My two trips, thus far, to Tribute Pizza in North Park are bracketed by two distinct points in time that, taken in the context of the visits, document a journey, perhaps a revelation, verging on a conversion.
The first moment, speaking of journeys, was about 46 minutes into what turned into a traffic laden hour and 10 minute drive to Tribute Pizza from North County, when I wondered/groused/bitched out loud why the hell I was making this drive for pizza. It mattered not that everyone in the car (meaning Fluffy Unicorn, aka the voice of reason) knew damn well the trip was more for the company, a meetup of some foodie and chef friends, than for the pizza. Regardless, I gah-rohn-tee, the pizza was taking the fall if this meal went awry. And awry was just another 25 minutes or so worth of traffic snarl away.
I suppose, if I’m being honest, at that particular moment, I was also reflecting, a bit embarrassedly, on exactly how much pizza I had eaten, both publicly and privately, in what seemed a relatively short span of time. In my defense, there were trips to NYC, Chicago and multiple forays to another pizza, not pizza, place we fell in love with earlier this year in downtown San Diego. I felt like I’d been eating, writing about, and, worse, loving pizza for a year.
Not a good look for a fine dining writer. Or, his fat face.
But, was I to be given the satisfaction of diving right into a pizza I was pre-determined to hate… to vent my freeway frustrations upon… to road ravage by keyboard? Nooooope. In fact, I was going to be made to suffer through a litany of surprisingly freshly conceived, classic appetizers, impeccably prepared, with side accoutrements like avocado crema that acknowledged local palates and cravings. The lineup, amazingly, made me forget pretty much anything at all outside the glass walls and 30 foot ceilings of the de-constructed loft space that used to be a post office.
Open just over a year now, you may find a surprising bit of nostalgic romanticism in the air at Tribute Pizza – a surreal jamais vous feel that you’ve been here before. Or, more precisely, that you’ve dreamed of being here before.
Owner Matt Lyons has done a marvelous job of creating a space at Tribute Pizza that feels like a joint you’ve been coming to since you were a kid. There’s a perceptible sense when you’re sitting in the dining room that this is the type of place where you’d expect to find employees that have been working there longer than you’ve been alive. It has an old world, diner-esque charm, lacking only decades of ivy crawling the walls, that gives the slightest passing nod to modern convention, mostly through the beer list, and not because of any sense of haute snootiness, but because of the very real sense of originality.
And, let’s face it. Today’s modernity is anything but original.
The second moment occurred at the tail end of our second visit… Oh, yeah, the first visit was so good we double dipped, which is also a double entendre that only those who’ve dipped their tongue into the best soft serve in this dimension will understand. Here we were back again, a month or so later. That ain’t saying much for most people, but, man, I’m tellin’ you, it’s both a sigh of relief and a pleasant surprise when we find ourselves able to eat at a joint twice, especially in a short time span. It means we felt comfortable and welcome, and the food was pretty damn good, in no particular order.
The second moment… Tribute Pizza owner Matt Lyons had just finished cutting this delectable, and when I say delectable, I mean 5 cheeses with a pungent saltiness cut by the sweetness of caramelized onions and topped with lardons and egg ridiculousness of a tarte flambe that, if you didn’t know better, might have you feeling like this is what pizza would taste like in Alsace… balanced flavors that start sticking to your ribs as they touch your lips, presenting with the subtle threat of heaviness, tempered by the realization that the world is still capable of appreciating finesse…
…anyways, Matt was saying, after he had just finished cutting through this pizza with a dull rolling cutter, which I think he dulled on purpose, ’cause it left enough contact between the slices so that you had to work a smidge at pulling them apart, leaving some of those jagged pizza crust and 5 cheese edges. You know, the ones where all the flavor and oils collect to slightly soften the otherwise crispily charred crust from the wood-fired oven…
…so, Matt is telling us about the water main break from a couple days before as I’m pulling these slices apart, trying to make sure I don’t accidentally (on purpose) steal toppings from the neighboring slice, thereby giving myself an inordinately disproportionate topping advantage over my table mates, even if it clearly wasn’t my fault that they weren’t paying attention…
…well, the water main break really put Matt in a pickle, speaking of which, if they ain’t marinating their own citrusy, buttery, phenolically laced olives here, they shouldn’t tell anyone, ’cause I’m happy to go on merrily thinking this is the only place on six or seven continents, depending on which school system you graduated from (some of us still believe there are 9 planets, too), that you can get these things…
…Matt goes on to explain how he makes his pizza dough two days in advance to get it the way he likes it. It allows yeast fermentation to occur giving the dough oodles of additional flavor and gives the glutens a chance to stretch and relax so the dough achieves just the right texture.
Kinda like my stomach after a meal like this.
And, this water main break happens in the middle of Matt’s dough making on Thursday. You need water to make dough. Meaning Saturday night’s gonna be a shit show of no dough. But, like a pro, he pushes through.
And, then, Matt says he discovered, as he was testing the dough for the night’s service, “It was like each pizza dough was its own little snowflake of shitty underfermentation.”
All I needed to know. When each of your handmade pizza doughs is a snowflake, it’s no wonder that every individual item on the plate is dead nuts perfect.
It’s a good thing Tribute Pizza was built in a former post office. It deserves its own zip code.
Anyhow, look… I gotta lay off the pizza. Even my head shots look fat and that’s when I’m behind the camera. But, I still haven’t tried the wine. It’s damn reasonably priced on the reg and even more so during happy hour. Let’s meet up and have a couple bottles. Cheers, my friends!