not a wood fired pizza like you’ll find anywhere else. This is not like the wood fired pizzas that I make at home. Not like the pizzas that a wood fired pizza truck would make. Not like the pizzas that Oak Fire spins. This was a large (maybe 16″) pie, heavy on crudely chopped toppings, heavy on pizza, and sporting a flat crust with no raise whatsoever. Rustic is the best work to describe this pie. Rustic. Like the scene.
I would normally hold up the first slice to test its flop, but this pizza would have none of it. This was not a pizza that you could hold up. In fact, when I tried to fold the crust to eat it, thinking this may be more of a New York slice, the crust broke in half. Gluten? Not much of it here. I would have expected this crust to be one that was made several days in advance, to allow the flavor to develop, but I tasted no such development. The wheat is local, an ancient grain, according to the placard. Perhaps the crust’s soft condition was due to this local grain, and if that’s the case, then so be it. But I come to eat a wood fired pizza and I expect a crunch. Some chew. Here I found only a soft crust with no crisp, and a gummy interior that would have left me exceptionally disappointed had it come out of my home oven.
The cheese was nice and salty, but it was heavy and it burdened the soft crust. Those big half rings of white onion were crunchy, nearly raw. I dislike that. The pork sausage was good, and I felt better eating it, knowing it had come from well cared for, pastured animals. The tomato sauce was salty, not sweet, featuring large chunks of diced tomatoes. Not my style, but not bad. We ate half of our pizza, sweating profusely in the afternoon heat, and boxed up the rest before driving home.
I love that Grassway Organics exists. I love the idea of visiting their farm store and buying some of the good things that were on my pizza. In fact, I plan to do so this week. Their products deserve your attention and interest. But I won’t go back for the pizza itself. It just wasn’t good. It gets high marks for effort and care, but at the end of this day and every day that follows I will write a review on the taste of a food item, not a review on the intentions of those who created it. This pizza was too soft, too cheesy, too soggy, too rustic for me. I like the use of organic, local wheat, but maybe cut that with some bread flour and knead it longer to help develop the gluten? I want some crunch with my crust, I really do. If you’d like to try it yourself, I would encourage you to do so and let me know what you think.
W2716 Friemoth Road, East Troy
$30 for the Pork In The Woods Pizza