To anyone who’s eaten a pizza from the mobile MozzaPi wood-fired in the past few years, last week’s opening of the brick-and-mortar pizzeria by the same name in Anchorage is a long-deferred dream come true. If you read only to the end of this paragraph, know this: The Neapolitan-Sicilian hybrid pizza is exceptional and like none other in the area. You must eat it to believe it.
Five years ago, creator, co-founder and pizzaiolo Tom Edwards had his eye on a site in the Highlands where he planned to open MozzaPi. But when the cost of turning the building into a restaurant exceeded his budget, he shelved the idea and refocused on his burgeoning grain mill, flour and bread bakery, Louismill. All the while, he sorted out where MozzaPi would go before settling on an empty lot in Anchorage where Old LaGrange Road meets Ridge Road.
“It had been so long since we started thinking about MozzaPi that I was to the point that I wasn’t going to do it unless I could walk there it from home,” said Edwards, an Anchorage resident, who’d also traveled for years as a business consultant. “I didn’t want to drive all the way to the Highlands to work every day, and I didn’t want to put it in a strip mall, either. I wanted a place with character.”
He also wanted to build it—with his own hands. Having built his current and the prior home, as well as much of the furniture inside, Edwards was joined this time by his sister, Lori Himmelsbach and her husband, to construct a building that resembles a locomotive shed in a rail yard. All the wood, concrete and masonry work was done by the trio, while outside trades managed the plumbing and electric.
“And that’s one of many reasons it took so long,” Edwards said, grinning. “But we did it.”
Edwards also build the four-ton oak-fired oven, its stone deck, masonry dome and shaped its copper exterior. He said the ideal baking temperature is around 850 F, though it could burn as hot as 1,000 F.
MozzaPi’s sour dough is made from a blend of 70 percent Italian 00 flour and 30 percent of local white winter wheat ground on location by Edwards. To speed service, personal-size dough circles are par-baked and held until orders come in. The kitchen tops the pizza to customers’ specs and brings them to the oven, where Edwards finishes them.
Using what he termed a “utility peel,” Edwards maneuvered pizzas and sandwiches deftly across the oven’s deck to toast their sides evenly next to the fire. It’s a culinary reality show guests can watch from any seat in the house.
Currently, MozzaPi is open for limited hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. for coffee and baked goods (get the chocolate chip cookies made from rye flour), and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for pizza, sandwiches and salads. Beer wine and spirits are available as well. (No menu online yet.)
“We’ll add dinner when I’m confident we’re ready,” Edwards said. “We don’t want to give anything less than a great experience, so we’ll wait until we’re able to do that.”