Pizza is hands-on and interactive. You get to play chef, construction engineer and artist, and since the diner picks everything from the sauce, the cheeses, meats and other toppings -- if it isn't right, it's probably your fault.
So, shut your piehole and eat.
Combine one tiny building, (formerly a liquor store), a really good crust recipe, a great list of ingredients, one local boy from Tulsa and some friends with cars and you get a great little pizza joint.
Owner Andy Park, a young 30-something himself, bought the place three years ago when he was downsized out of a job. Pie Hole was Park's part-time night job at the time, and the rest was pretty much a metamorphosis.
Park staffed the pizzeria with guys who knew their craft and came out the other side with a really good, easy to miss -- but not easy to forget -- pizza joint at 2708 E. 15th St.
This place really reminds me of the first job I ever had throwing dough in a little pizza storefront back east. I've been driving by the Pie Hole for years now -- it's been there for eight -- and kept promising myself I would go. Katie and I recently decided to check it out.
A large blackboard fills the wall behind the counter where several guys alternate taking orders, handing out pizza to a constant stream of customers picking up to-go orders, and answering the phone every minute or so to take another pie order. Several pizza specials and other items are listed there.
The restaurant is clean and simple, with stained concrete floors, freshly painted cinderblock walls, and dim lighting. The pizza cooks in the back provide most of the ambient noise, aside from the hum of a phone and carry out customers, which drowns out most of the music playing in the background.
In the middle of all the craziness, one guy behind the counter helped us pick our pie from a healthy selection of items for such a small place.
A few other options include calzone, another "back east" item that has gained some measure of popularity here in the last few years. Park said the calzone isn't a huge seller, but the dish has a loyal following just the same. Essentially, a calzone is made with ricotta and sometimes other cheeses, packed with ingredients and placed atop pizza dough that's folded over and baked. Think of a large pizza version of an empanada or meat pie and you will have a pretty good picture of it.
Calzones usually contain about half the amount of ingredients one would find in a pizza. They're very good, and stay burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot for a long time. The calzone with ricotta and two ingredients of your choice comes in at a whopping $7.50.
Pie Hole also has a meatball sub, prepared the classic way: A hoagie roll is filled with fat meatballs, topped with sauce and cheese and baked until it all melts together. A great deal for $5.25.
The place also serves gyros, Greek sandwiches of warm pita, gyro meat and garnishes with a side of tzatziki -- a cucumber and unsweetened yogurt sauce. ($5.75)
Or, if you're with that person who has more self-control than most of us, there are even a few salads -- although, who goes to a pizza joint and orders salad anyway? Nobody I hang with, that's for sure.
Pie Hole does it straightforward and authentic. You won't start out choosing between thick/thin/cracker or cheese-stuffed crusts. They serve hand-tossed crust, period. Just like you get in Roma in every corner pizzeria. The Pie Hole cooks can toss the dough a few extra times to make it marginally thinner, but that's all.
Feeling ambitious? Diners can actually buy a dough ball from Pie Hole, take it home and try your hand at pizza making at home, where only your family can watch you poke your fingers through it or stick the crust onto the ceiling. Park said the restaurant will -- and does -- sell its large dough ball for $3, and the "less large," as he calls it, for $2. What a deal!
Katie and I agreed on a pesto-based pizza. The pie starts with a layer of fresh basil pesto, which is topped with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, roasted garlic and fresh spinach.
While we sat and waited, a steady stream of customers came in, picked up their orders and left. At the same time, deliveries were coming and going.
Park said he does about 40 percent in-house business, and the rest split between deliveries and pick-up orders. The Pie Hole's delivery area extends from about 41st and Yale Avenue west to Riverside Drive and north to Admiral Place. There is an extra charge for delivery: a whole $2!
Our pizza had a crisp, brown crust. Everything was melted together and all the fresh ingredients were tasty and hot. Ours was the 12-inch version and came in at around $14. Delicious!
A word of warning: if you have never had a pie with fresh mozzarella, the fat from the cheese ends up as a sort of melted butter-esque layer on the pizza. If you are sensitive to what can only be described as an oily pizza, this may not be a good choice. Coupled with the olive oil in the pesto and you're in for a very rich pizza.
Pesto in its most base form is a "crush" of olive oil, fresh basil leaves, garlic, grated hard cheese and pine nuts, although walnuts are occasionally substituted. Pesto separates a bit during cooking and does give off an oily top layer. Then there's the oil in the nuts, and, well -- you get where I'm going here. It's just not a combination for everyone. But it was for us, and it was a very good, authentic pizza.
Pie Hole offers a red sauce-based pizza; a lighter red sauce version; a white pizza made with an Alfredo sauce, and the aforementioned pesto-style pizza.
Toppings include everything from the standards to salami, gyro meat, smoked Italian ham and meatballs, to feta.
I highly recommend this place. Go stuff your piehole.
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