Serious Pizza

Cook throwing dough at Serious Pizza, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Cook throwing dough at Serious Pizza, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

A while back I went on a photowalk with some other folks in Deep Ellum. It was sponsored by a national organization and there was a contest. I wasn’t really interested in entering and didn’t think about it – I was there for the fun.

As we walked around I stepped into Serious Pizza. There was a woman from the Photowalk already standing there, looking at the guy spinning pizza dough. I stood shoulder to shoulder to her as she raised her camera and clicked. About a minute later, I took the above shot.

I’m notoriously slow at processing my photographs and the other woman had hers up first. It was amazing how similar our photos came out, even though they were taken a minute apart (I think it was different dough, for example). She entered hers in the contest, and won first place nationally.

Which is cool with me, she did take her photo first and had it posted first. It is a nice shot – especially with the guy’s tattoo.

I love Deep Ellum, always have. I’ve been living in Dallas long enough now to see the area go up and down several times. I did a search on my laptop for the term “Deep Ellum” and found some entries from my old journal from back in the day.

This one is from an entry called “Monkeys in Space.” I wrote it in 2000, sixteen years ago. It refers to an event that happened fifteen years before that – in the mid eighties – thirty years of Deep Ellum.

The mid-eightes in Dallas were a time of alternative music and gritty nightclubs popping up in the nascent Deep Ellum district. Most of my life, I’ve felt out of step with the times, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind. For a little while in the mid-eighties, while I was in my late twenties, I guess I could be considered to have been fashionable. The Deep Ellum nightclubs were starting and I was among the first people to hang out in the old Video Bar, the original Club Clearview, Theater Gallery, and the Prophet Bar.

Like all the clubs, the Prophet Bar was a converted old brick industrial space. It had two rooms, a front bar with live music and a back room with a suspect kitchen. It was known for watered down drinks, hot music, and walls covered with wild surrealistic murals painted on commission by local artists.

One evening we were at the Prophet Bar for some live music but had arrived early and were sitting around the front room with a smattering of folks all sipping drinks and eyeing the fashions and the figures. They had a jukebox and I had a fistfull of quarters.

The selections were populated by the alternative hits of the day, Siouxie and the Banshees, Teardrop Explodes… but among these familiar tunes were a few songs that even I hadn’t heard of. Wild sounding bands with ridiculous song titles. The one I remember was a band called Monkeys in Space with a song on the jukebox that I can’t recall except that it was a sexually explicit title.

I said to my friend, “I’ve never heard of that band before. Look at that. I wonder what kind of music that could be?”

Of course I couldn’t resist. Thinking how cool and hip I was to play a song nobody had heard of I plunked down my coins and pushed the proper numbers and letters on the buttons – then walked back to the table with the whole bar looking at me.

The bastards that ran the club had thought up a pretty good joke. In the slot that they had earmarked for Monkeys in Space they actually put a copy of Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree, by Tony Orlando and Dawn. It’s hard to describe the horror of that song… that opening hook, those lyrics booming out in that place with the black clad clientele and colorful murals.

I curled up like a sprayed bug.

That incident always stuck in my head. Decades later, I was able to use the Tony Orlando and Dawn song for my own nefarious purposes.

But that’s a story for another day.

The Nights Will Flame With Fire

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Pizza Oven at Cane Rosso Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

Pizza Oven at Cane Rosso
Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

Zoli’s New York Style

Try driving across a city when you are hungry – you will notice that there is a pizza joint on every corner. There is pizza everywhere.

Plus, the simple word pizza means something different to different people – there are so many varieties. Most people have a favorite and will defend their choice of crust – from crackerlike to deep dish – to the death. Then there are toppings – from traditional Margherita to fried eggs or squid ink. The place can vary from a corner take-out dive all the way up to a sit-down formal experience with wines to match the toppings and everything in between. A family owned local hangout to a massive international corporate chain.

Whatever you like.

I’m not a very good judge. My opinion is that pizza is like sex – when it is good, it’s great and when it is bad – it’s still pretty good.

Everyone has to have their go-to pizza joint. Ours is Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum (Pizza Napoletana with its famous “tip sag”) – I like to sit at the bar and watch the pies go into the giant wood burning dome of an oven, where they cook for only a few seconds (a close second is Urban Crust in old downtown Plano).

I stumbled across a list of 16 Iconic Pizzerias Across the Metroplex. I’ve been to about half of these (Eno’s and Mama’s are two more favorites) – and probably won’t make too much of an attempt to add more. The city is simply too spread out and there are too many good ones too close. Cane Rosso did make the grade, which is not a surprise. Campisi’s Egyption Lounge is on the list more for its history than its food, IMHO.

We were in Bishop Arts this weekend, looking for something to eat in a place that wasn’t too smoky and I remembered that Cane Rosso had opened a branch up there in the old Bee Enchilada location (shame it closed) called Zoli’s. They promised “New York Style Pizza” and that sounded good.

Here’s a useful graphic that outlines the difference in the various styles of pizza sold at the two spots. Zoli’s uses metal ovens instead of the giant domed wood-burner at Cane Rosso, plus it offers three styles – New York, Grandma, and Sicilian.

(click to enlarge)

Photo Courtesy Cane Rosso and Zoli's (click to enlarge)

Photo Courtesy Cane Rosso and Zoli’s
(click to enlarge)

Good stuff.

Zoli's, Dallas, Texas

Zoli’s, Dallas, Texas

Lunch special at Zoli's - Ceaser Salad, Slice, Knot of Garlic Bread

Lunch special at Zoli’s – Ceaser Salad, Slice, Knot of Garlic Bread

So, was Zoli’s great or was it merely good. I liked it a lot, but I was very hungry. You’ll have to go try it for yourself.

Trainspotting

“We start off with high hopes, then we bottle it. We realise that we’re all going to die, without really finding out the big answers. We develop all those long-winded ideas which just interpret the reality of our lives in different ways, without really extending our body of worthwhile knowledge, about the big things, the real things. Basically, we live a short disappointing life; and then we die. We fill up our lives with shite, things like careers and relationships to delude ourselves that it isn’t all totally pointless.”
― Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

My son, Nick, is home for a few days before he heads back to school. I told him I was going to do, “A stupid Dad thing.” I said I was going to drive down into South Dallas and sit around and wait until I could see an old train engine go by.
“Yes,” he said, “That sounds like a stupid Dad thing.”

When our kids were little, I used to take them down to Fair Park. It’s an underused and unappreciated piece of our city. We would stop off at the Age of Steam museum on the north side of the park. That was a little-known, overcrowded spot where they had an amazing collection of rolling stock – a true history of the American railroads.

Big Boy 4018, in Fair Park, a few years ago.

Big Boy 4018, in Fair Park, a few years ago.

Big Boy 4018, next to a slight lesser engine, in Fair Park, a few years ago.

Big Boy 4018, next to a slightly lesser engine, in Fair Park, a few years ago.

Big Boy 4018, behind the wire in Fair Park

Big Boy 4018, behind the wire in Fair Park

The museum was always neglected by the city and actively discouraged by Fair Park officials. It became more and more threadbare and run down. I was worried that it would fade away. But, eventually, the city of Frisco came through and decided to build a brand-new, spacious Museum of the American Railroad. It seemed to take forever, but the thing finally came together. I can’t wait to visit the place when it opens.

One challenge was to move all the rolling stock from the Fair Park sidings all the way out to Frisco. No mean feat – over the last few years they have been using slack time in the various railways across the Metroplex to move their cars and engines out to their new digs.

Only one piece of equipment remained – but that was a doozy. Union Pacific Big Boy 4018. One of twenty-five “Big Boy” coal-fired steam engines built in the early forties – arguably the largest steam locomotives in the world. 133 feet long, and weighing one and a quarter million pounds (with its tender) – that’s a big hunk of iron to move across a giant modern city.

I wanted to see this.

For months now, the move has been scheduled and canceled – due to technical and scheduling problems. Finally, this Sunday, it looked like the thing was going to go off. I followed on facebook and twitter and made sure it was going to be leaving home – then packed up my bicycle, folding chair, camera, notebook and pen, and some cold water and headed out.

The route was available online and I picked out a spot in South Dallas where the rail line ran along a deserted stretch of grass and trees – that still had a road (Railroad Avenue) right next to it. When I arrived, I realized I must have picked a good spot – there were quite a few folks there, including news reporters, official rail line photographers, railroad dispatchers on their days off, and a good gaggle of serious train fanatics.

Unfortunately, there were some serious delays and we waited for several hours while a number of other trains sped by, but no Big Boy.

While we were waiting some other trains came by. All the folks on this Amtrack were looking out the windows wondering why everyone was standing there with cameras.

While we were waiting some other trains came by. All the folks on this Amtrack were looking out the windows wondering why everyone was standing there with cameras.

Train fans, waiting for Big Boy.

Train fans, waiting for Big Boy.

A freight train stopped on the track, blocking the route, waiting for clearance ahead and we all realized it would be several hours more – so I took off and went to a favorite place in Exposition Plaza – Pizza Lounge – for a slice, an IPA, and watch the Rangers get beat on the television over the bar. I was able to keep up on twitter – and when it looked like the train was moving again I headed out.

The crowd at Scyene Road, under the DART bridge, waiting.

The crowd at Scyene Road, under the DART bridge, waiting.

This time I stopped at Scyene road, near the DART station. The train would reach that spot first, and there was a good crowd of folks still waiting. It still took about another hour, but it was pretty darn cool – worth the six-hour wait. Several serious railroad fans were saying, “Seeing an engine like this moving on the tracks is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Of course, it wasn’t under its own power. There was talk once of restoring this engine to operating condition, but it would be prohibitively expensive, nobody wants coal burning trains around, and there isn’t much track left that can take this size of machine. It was pulled along by a diesel engine, and was hooked to a long line of tank cars to provide braking and stability.

Three generations. The smoking diesel pulling the steam Big Boy, while the electric DART train zooms by overhead.

Three generations. The smoking diesel pulling the steam Big Boy, while the electric DART train zooms by overhead. (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018

Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

The massive drive wheels on Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

The massive drive wheels on Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018

Big Boy 4018

I was expecting the size but not the fantastic complexity. The size, number, and beauty of all those parts spinning as the train went by was incredible. Now I understand why the train fans wanted to see it move. When you look at these things in a static museum it’s easy to forget and hard to comprehend that they were built to move, move fast, move long distances, and pull unimaginably heavy loads.

Once it went by I drove back to Railroad Avenue, and as I pulled in, the Big Boy was already passing. I managed to get a shot of it as it went over Bexar Street.

Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

The Union Pacific photographer told me of a spot where I could get a picture of the train with the Dallas skyline in the background, but there was another tall container train on a siding blocking the view. The train still had a long way to go, but I was getting tired and needed some water, so I headed home.

“Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers… Choose DSY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away in the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that?”
― Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

Pizza at the Village… and a Whoopie Pie

In the Northeast quadrant of the city of Dallas, about six miles out from the skyscrapers of Downtown, sits a big ol’ apartment development, The Village. It was always a big part of my life the first decade or so I lived in Texas, though I never lived there. A lot of my friends did and I spent a lot of time hanging out in The Village.

When I first moved here The Village was the big Singles Apartment Development. It held about fourteen different apartment complexes with maybe ten thousand residents – almost all of them single. It was when it was still legal to have “adult apartments” that did not allow children. A little pricey for me, I lived a couple of cheaper places in the area and a lot of people I knew had an apartment there at one time or another.

The central nexus was The Village Country Club – a complex of pools, tennis courts, athletic fields, with a large clubhouse right in the center of all the action. They would have parties, live music, or sports leagues there, indoors and out. For a wide swath of Dallas young people, it was the place to be. I felt a little above all of that… preferring the more bohemian downbeat parts of town… but looking back it was a lot of fun. I spent a lot more time there than I thought I was and always had a good time.

All this came to a screeching halt in 1989 when the federal government made it illegal to refuse children from rental housing. Overnight, The Village became nothing more than another bunch of crappy apartments. I miss it.

So I saw on this interweb thing that there were going to be some food trucks down in the Village Country Club parking lot after work. I decided to run down there and grab a bite. I went more out of nostalgia than hunger.

It hadn’t changed much – the trees were much larger, the atmosphere more laid back and family friendly, but there were memories stirred up… all of them good.

The trucks down there were the usual suspects – but there was a pizza truck I had never been to before, The Gepetto Pizza Truck – so I bought an eight inch pie. It was pretty good – pizza is pizza and always good eats.

One of the lines of food trucks at the Village Country Club.

When you visit a place you haven’t seen in years – it’s always surprising how much the trees have grown.

The Gepetto Pizza Truck

Making Pizzas.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a pizza I didn’t like.

After I ate, I called Candy to see if she wanted me to bring something back for her and she asked about desserts. Rockstar Bakeshop was down there with their truck, “Layla”, so I bought her a homemade whoopie pie… and didn’t eat any of it. She said it was good… rich, but good.

Rockstar Bakeshop always gives its fare fantastic names.

Rockstar Bakeshop’s truck, “Layla”

Baking Bread

When someone asked Nick, my son, what his father did, he said, “Well, he bakes bread.”

At least I’m good for something.

Except lately, I’ve been so busy; working weekends, coming home late and exhausted – I haven’t been able to keep my dough going. We’ve been eating bread from the store. What’s left of my fifty pound bag of Costco flour is now buried deep in the chest freezer under tubs of ice cream and boxes of Healthy Choice frozen dinners. The plastic shoe containers that I use to make dough in are washed and stacked in the garage. My copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day lies dusty and unread on a counter somewhere.

My margarine tub of sourdough starter has been fermenting away in the fridge for so long I’m afraid to look at it.

I miss it.

Maybe a life is constant struggle between loss and renewal. There are so many poles with spinning plates on them, important things get away from you. Unimportant too. You have to pick up the pieces and dab a little super glue. You have to get back up on the horse.

So tonight I dragged my exhausted ass up off of the couch and measured out some water, flour, and yeast into my plastic container and set it aside to rise. Candy said, “I was going to ask you to make a pizza this weekend.” I can use the dough for that, for sure, and get a couple loaves out of it too

Pizza Crust

When the weather is so awful hot, I like to cook pizza on a stone on our grill outside. Here's the crust on a pizza peel and the stone, warming up.

.

The stuff ready to go - sauce, sundried tomatoes, herbs, cheese.

The pizza and stone, grilling away.

Yeah, I think I'll have to make one of these bad boys this weeked.

Maybe I can gin up enough courage to look in on that sourdough starter.


An interesting TED lecture on bread. Actually, I found it browsing lectures with the subject tag of “Chemistry.” It’s a more sophisticated approach than my “throw a bunch of flour, water, and yeast into the oven and see what comes out,” – but maybe I can learn something.