Pizza Obsessives: Jeff "SonnyC79" Amador
If you follow My Pie Monday, you've probably seen SonnyC79's fantastically creative pies. We had a chat with the Austin-based pizza fanatic to learn a little more about his particular brand of obsession.
Name: Jeff Amador
Location: Austin, TX
We've seen dozens of your pizzas on My Pie Monday, so we know you love the stuff. But what kind of pizza do you love the most?
Without having children of my own, I think that I can finally identify with the situation where parents say "I could never choose between my children." I have yet to find a type of pizza that I haven't preferred at some point or another. I think it often comes down to which type I've had most recently. I have fluctuated from New York thin crust to deep dish, Neapolitan to Detroit-style, and just about everything in between. I suppose, though, that if I HAD to choose a preferred style, I would say that I could probably eat enormous New York slices for the rest of my days, and I imagine that I would be pretty satisfied with the remainder of my pizza-eating life.
The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes...becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice? Where was it from, is the place still around, and if so, does it hold up? On that note, has your taste in pizza evolved over time?
My pizza taste has evolved immensely over time. If the Pizza Cognition Theory were true in my case, I would probably think that pizza from some sort of cheap buffet (CiCi's Pizza, Chuck E. Cheese, etc.) is the best. Or perhaps I would still long for the Stouffer's French bread pizzas that my parents so lovingly served me during my youth, even granting me the ability to add MORE salt to their already loaded exteriors. Thankfully, after struggling with weight problems in my teenage years, I decided that indulgent (read: unhealthy) meals like pizza needed to be truly special. I did not want to waste my cheat meals on forgettable dishes. This mindset led me to seek out the best and most recommended restaurants in the area and turned me into the self-proclaimed "food snob" that I am today.
Does your food snobbery find its way into your topping preferences?
There are very few toppings that I just won't enjoy on a pizza (mushrooms, blue cheese, for example), but I'm a huge fan of roasted red peppers on any kind of pizza. Throw on some thick-sliced pepperoni and housemade meatballs, and I'm a happy camper. I have also recently been seeking out white pizzas with a mixture of several cheeses, a bit of olive oil, and fresh garlic. That being said, I doubt that I have ever made a better pizza at home than the time that I topped a thin crust pizza with fresh mozzarella, a
homemade spicy bacon jam, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and a spritz of lemon juice. It was just perfect!
Mmm that sounds amazing. When you're not putting together such marvelous creations, where do you go for pizza in your area?
For the longest time, I felt like the Austin pizza scene was quite lacking. The only time that I would ever really seek out pizza was when I was traveling to the Dallas area to visit my family and friends up there. After a trip to Rome early last year, where I consumed many-a-pizza, I decided that I NEEDED to find good pizza in Austin. I embarked on a weekly pizza quest, trying a new place every Friday night until I found what would become "my pizza place" in Austin. After six weeks of searching, I found Via 313—they specialize in Detroit-style pizza, which was completely new to me. I was blown away by their ability to make a crust that is both crunchy AND soft, and their toppings like sliced meatballs or freshly shaved Parmesan are excellent. It doesn't hurt that the guys that run the place are super nice dudes, too. When I want a more typical style of pizza, I like to have a wood-fired pizza from The Backspace in downtown Austin.
This is normally the point when we ask if you make pizza at home. But we already know that answer's an enthusiastic yes. So how much pizza do you make, and how? Are there any particular recipes you like to use?
I make A LOT of pizza at home. My freezer is currently packed with frozen dough balls, a frozen Gino's East of Chicago pizza that I ordered online, and various Detroit-style slices that I have made and frozen for a rainy day. After I discovered Via 313 Pizza, I spent several weeks (and DOLLARS) learning how to make Detroit-style pizzas. I have shared a few of those pizzas here on My Pie Monday, as well as several that I have since been making using the Baking Steel. I typically use Kenji's New York-style dough recipe, or a Neapolitan-style dough from Peter Reinhart. The Detroit-style recipe came from a forum thread on pizzamaking.com, which I then compiled into my own recipe and instructions for sharing here with the community.
Impressive! It's clear that you like diversity when it comes to your pies. What's one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
For me personally, I just don't like mushrooms, so I will never even think of having a slice with them on there. I think that I must have had a bad experience with mushrooms when I was a child because I just can't tolerate them. Beyond that, I'm pretty open to experimenting with all kinds of toppings!
Adventurous, I see. What's the most unusual pie you've ever had?
I don't think I've had anything that would be declared "unusual" in the sense that it would sound weird or gross, but I did recently make a pizza topped with the components of one of my favorite Austin dishes, the Thai Chicken Karaage from the East Side King food truck. I tossed grilled chicken with a sweet and spicy Thai sauce and used that as the base of the pie, then topped it with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced onions and jalapeños, fresh mint, basil, and cilantro, and finally drizzled a sweet vinegar chili sauce on top. It really was an incredible pizza, and I can't wait to make it again.
Sounds delicious. How about outside your home town? What's the farthest you've ever traveled for pizza?
For pizza specifically? Probably just an hour or so south to San Antonio to try a brisket pizza from Big Lou's Pizza. That being said, I have not taken one trip that did not involve pizza in some way or another. Wherever I'm going, I seek out the best pizza places in the city. I've often taken trips to Dallas that otherwise might not have happened without explicit plans to visit Il Cane Rosso or the Dallas location of Grimaldi's (hey, it's cheaper than flying to NYC!). In Chicago, I will never miss Gino's East and Lou Malnati's. Sadly, I haven't been to New York City since my pizza obsession has really taken hold, so I have a HUGE list of places that I will definitely be hitting the next time I visit that pizza mecca. That will probably be a trip made specifically for pizza, so ask me again in a year.
Alright, I'm adding it to my calendar! So, is there anything you'd like to get off your chest?
As much as I claim to be a "food snob," I am absolutely not ashamed to admit that I will gladly eat buffalo chicken pizza, brisket pizza, or any other non-traditional pizzas. In fact, I get a kick out of taking dishes that I like and seeing if they will work on a pizza crust. Guess what? They ALWAYS work!
So, if you could have your pick of the litter, who would you like to see interviewed next?
I think we need to hear a bit more about Amusebouche1! Every Monday, I anticipate seeing the Serious Eats community's pizzas, and I find Amusebouche1's creations to be some of the most easily identifiable of the bunch. I am always surprised by the unique topping creations (asian pears, brie, avocado, etc) on his pizzas, and I would love to hear more about his inspiration.
What do your family and/or friends think of your pizza madness?
They love it, if only because being single and living alone, I am often looking for others to help me eat all of the pizza that I make. Let's be real...I can definitely eat an entire pizza in one sitting, but I TRY not to. That's where my friends come in. Thanks, guys!!