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June, 2008, Page 193
Mozzarella pizza with grilled chicken, pesto, roasted tomatoes and leeks
I put a lot of stock in a good name, whether it’s for a baby or a business, and I’ve never heard a better one for a pizza restaurant than Humble Pie. It’s clever, culturally embedded and just a wee bit ironic, which means that I was predisposed to love the place before I’d ever laid eyes on it. Now that I’ve been there four times and find myself casting around for another excuse to drop by, I suppose I should declare myself officially smitten.
Obviously, partners Tom Kaufman, Rich Sullivan, Patrick King and Dave Dabruzzi have done more than come up with a catchy name. This fab four – rich in restaurant experience at Rancho Pinot, P.F. Chang’s/Taneko Tavern, Sapporo/Mastro’s and Franco’s/Mastro’s, respectively – have created the ideal neighborhood hangout, at least for a neighborhood in Scottsdale. Grab a stool on the patio side of the indoor-outdoor bar, a vantage point that allows you to survey the restaurant’s inviting interior, and you’ll see what I mean.
With its concrete floors, gold-toned tile walls, rugged light fixtures, open kitchen and temperature-controlled wine cellar (viewed from an interior window), Humble conveys urbanity without seeming remotely uppity. The pie-boys have not forgotten that this is a pizza joint, after all, even if it is one that features Bob McClendon’s organic produce and an American-accented-though-somewhat-global wine list informed by Kaufman’s prodigious knowledge.
Although you’ll find a handful of $100 bottles here, many wines sell for as little as $6 a glass, while flights average about $14. Kaufman explains that he and his partners didn’t want the wines – or the pizzas, for that matter – to be Italian or even Euro-centric. They were going for accessible American food and drink, and that’s precisely what they offer: starters, salads, vegetable side dishes and 10 pre-designed pizzas (no build-your-owns), simply presented and made with top-notch ingredients.
Knowing that the success of a pizza restaurant often hinges on the crust, they conducted extensive research on that component, drawing inspiration from the fabulous pies they found at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. Kaufman told Nancy Silverton (who owns the place with partners Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich) that he’d like to crawl up in one of Mozza’s warm, puffy bubbles and take a nap. While I won’t comment on Tom’s mental health, I will say I like the thin, bubbly crusts he and his partners ultimately developed and now bake in a gas-assisted, wood-burning oven. Like good ciabatta, the dough leaves a faint trace of flour on the fingers, offering a little crunch with each bite, which gives way to a soft, chewy interior.
Depending on the pie (or maybe the pie-maker?), the crust is occasionally too wet. At least, that was the case with the prosciutto, pear, Gorgonzola and arugula pizza, which we loved for its combination of flavors but not its soggy bottom ($12). However, most of the time, the pizzas are terrific, right up there with my other favorite pizzas in town (none of which bear the faintest resemblance to each other). My favorites, in descending order, are: pistachio with roasted leek, shaved red onion and Parmesan (a dry but really fabulous pie, $10); Schreiner’s Sicilian sausage with roasted fennel, fresh mozzarella and tomato (the juicy, fennel-scented sausage makes it superb, $12); potato with roasted garlic, fontina, Gorgonzola and rosemary (a great comfort-food combo, $10); and Coppa ham with mozzarella, imported olives and green onion (very salty but still delish, $12.95).
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