1111 East 6th Street, Austin TX ; (map); 512-939-1927; via313.com
Pizza style: Detroit-style
Oven type: Electric Baker's Pride
The skinny: Late-night food truck in Austin serving exceptional Detroit style pizza.
Price: Pies $9-$16; Slices $3-$3.50
A late-night food truck serving pizza on Austin's East 6th Street bar strip sounds like a perfect combination—almost like pepperoni and melted cheese. But Detroit-style pizza? Most Austinites aren't familiar with it, including me. So I interrogated Josh Katzenstein, a friend from Michigan, about it before venturing to Via 313. He was dubious of a food truck slinging Detroit-style pizza in Texas. He sternly cautioned me about what to look for in these pizzas cooked in baking pans, "It should have relatively light toppings on a doughy crust. There should be no handle and the toppings must go all the way to the end. The sauce should not cover the whole pizza—it should be a light drizzle. The edge should be burned."
But he didn't know that the owners, Brandon and Zane Hunt, are two brothers born and raised in Detroit who have lived in Austin two and three years, respectively. They had originally studied Neapolitan pies when they became interested in opening a pizza business. Plenty of spots in Austin already make great pizzas in wood burning ovens, but no one did their hometown style. In fact, very few people had even heard of it.
I placed my order at Via 313's window. The trailer is on the same property as the Violet Crown Social Club, so we got some beers at the bar and put the order number on our table. About fifteen minutes later, our made-to-order pizzas arrived looking exactly as Josh had described. The first bite immediately transported me back to the personal pan pizzas of my youth. As a native New Englander with non-existent Detroit-style pizza experience, Little Caesar's came to mind. That's the charm of this up-and-coming pizza style—it hits nostalgic flavor points with the twenty and thirty-somethings.
That is in no way meant to downplay the quality of this personal pan pizza for adults. All of the dough is made inside the tiny trailer and cold fermented for 24 to 36 hours to achieve the chewy texture and yeasty flavor. Placed in a Bakers Pride oven at 550°F, the bottom of the pizza is baked to crispy perfection while the buttery center remains ever so slightly undercooked. But the addictive quality of this pizza experience lies in the crust. A generously thick layer of salty cheese is spread right to the edge, touching the pan. The result is an exceptionally caramelized and crispy edge.
The pizza dough is the focus for Via 313, but they also take toppings seriously. Meats like natural casing pepperoni, hot fennel Italian sausage, sopressata, prosciutto di Parma, and whole bacon strips are shipped in from Chicago. All of their vegetables are sliced by hand. Two strips of light tomato sauce are drizzled over each pizza as soon as it comes out of the oven. The warm cheese gently heats the sauce to accentuate its bright flavor.
Via 313 doesn't go crazy with fancy toppings—most of their menu options revolve around pepperoni, sausage, cheese, green peppers, and olives. There are a few trendier options like The Rocket ($15), topped with sopressata under a layer of melted cheese, finished with a large handful of fresh arugula and shaved Parmesan. The vibrant greens are a welcomed contrast to the heavy pizza. But The Detroiter ($13) was ultimately my favorite—topped with smoked pepperoni under a layer of melted cheese. The top layer of natural casing pepperoni crisps beautifully in the oven and adds the finishing touch.
A word of caution: I was slightly disappointed at first because the pizzas were smaller than I expected. But I quickly realized this isn't pizza you can easily gorge yourself on. I was completely stuffed after two slices, but I've seen ravenous eaters pack in an entire pizza or more in one sitting.
Via 313 does delivery, take out, and feeds hungry boozers throwing back drinks at the bar. There is a substantial wait on weekend nights as their oven only holds eight pizzas at a time. It's best to arrive in the early evening if you want to eat pizza in a hurry. A second location opening this month in South Austin should hopefully remedy the problem.