First Look: Simple Pies at Kermit's Bake Shoppe, Philadelphia
Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
You see, honey, when a pizzeria and a bakery love each other very much, they get together and make a baby like Kermit's Bake Shoppe, a Philly-based operation where doughs of all persuasions earn every knead they need.
New to a largely industrial strip of Washington Avenue jammed with warehouses and construction wholesalers, Kermit's was opened by Adam Ritter, a Philly publican who runs the craft beer bars Sidecar and Kraftwork. Named after New Orleans jazz fixture Kermit Ruffins, the beautifully muraled space has an edgy-but-accessible commissary feel, with its buzzing-about-in-aprons staff, high-output equipment, and towering ceilings.
Baker Chad Durkin handles a selection of breads, pastries, baked goods, and desserts, from salted caramel sticky buns to key lime opera torte. But pizza pies are Brian Lofink's domain, and he's taking an approach that stands in contrast to contemporary pizzadom's fixation on old-world ethos. "People are trying to dial it back and get super-artisan," says Ritter. "It's all beautiful stuff, but that doesn't work for us. We want really approachable pizza that's really consistent, all the time."
Lofink spins it slightly differently. "It's simple suburban pizza done right," says the chef, who also handles the kitchen at the nearby Sidecar. "We're not putting arugula on top of everything."
Rigorous R&D in Durkin's lab produced Kermit's distinctive dough: a whole-wheat poolish starter is fed durum flour, plus unexpected additions like bran, the flecks visible in the risen rounds. "I took the bread approach to add a little bit more flavor. With specialty pies, it lends itself to being a good vessel," says Durkin, whose finished product aims to achieve the thinness, color, and chew of a corner slice shop's chief product.
Kermit's bake style is also unorthodox. Using stacked Marcell deck ovens, Lofink flattens his dough out with a rolling pin, adds sauce and toppings and transfers the still-raw pie to a fine wire screen. This gets slipped into a 600-degree oven for two minutes to set before the pizza's transferred directly onto the stone of a second adjoining oven, which runs closer to 500.
Simplicity is a hallmark of Kermit's pizzas, available whole and by the slice. La Valle San Marzano tomatoes quick-cook with onions, garlic, and classic spices for the straight-ahead red sauce. The house cheese blend combines two kinds of mozzarella with grana padano and pecorino. Housemade sausage, for a sausage and peppers pie, is a familiar blend of pork, ginger, sage and garlic. "We want to make sure you taste everything," says Lofink.
They do left-field it to a certain degree, though, with options like the white mushroom, a Béchamel base topped with Crucolo cheese, creminis, maitakes, and thin-sliced leeks; or "The Terminator," a recent special that stretches Alsatian choucroute into pizza format with Gruyère, caramelized onions and applewood-smoked ham.
Given its location, on a busy thoroughfare with straight shots to many residential neighborhoods, Kermit's is banking on building its delivery business, with food run by custom-built bicycles equipped with handlebar-mounted pizza boxes. Perhaps the outward-looking strategy will lead to multiple locations for this pizza/bakery half-breed, but expansion's not the focus in these early days. "That's big-picture stuff," says Ritter. "We're just trying to make good pizza right now."