The Iron Horse Hotel invited me down this week to try the eight new pizzas on offer at the hotel, including at Branded, in the lobby, outside in The Yard and in the property's rooms.
The pizzas are created by Chef Jason Gorman, who is an OnMilwaukee.com blogger, but were the brainchild of hotel owner Tim Dixon, who built a wood-fired oven out in The Yard specially for this purpose.
When Dixon broached the idea with Gorman, the latter recalls, the only caveat was "no tomato sauce."
So, Gorman drew on his Sicilian heritage and his earliest culinary experiences – cooking at an entirely-from-scratch trattoria – to create the eight pies that have been dubbed "Back Yard Pizzas."
One of the eight is called "Green Eggs and Ham" and another, "The Cheesemaster," features three master-cheesemaker-created Wisconsin cheeses.
The two I tried were the pesto pizza – Gorman's favorite, and mine – "The Midwestern," which features Wisconsin mascarpone, locally grown leeks, La Quercia pancetta from Iowa and potatoes from Idaho.
"Yes, I know Idaho is not in the Midwest," quipped Gorman with a chuckle when the pizza arrived.
Both were great, but had different feels. The Midwestern is hearty and feels like a meal in itself. The pesto pizza, laced with a touch of jalapeno for a little bite, was heavenly and could work as an appetizer or an entree.
I asked Jason if he did a lot of experimenting before settling on the final options. He said, "yes and no," noting that although he tinkered with ingredients, those were pretty well solid in his mind.
"Mostly is was to get to know the oven and how to best use it and also to experiment with different crusts," he said.
The pizzas I sampled had similar crusts of different thickness, a variation that Gorman said was not intentional, but rather a function of the differences that come from hand-rolling the dough. Although I didn't bring a tape measure, I'd estimate the pies at about 14 inches.
On the pesto pie, the dough was very thin and therefore crunchier, giving the dish a lightness that The Midwestern didn't have because its crust was thicker, but still pretty then.
Both were perfectly browned by the oven's flames.
The pizzas are available gluten-free and cost $14 each. I'll be back to enjoy them again. Hopefully on a day when a thermometer out in The Yard doesn't read 100 degrees.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.