Jay Jerrier and the State of Pizza in Dallas

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[Photographs: RIch Vana]

The recently expanded space at Dallas' Cane Rosso still doesn't seem overly large on a Friday night, where fans of Jay Jerrier's two-year-old Neopolitan pizza restaurant pack in shoulder to shoulder, waiting to get a seat to try one or two of his pies straight out of the screaming hot, 900-degree, wood-fired oven.

Cane Rosso, located in Deep Ellum, just outside of Downtown, isn't the only VPN certified pizza joint in Dallas, but it is certainly the most popular. Jerrier's business and social media acumen have certainly helped improve awareness to his restaurant, but it's the restaurant itself that has helped to spark a pizza culture in Dallas that expands well beyond what he's doing in his red wood-fired oven. We spoke with Jay to get his take on the evolving Dallas pizza culture, and where he likes to go outside of his own shop.

Thanks for chatting with us, Jay. Cane Rosso's coming up on its second birthday, and you're about to open a second location - how is the pizza culture different in Dallas now as opposed to when you decided to open shop?

I think that the state of pizza in Dallas has improved dramatically over the past couple—several, really—years. When Fireside Pies over on Henderson Avenue opened (2005), that was what started making me want to make good pizza. I think Fireside was the first recognized wood fired pizzeria in Dallas, and it was one that we went to all the time. Otherwise, we hardly ever ate pizza here because there wasn't anything that really stood out.

Since they opened, though, there have been places like Cavalli's—who makes really good pizza—up in McKinney and Irving. After them, we opened and then you have transplants like Dough that came in after that. Then there's a new one way up in Frisco near the soccer park called Pizzeria Testa - which is basically what Cane Rosso would have been if I had any money when I opened. And those are just the Neapolitan side!

Then there are the other places, places like Urban Crust, which I think makes good pizza, and you have a couple of the coal-fired styles, like Coal Vines—I especially like the original one down near the Crescent Hotel. I think that one does a really nice job. And, of course, the Grimaldi's chain is here in town now too. A lot of people seem to like that.

We even have good pockets of New York style pizza here now, too. Yes, there are the generic Joe's Pizza and pasta places that are more Albanian in style, but I'm not talking about those. For real New York style I think Brooklyn's does a pretty good job, and my favorite for New York style in all of Dallas is a place called Ferraris, which is a little spot kind of tucked away at Preston and Tennyson. I really think they make the best New York style slice in Dallas.

And even still, there's Campisis. I was in Love Field going somewhere, I think flying to Austin, and I noticed there was a Campisis at the airport and so I went and grabbed a little sausage pizza, and it was good. It's just a totally different style; I get why people get nostalgic about their sausage pizza—it's good.

All that to say, I think we've gone from kind of a wasteland of generic chain restaurants —you know, CiCi's, Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's—to a point where people are making their own mozzarella, they're bringing in double zero flour, they're taking the time and educating themselves about what good pizza really is, whatever style it is.

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You've mentioned a lot of styles of pizza. Is Dallas to the point where it has its own style, in your opinion?

I think that if there is a Dallas style, then just by terms of sheer longevity it's probably like Campisis; when you look at the places that are kind of iconic in Dallas, from a pizza standpoint, Pizza by Marco, Campisis's and even Louie's are the ones that have been along the longest time, and I think they all share that same style. It's probably originated from what they call a bar style pizza; where it's dough that's run through a sheeter so it's more like a cracker. Even Eno's does a real cracker-style of dough with a lot of toppings on it. I think that's why a lot of people were slow to adopt the much softer, more lightly topped Neapolitan style, because they were used to the idea of the crust as a topping delivery device rather than as a component of a pizza.

Do you see yourself going into a different style?

Yeah, but I don't think we would ever be able to pull it off inside Cane Rosso. It would have to be a separate standalone thing. But you know, of the millions of things on our to-do lists, I would love to find a way to do a New York style pizzeria. We always joke what it would be like: "If you hate Cane Rosso you'll love this pizzeria!" Because it's going to be big slices, and it's going to be slices that you can load up with toppings. And it's going to be with more of that shredded aged mozzarella; good stuff, like from Grande. Stuff like that. But it would be totally different from Cane Rosso; you can pick up a slice and it won't fall over. And so I think that is for sure on our to-do list. But we've got to get our White Rock location up and running, and work on that - we've got enough on that to-do list to last a lifetime.

So you've got this woodfired oven here, obviously specifically designed for pizza—but have you ever gotten creative with what you can cook in it?

All of our kitchen guys, we're always messing around with tacos, and we use the front lip of the oven to heat up tortillas. We take our braised pork and we'll kind of make an Italian version of carnitas. They'll make, they'll take our tomatoes and Calabrian chiles and they'll whip together a red salsa or we'll get some tomatillos in and make some salsa verde. We get distracted by a lot of different foods here.

In fact, I have actually made barbecue in one of my mobile ovens. You know at the end of the day, I just kind of set up a brisket on top of a raised grill with a pan of apple juice underneath it. Every now and then I would just throw a little handful of woodchips in to give it a little smoke. Man, after 14 hours, the next morning, that was some really tender brisket. Although I probably shouldn't have brisket grease running all over the floor of the oven. That's probably not a good idea.

Just call it the secret ingredient?

(Laughs) Yeah, right.

For more stories on Cane Rosso and Jay's experience with pizza ovens both stationary and mobile, check out these past posts.

About the author: Rich Vana spends his days discussing, discovering, and writing about food in Dallas and the surrounding areas. Sometimes he even gets to partake. You can see the fruits of his labor at Entrée Dallas.

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