Bowling Alley Pizza Party.
Greasy Delicious Childhood Flashback
Growing up in a small town in central Ohio, a birthday meant one of two things. A sleepover – which was a sure sign someone’s parents had HBO or a VCR – or a pizza party. Well, maybe for other kids’ birthdays. My parents were kind of hippies and there was always homemade cake and healthy food and I swear that’s not an issue at all and I don’t resent it even the slightest. Nope. Totally well-adjusted here.
Anyway, because the 70s and 80s were the land before time, a pizza party wasn’t a stack of cardboard boxes delivered to a yard set out with folding tables. It was a rainy afternoon in a smoky room with a jukebox or, if you were lucky, an equally smokey bowling alley. The bowling alley had plenty of advantages over checked table cloths and a jukebox full of 40 year-old country and western hits: You could watch weird, old people bowl, place juvenile bets on the ball return system, get to play the claw thing, and rental shoes. It was a loud, bright, disinfectant-and-cigarette-smoke-scented wonderland. There was junk food: tater tots, disco fries, and corn chips swimming in a pool of florescent cheese sauce that were pretending to be nachos. I remember one party where, instead of cake, my friend’s mom simply brought out a tray of twinkies – still in the cellophane wrappers. And there was pizza. At least something that resembled pizza. I was in heaven.
I remember that horrible pizza as better than it was. In fact, I remember it as better than a lot of the pizza I’ve had at respected pizzerias and fancy places. I think it’s because that was forbidden pizza. Special occasion pizza. But maybe the aroma of forty years of cigarette smoke and stale beer just made it taste better.
This week’s menu is an homage to those absurdly wonderful afternoon hours in the early part of the 80s. I hope you enjoy it. If not, try a twinkie.
Some notes: Pizzas are easiest to cook and handle with a peel, and pizza stone or baking steel. I use this fabulous Super Peel - a peel with a fabric conveyor belt to make transfering breads and pizza into awkward ovens extremely easy.
At some point in my life, I stopped looking at salad as a healthy option and started thinking of it as a balance to all that rich food. That doesn’t mean a salad can’t be healthy. But if you order it just because it’s healthy, you’re gonna miss out on the best parts. Anyway, we’ve all got that friend who’s like “maybe I’ll just have a nice salad” and then they steal your fries.
This salad is the kind you’d get at the pizza place with the red checkered table cloth, served in one of those thin wooden bowls, or more likely a plastic bowl made to look like a wooden bowl. The dressing is simple, a take on classic “Italian” dressing. The greens should be crisp – they should bite back a bit. Tender lettuces will melt into mush under the weight of the toppings, so choose romaine, an endive like Frisee, or even – gasp – iceberg.
4 cups loosely packed crisp lettuce
¼ cup loosely packed shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup loosely packed sliced olives
¼ cup sliced pepperoni or ham
¼ cup loosely packed sliced pepperoncini or banana peppers
¼ cup toasted croutons
Thinly sliced red onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced, crushed, or microplaned
½ tsp red pepper flake
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
½ tsp granulated sugar (opt)
In a non-reactive bowl, combine garlic, a pinch of salt, red pepper flake, oregano, and red wine vinegar.
Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes for the flavors to combine and to mellow the garlic.
Whisk in the oil.
Add all remaining ingredients and toss well.
New York Style Pizza
I’ve played around with homemade pizza for years – I even have a ridiculous gas powered outdoor pizza oven that gets hot enough to melt arm hair. You heard me. Most of that time I’ve been trying to reproduce perfect Neapolitan style pies. They’re simple. They’re finicky, and they rely on techniques as much, if not more than the ingredients. Also, as the above picture shows, I can’t make a perfectly round pizza to save my life.
This is not those pies. Lately, I’ve been messing about with other recipes. I’ve been trying to reproduce the tavern-style pizza that’s common around where I live in central Ohio – cracker thin crust with toppings spread all the way to the edges – usually cut “party style” into rectangles. It’s also the variety that I ate at those long-ago bowling alley pizza parties. I’ve also been working on something resembling New York Style pizza – like the kind you get three slices of at three AM after making the fourth or fifth bad decision of the night and discovering that you’re too old to bar hop around Manhattan with a mad Danish-Australian giant. Unlike that night in the city, which was embarrassingly more recent than I’d like to admit, the New York Style pizza recipe actually came out pretty well. It’s crispy, and chewy, holds up to a spray of toppings, and most importantly it folds well – to facilitate walking, or eating with the refrigerator door open, or not getting pizza on your shirt. Whichever is your priority.
Makes 2 14-inch pies or 2 12-inch pies with leftover dough for dessert.
500 g bread flour
325 g water
10 g salt
10 g granulated sugar
25 g olive oil
3 g yeast
Add the water, yeast, and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir to combine.
Add the oil, flour, and salt.
Knead for 5-10 minutes or until dough is smooth.
Transfer the dough to a greased, covered container and allow to rise in the refrigerator overnight.
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
Add olive oil to a pan over medium heat.
Add the tomato paste and fry in the oil until slightly darkened.
Add oregano, salt, and water, using a whisk to integrate the paste into the water.
Peel, trim, and mince or microplane the garlic and add to the pot.
Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached.
To finish, divide the dough into 3rds – two pies plus more for fried dough desserts – or in half for larger pies and roll into balls. Allow to rest on the counter for 10 minutes for the gluten to relax. This will make shaping the pie easier.
Preheat your oven to its highest setting – for mine that’s 500° F. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the lowest rack and allow the oven to preheat for an hour.
Stretch the dough into thin rounds on a well-floured surface. There are videos on youtube that can help you with this step. I cannot, as I said above, I can’t shape a round pizza to save my … pizza.
Top with sauce, cheese (I find low moisture full fat mozzarella or provolone are best with this), and any other desired toppings (try pepperoni and banana peppers for the true central Ohio experience).
Using a pizza or bread peel, transfer to the oven and bake until bubbly, crisp, and well browned along the crust. If you don’t have a peel, use a sheet pan.
Spicy Breaded Wings with Ranch and Mambo Sauce
I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about chicken wings here before, but even if I have, I’m going to reiterate their wonders here and now. They’re almost perfect. The perfect balance of fatty crispy skin and tender meat; they’re a perfect pallet for all kinds of delicious sauces rubs, and they’re the only meat-on-a-stick solution to come with their own stick!
There are a lot of opinions about breading wings versus unbreaded, roasted versus fried, etc. All those opinions are valid because you get to like whatever chicken wings you like. These are fried and breaded. In this preparation, I generally don’t sauce them, but serve them with sauces on side. This gives you the best of both worlds, a crisp wing with flavorful breading and a delicious sauce, -without sacrificing the crunch to the flavor.
2 lbs party cut chicken wings
1 cup AP flour
½ cup corn starch
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 cups pickle brine (see below)
Place the wings and pickled brine in a plastic zip top bag and allow to marinade at least 4 hours, and up to overnight. The flavor of the bine will affect the end results, so I prefer fermented “fresh” pickle brine – either from homemade dills, or the fresh pickles usually found in the cold cases at the market.
Mix the flour, corn starch, baking powder, salt, cayenne, thyme, and black pepper in a large bowl.
Remove the wings from the brine and shake off most of the brine.
Toss the wings in the breading mixture, set on a sheet pan lined with a rack, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to four hours. This allows the breading to hydrate.
Heat a fryer to 325° F.
Fry the wings, in batches, until crisp and brown – about 7 minutes. Allow to drain on a rack and keep warm until serving.
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tsp freeze dried dill
1 clove garlic, minced, microplaned or crushed
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp sugar (opt)
In a non-reactive bowl, combine lemon juice, dill, and garlic.
Allow to rest 10-15 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and whisk together.
Taste for seasoning and sweetness. Add sugar if it’s too acidic (this will depend on your lemon)
Refrigerate for 1 hour before use.
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp Franks Red Hot
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Combine all ingredients in a pan, and bring to a low simmer. Cook until the sugar has dissolved, and the sauce has thickened slightly. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.
Fried Pizza Dough with Cinnamon Sugar
I love places that have that desert that’s the “Well, we don’t really have desert but here’s something we otherwise serve with some cinnamon and sugar on top.” I’m not kidding. Some of the best sweets evolved from the “meh, this is what we have” tradition of culinary innovation. You know exactly what I’m talking about – the local pizza place that scatters cinnamon and sugar instead of cheese and instantly those garlic breadsticks become “cinnamon dippers,” or the Mexican joint that fried some flour tortillas in place of sopapilla and yet … they’re really good! That. The common denominator is always cinnamon and sugar, chocolate sauce, or white glaze frosting. Sometimes a combination of both. Maybe, if you’re very, very lucky, all three.
This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a “meh, this is good enough” in that above grand tradition – but the results are a lot of fun. The same things that make the pizza dough recipe above great make these fried morsels of mediocrity more than mediocre. They fry up tender on the inside, but pleasantly chewy on the outside. The cinnamon and sugar adds exactly the right amount of sweetness, and then you can dip them in stuff that makes them even sweeter – glaze, chocolate
Serves 4 as a desert/snack/thing you want when you want fried dough
1/3 recipe New York Style Pizza dough (above)
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Chocolate syrup (opt)
Mix sugar and cinnamon together.
On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 1 to 2 inch thick coil. Cut off 1 inch pieces. Fry at 350° F until browned on the outside.
Drain and cool slightly before tossing well in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
Serve with white pastry glaze, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, or other dipping sauces.