A pie is born

Warrenton gains Neapolitan pies at The Brick.

Warrenton gains Neapolitan pies at The Brick.

Words by Stefanie Gans    Photos by Jonathan Timmes

Mike Artery, line manager, and chef and owner Todd Eisenhauer. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

Bare filament bulbs hang from the ceiling, but that’s to be expected. It’s the light of the moment, conveying a rustic, homey and almost-secret vibe from the soul-baring dimness. What’s less expected in this basement-level restaurant are the rows of pizza peels with black Sharpie tally marks. It’s the Peel Club, having gained 30 members by November, five months since the opening of The Brick.

With a look around the room, the eleventh-pizza-free promotional club makes sense. People are laughing across tables and shaking hands with the bearded-and-tattooed men throwing dough into the air, just behind the bar, that doubles as the pizza-making station. This place was made for regulars, for friends.

Ciatola, smoked Gouda fondue in a warm crust. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

The Brick started when friends—Todd Eisenhauer, owner and chef of Black Bear Bistro, in which The Brick resides, and Bob Moore, the owner of Shelf Life Furnishings, just down Main Street in Warrenton—decided what the town needed: “Really good pizza,” says Eisenhauer.

After six months of construction, two months of 25 different dough recipes and one brick oven shipped from California, and The Brick focuses on Neapolitan pizzas. This means the 12-inch pies leave the wood-burning fire with a crust charred on the outside and doughy inside and a molten, liquidy center. 

It can take years to become adept at creating this particular type of pizza (Eisenhauer plans on applying for the official certification from Naples)—and the pizza here is on its way. The crust is wonderfully chewy with texture, with character. Although we liked the dough even better turned into a “bread” bowl and filled with smoked Gouda, smooth as liquid. Soup will never again live up to the contents of this carb-as-bowl.

Garlic knots, also of the same dough, bathed in garlic bits and garlic butter are even better after a dunk in marinara. Eisenhauer employs raw cooking, using a Vitamix to blend garlic and onion to a paste before adding in herbs and canned San Marzano tomatoes, creating something chunkier than a puree. The sauce doesn’t see heat until it’s warmed in the oven at the time of order, keeping the sauce “cleaner and vibrant. Herbs are still fresh and alive,” says Eisenhauer. And I agree. It’s a tomato sauce with bite, too, thanks to cayenne and jalapeño. I prefer the tomato sauce for dipping, and the creamier sauces to contrast with the (I wish more heavily) charred dough: a vodka sauce and hard-fried egg on one pie, and a roasted garlic cream sauce studded with pancetta oil in another. The latter welcomes an arugula pile tossed in a basil vinaigrette and as dressings slide together, pigginess infuses.

Fattori, An arugula salad (opposite) atop a vodka-sauced pizza with a fried egg. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

The menu is short and mostly full of carbohydrates and animal products. But, after living as a vegan for almost a year in 2012, Eisenhauer remains sensitive to meatless diets. Late this fall he added a vegan meatball. “If you’re not a vegan, and you’re trying to think vegan,” says Eisenhauer, “You don’t get it. When I went vegan I found a whole different way to cook.”

His sturdy meatballs don’t taste like meat, but still sport heft from a blend of marinara sauce, soy crumbles and crushed (by hand) red beans. There’s also vegan cheese available and a gluten-free dough, with a whole wheat dough coming.

The piadas, an Italian wrap of unleavened flat bread, doesn’t compete with Eisenhauer’s crusts. It’s a bit like compressed, undercooked tortilla, though a filling of (actual) meatballs would have been better had it arrived warm. The service can feel rushed and, at times, neglectful, on a recent, busy Friday night. One of the tenets of serving—guests need silverware before food arrives—was broken three times on one night. Yes, this is a pizza place, but gourmet pies demand a knife and fork. And a napkin is an undeniable right.

The last bite, garlic knots as dessert, arrived burnt and with an unadvertised, and unwelcome, drizzle of raspberry sauce. But I could have finished the accompanying marscapone butter with my spoon and, says Eisenhauer, guests can request caramel or chocolate sauce instead, even though the menu does not note this. The ending sweet course and the service one night sullied our mood. But the pizza deserves a chance. Get yourself a peel.

The Brick

Go at lunch when a 6-inch pizza and a side salad is $7.95.

Appetizers: $5 -10; Entree: $9 – 16

Open for lunch and dinner daily
34 Main St.
Warrenton; thebrickpizzeria.com

(December 2013)