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Marvelous Mobile Pies from S & J's Woodfired Pizza in Atlanta, GA
S&J's Woodfired Pizza
Pizza type: Neapolitan-style
The Skinny: Mobile pizza unit delivering uniquely topped pies with local ingredients.
Price: Typically $8-11
"It's a lot better dealing with people when they're happy as opposed to when they're sick."
That simple premise prompted Jonathan Seyfred and his wife Sarah to quit their gigs as ER nurses and start slinging pizzas for a living. But kickstarting a brick-and-mortar joint from scratch is no small endeavor—even for seasoned restaurateurs with deep pockets—so the concept of a mobile pizzeria was born. Now, four years later, S&J's Woodfired Pizza may not be the easiest pie shop to find in Atlanta (though that's about to change), but what they're pulling out of their eye-catching little red trailer makes it well worth the extra effort.
The 6x12-foot trailer, outfitted with a 48-inch Forno Bravo oven on top, is now a mainstay at a handful of local farmers' markets, festivals, and private events around town. But getting it off the drawing board and onto the streets of Atlanta was a journey in and of itself. Jonathan says that when it all started, there were only "about 15 other people" in the country working with mobile wood-fired pizza ovens, so there was no real blueprint to follow. He helped a company in Colorado design the trailer, went through some back-and-forth with the city on permitting issues... and then had to figure out how streamline the pizzamaking process to be totally self-contained and 100 percent transportable.
It takes about two hours from the moment the trailer arrives on-site to get the oven up to a cooking temp of 750-800°F. But that's starting from a cold oven. The thick walls of the Forno Bravo hold heat like a bad-ass boss; prep time on the day following an event is cut in half because the oven's interior is still sitting at around 400, even twenty-four hours later.
"Making pizza dough is a challenge," Jonathan tells me, "but making a pizza dough that can travel and sit outside all day is a whole 'nother beast." He and Sarah spent months perfecting their recipe (Sarah used to work at Mellow Mushroom and may have learned a thing or two there) that uses 00 flour from a North Carolina supplier, ice water, active dry yeast, and a multiple-day cold ferment at their rented kitchen space in Decatur.
Right now, S&J's hand-tossed dough is "the best it's been," Jonathan believes. And I concur, it's spectacular. Most of their pies sport gorgeous blistering around the cornicione and nice char underneath, with a chewy texture and slightly sour taste that seems to only highlight the mostly-local toppings that are added according to what's in season and available. The mozz comes from a farm near Athens, the meats are from Riverview Farms in northwest Georgia and Pine Street Market in Avondale Estates...hell, the rosemary for their white pie is picked off a bush in Jonathan and Sarah's own yard.
S&J's typically offers a smallish roster of pies at any event, based on how much they can comfortably carry with them. (One day at a busy art festival necessitates hauling 400 dough balls, eating up a ton of cooler space.) That doesn't mean they're keeping it stupid-simple and boring-basic, though. Sure, they do a plain cheese. Yes, there's pepperoni for the kids. But the Veggie I sampled was dressed out with their San Marzano sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, Vidalia onions, and arugula.
I'm a die-hard carnivore, mind you, but this was outstanding pizza, with a smattering of carefully-chosen toppings applied in thoughtful proportion. A little arugula goes a long way, and Jonathan totally gets that, not letting too much bitterness distract from the other add-ons.
But the big conversation pie at this particular event was the Applicious: goat feta cheese, applewood smoked bacon, apple chunks, and a pesto swirl. It was a bright and unexpected mix of freshness and flavor that had more than one visitor coming back for seconds. Those kinds of unusual combos have become a calling card of sorts for S&J's. Honey, ricotta, and strawberry; coppa and asparagus, etc. Arguably their most popular pie is a summer favorite that includes bacon, jalapenos, and peaches.
The pies and pricing are somewhat customized for the event they're working, but if you find S&J's at a farmers' market or festival, you'll likely be paying $8-11 for a 10-inch personal pizza. That price point is certainly in line with a standard pizzeria, but the pop-up nature of what Sarah and Jonathan (and their small team of four others) do can add a level of complexity. The line can back up with folks waiting for their pie, so plan your nosh accordingly.
And of course, there's finding them to begin with. Like all mobile outfits, S&J use the interwebs and social media to let their fans know where they'll be when, and they try to keep their farmers' market rotation fairly regular, but they get called to do a lot of private parties and catered events that can have their 3,500-pound trailer all over the metro area, and occasionally, not where you thought they'd be.
But fear not, Atlanta pizzahounds. (Slice scoop alert!) Jonathan tells me that he and Sarah are finalizing the paperwork on a brick-and-mortar location that (he hopes) will open in early 2014. The space—next to the Tara Theatre on Cheshire Bridge—will feature a double-decker oven that will allow them to do other dishes that they've been playing around with.
S&J's red trailer will remain on the streets, however, serving up some solidly stellar pies to those who bother to track it down. Take the time to do so; you'll be happy you did. And remember, dealing with people who are happy was the goal all along.
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.