Pizza Tree is back. For those of you who do not live in Middle Missouri, this means nothing. However, if you do live here or ever plan on visiting, this might be the most important news ever. Well, for pizza enthusiasts.
See, Columbia, Missouri has been dominated by a pizza juggernaut named Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s pizza is fairly conventional, but it’s sold in one of those college hangouts like you see on TV or movies. It’s got character and that goes a long way to cover up so-so pizza. Still, folks here feel nostalgic for their own college days and want to relive those days with a slice or whole pie from Shakespeare’s.
Shakespeare’s isn’t terrible pizza. They just haven’t had to make their pizza better over the years. Since I moved here almost ten years ago, I have wanted fresh garlic on my pizza. That entire time either their website or employees would assure me that they were working on getting garlic. Seems simple, but when no one is pushing you to improve your game, things like adding garlic go by the wayside.
So, there was a hole in the pizza scene here that needed to be filled. There was cheap, industrial pizza and several mediocre local alternatives. Plus, the aforementioned Shakespeare’s and its nostalgia. What we lacked was interesting, sometimes off-beat, but always good pizza. And that’s when Pizza Tree first appeared.
In what used to be a Jamaican jerk kitchen and sometimes the green room at local music venue Mojo’s, John Gilbreth was making pies. He make Detroit style, shipped in special pepperoni, created “pizza art”, and grew the mother of all sourdough mothers. Despite being named Columbia’s best new restaurant, the Tree had to shut its doors. Possibly due to high demand and an inability to meet said demand or maybe due to a lack of visibility… Either way, Pizza Tree was no more.
Then, they Kickstarted a new effort to move to the heart of downtown, into a space more suitable for a fully functional pizza joint. And the opening has been slow and steady with new hours and delivery services added. Now all they have to do is get the word out.
Why Pizza Tree?
John uses the best ingredients. I mentioned the insanely good pepperoni and sourdough crust, but it’s hard to forget Sriracha-glazed pork belly, truffled crimini mushrooms, and house-stretched mozzarella. These are decadent pies that border on gourmet. And now they are functioning like an old-school pizza shop.
Of course, the pizza to end all pizzas is the famous Bánh Mì. Imagine the Sriracha-glazed pork belly I mentioned before with kimchi, chile aioli, and fresh cilantro… It’s as good as it sounds. Hell, this pizza was good two nights later when I finished it. I am not afraid to say that it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had.
One thing a pizza joint needs is an aesthetic, some character. With a focus on 1980’s/90’s iconography, Pizza Tree is the pizza place we all wanted to hang out in when we were kids. The only difference now is that our tastes have matured to accept pizzas like Maple Butternut or Charredachoke. To add to this aspect of the mystique, local artist/musician Justin Nardy has joined the team to add his touch to the place.
Pizza Tree is yet another example in a long line of examples where someone’s ingenuity and craftiness creates something so unique. Corporations with teams of marketers can’t come up with what Pizza Tree does. And if they did, they would ruin it. While I’m sure John would like to make a living, he won’t be so greedy as to ruin his product for an extra buck. Even as much of a hard time as I give Shakespeare’s, at least they have kept it local and authentic.
A theme of this blog for a long time has been to celebrate businesses like Pizza Tree. I can’t imagine anything better than washing down a Pizza Tree Bánh Mì with a Logboat Snapper IPA followed by some Harold’s doughnuts and Fretboard Coffee (review still to be written). It’s a good time to be into all things epicurean and indie. May Pizza Tree and their brethren live forever!
2014 was the year of the doughnut for me. I mean, I’ve always loved doughnuts, but this year, I really sought them out. There was Strange Doughnuts in STL (and soon here as well) on a daughter-daddy weekend a while back. There was Revolution Doughnuts (twice) in Decatur this summer while I was there for a conference. I tried to detour my entire family vacation back home to Ohio just for some craft doughnuts, but was unsuccessful. However, we did score fresh cinnamon-sugar doughnuts at the Ohio State Fair. Then Harold’s Donuts came to town. And since Harold’s magically appeared, I’ve ordered boxes of their doughnuts thrice. I would eat more, but their shop isn’t yet open.
Last weekend, Harold’s (really, it was owner Michael Urban) was divvying out maple-bacon and pumpkin doughnuts at Logboat Brewery for a sort of after-brunch event. Also on hand was Fretboard Coffee, making it a hat trick of local foodcraft providers. Of course, the doughnuts were good, only adding fuel to my doughnut fire.
At this moment, let me step back and say a few words about all this doughnut madness before telling you more about Harold’s…
As my regular readers can attest, this blog focuses a ton on artisanal and craft products and the people who make those glorious consumables we love. I’m decidedly anti-corporate, a localvore, grassroots kind of consumer. I love to use this blog and other social media to promote my favorite businesses. Doughnuts just happens to be one of those craft industries that’s really taken off in the past few years. It started with Voodoo in Portland and quickly spread. Now, every city in the Union has a bacon doughnut of some kind. (Thank you, Voodoo.)
And how are these doughnuts better than run-of-the-mill industrial doughnuts? Well, first of all, they are typically made with the best ingredients. Plus, being local, there are not a lot of preservatives. So, eat them fresh. Throw in that the people who work at these doughnut dispensaries are our neighbors. People working in the community to provide for said community trumps corporate entities every time. Yes, our neighbors also work for Dunkin and Crispy, but those dollars eventually go back to their corporate overlords. I like my doughnuts steeped in the local flavor.
In terms of the doughnuts themselves, I am an equal-opportunity consumer. I have always preferred cake varieties, but the more yeasty cousins are winning me over. The best yeast doughnuts I’ve had on the planet are in Decatur, GA at Revolution Doughnuts. Yes, they have vegan versions, but why suffer? Eat the shit out of those living, breathing doughnuts! Our local Harold’s also does a nice yeast doughnut that writing about it makes me want another…
Toppings and fillings are secondary to the doughnut itself, but they are important. The aforementioned bacon doughnut is maybe the most revelatory thing to happen to the deep-fried dough confectionary. Of course, it’s not the only way to top a doughnut. There is simple sugar in its various forms or a variety of icings. What’s going on inside the doughnut might be the most exciting option as jellies and creaming fillings shoot out the other side as one bites into their breakfasty dessert…I could go on, but you get the picture.
All that is well and good, but the single-most important doughnut issue is the spelling. Now, I am not a stickler for ancient, grammatical dogma, but I have my limits. I mean, I do give a fuck about the Oxford comma. So, it should be stated here – in case you didn’t already notice – doughnut is spelled with “dough” and not “do.” The last time I checked, it’s made form dough as well. So, shouldn’t the spelling reflect this characteristic of breakfast gold? Just my two cents.
All of this leads to what I really need to write about: Harold’s Donuts. This is our new doughnut dealer. They are all about the craft aspect. They feature local ingredients when possible. There will be locally-owned-and-roasted Fretboard Coffee at their shop. Harold’s is the doughnut of choice in Middle Missouri.
While the doughnuts are great, it’s the business model that has me really stoked. In addition to the things already mentioned above, Harold’s is making a real effort to embed themselves in the community. Despite not having a storefront yet, they have made their presence known. Whether it’s through collaborations with coffee roasters, brewers, or ice cream parlors, Harold’s is not afraid to make friends. Again, despite no actual store, they deliver all over town. And business has been so good that one often has to order doughnuts several days in advance.
I tried to order doughnuts for today (Friday), but was sad to see they were already sold out on Wednesday. I politely made my feelings known on Facebook and Harold’s took care of me. Well, Doughnut Daddy Urban took care of me. Filling an order of two dozen various doughnuts so that I could say thanks to my co-workers for completing a huge job was the thing that helped me decide that Harold’s is where I will always go for a big doughnut order.
Long story short, doughnuts are king in 2014. I realize we are behind on this development in the Midwest, but I prefer to think of it as a sign that we know what’s what. I mean, we have doughnuts today and some on either coast have already moved on. How sad for them.
One reason I have blogged for so long (although not very often as of late) is that I enjoy the discussions that occur. I’ve made a lot of friends through blogging, some of whom I’ve never met in-person. Hell, I have over 830 friends on Facebook, a high percentage I’ve never talked to face-to-face. I love that I have so many virtual friends. It’s kept me sane in times I felt alone.
Still, it’s nice to see a friendly face now and again, to shake an actual hand. And I was able to do a lot of that at the Bill Callahan show.
As soon as I entered Mojo’s patio preceding the actual venue, I was greeted with friendly faces chilling, enjoying the nice weather. There were friendlies at the merch table and every step between me and the bar. People I usually hang with at another bar were at the end of Mojo’s bar. On my way there, I passed friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. And more pals, acquaintances, friends-of-friends, etc. poured in from the back as Callahan’s set neared.
You don’t know how meaningful this is for a guy who once penned a blog called “living in misery.” Don’t get me wrong, I long for city-living, but if I have to live in Middle Missouri, I at least want to hang with some good people. It was a nice night to say “hello” and catch up with folks. I suspect the same will happen in the fall when Neutral Milk Hotel(!) stops here.
Speaking of friendly faces, Bill Callahan started early – which works for working parents like myself. He opened with “Sycamore” and danced around his catalog without moving much for the rest of the night. He brought with him a couple of players – one on guitar and the other on bass – both seated. The crowd was a bit ornery as the drinks flowed, but as soon as anyone realized Callahan was singing again, they politely stopped talking. I’ve never seen anything like it, but maybe all those people really are as nice as I think they are. You know the type: friendly midwesterners. And Bill Callahan was liking it, sneaking in a pleasant smile here and there.
I like friendly faces filling my favorite hangouts and occupying their stages. There’s nothing quite like a familiar smile, warmed with alcohol, and willing to chat. I had a little of this in previous lives, but not quite like this. In adulthood, there’s less transition as folks settle in for the long haul. Sure, people move, but adults know each other for decades. I haven’t lived in Middle Missouri for even one of those, but I already have found a community of friends, pals, acquaintances, and friends-of-friends to make an enjoyable evening with a wordsmith like Bill Callahan so much more enjoyable.
Last night I took my four-year-old to see punk and riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna speak for a Women’s History Month series held at Columbia College. While between projects at work, I decided to see what was written about the talk. The regular news sources summarized Hanna’s visit succinctly, but there was nothing coming from a local blog. There aren’t many good blogs in this town these days, but a void needs filling and I’m about to get back on that horse.
As I mentioned above, I took my daughter to see a woman whom I think is a great role model as she grows and develops. Kathleen Hanna is a strong, smart, and creative adult woman I want my kid to look to for inspiration. She has people like that in her life now, but it doesn’t hurt to find more.
My kid was in awe. First of all, she insisted on sitting in the front row. We skipped over a couple of seats that looked to be saved and settled in. It just so happened that one of those seats was Kathleen Hanna’s! When a woman began to welcome the audience, my daughter asked whether or not that was Kathleen Hanna. I promptly informed her that no, Kathleen Hanna was sitting next to her. It was all that four-year-old could do to contain her excitement.
She really loved any time Hanna referred to rocking and bands. See, my daughter loves riot grrrl bands. She’s particularly fond of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag. (She just wrote a letter and drew a picture for Wild Flag to be mailed ASAP.) She loves the power and upbeat energy from that era of music. The fact that it’s all made by women doesn’t hurt either.
Hanna gave the kind of talk one would expect. She told her story, full of valley girl vernacular. She had slides of rarely seen zines and flyers. There were grainy videos of her various bands. She had great anecdotes of major indie and punk rock players. She told stories of inspiring young women fighting the patriarchy at every turn.
A running theme was her attempt to take back space normally occupied by males. There were rooms in a community center, rock venues, even the space in front of bands to be occupied. Underlying all of this was the space men and boys take up that can’t be seen, the space occupied by ideas and words. Hanna challenged these spaces and found room for herself and the girls who joined her in the fight.
At some point, a guy sitting in the back yelled out some fairly off-topic statements and questions. I won’t dignify either the content nor the deliverer of such idiocy as it completely disrupted the night by identifying or detailing what was said. Hanna was knocked off course a couple of times. Finally, she regained her bearings and told the guy to “shut-the-fuck-up.” Then she demanded he leave.
Instead of leaving quietly, the “heckler” continued to be obnoxious until college staff and a few audience members helped him leave. The debate over his comments continued today on Facebook, but I don’t want to spend anymore time on this as the dude was totally out of line.
Two beautiful things resulted from this conflict. First, the outburst demonstrated Hanna’s point about men always taking up space that wasn’t theirs, infringing on a woman’s chance to express herself. Second, it provided an opportunity for my daughter and really any young woman in the crowd to see a need for feminism as well as said feminism in action.
Fuck that dude and all the jerks and bullies like him.
Hanna recovered and continued to present her story. I geeked out over a video of Bikini Kill. My daughter geeked out over a Le Tigre video. We both laughed over the cabaret video Hanna shared.
It was a fun and empowering night. I wish my daughter could have met Hanna, but that will have to wait for the letter my girl intends to write to one of her newest heroes.
If you see this, Kathleen Hanna, know that you made an impression on our little college town and one four-year-old in particular.
For more on the talk, check out The Missourian’s take.
As you may have noticed, life gets in the way of my blogging. Of course, it gets in the way of many things.
There was supposed to be a beer tasting to attend Saturday, but I promised to DJ the Hairhole benefit. That didn’t happen either as my kitchen sink decided to quit working. Saturday was spent trying every DIY method for unclogging a drain only to have to call Roto-Rooter on a Saturday night.
Then there was the birthday party for a five-year-old and friends came for dinner…
The heavens parted as we sampled some beer, including my two latest homebrews. The first was the New Slan Saison which after only one week in the bottle is fully carbonated. The same can’t be said for the scotch ale, but I’m hopeful it will turn out fine by this coming weekend. (Then again, I’m not 100% sure I added priming sugar. Never homebrew when you’ve had a few beers already, kids.)
And when these friends took off, I hit the Blue Note for a Built to Spill show. I’m not sure why I still go to BtS shows. It’s pretty much the same thing every time. Even the band seems to mail it in a bit, but at least it was something. A rock ‘n roll escape from life. They played all or at least most of the “hits.” It’s old hat for them, but they didn’t disappoint.
Maybe life will quit getting in the way and I’ll find some inspiration sooner or later.