Alastair Hannmann talks about the glutinous fibers of pizza dough with the reverence of a theology student. After years passionately studying yeast, water and flour he is a true devotee of the art and science of pieology.
Working the ovens as the opening pizzaiolo of the new Acre Pizza in at Sebastopol’s Barlow market, he can turn a simple ball of fermented dough into a cheesy, crusty, bubbling masterpiece in a matter of minutes, then do it again and again and again as customers stream in.
In February, Acre Coffee owner Steve Decosse opened his newest venture at the former Village Bakery location. He’s sharing the cavernous space with Red Bird Bakery, with just a few hundred feet carved out for serving up slices of New York- and Detroit-style pizza. Decosse saw in Hannmann the same kind of nerdy dough obsession he has, along with an array of pizza tattoos covering his arms, and the deal was done.
If you’re scratching your head about why a coffee entrepreneur would pivot to pizza, the answer is pretty simple. Decosse loves pizza and has spent more than a year traveling the country to find out how to make the absolute best. Inspired by a seminar on pizza making with gluten guru Peter Reinhart (the founder of Brother Juniper’s Bread), Decosse went down the rabbit hole of pizza styles, landing on the popular New York-style thin crust and the trending Detroit style, a thick crust pizza baked in a cast-iron square pan with caramelized Wisconsin “brick cheese” (a semi-soft cheese that’s sold in a brick shape) as a key component. And oh, is it key.
This is California, so of course there is a lot of hand-wringing about ingredients other than cheese. Acre uses bespoke produce from FEED Sonoma, meat from SoCo Meat, California tomatoes and water buffalo mozzarella from Double 8 Dairy along with the bags of organic wheat from Utah piled against the walls. So that must be crazy expensive, right? You would be wrong.
A slice, which is a quarter of a 16-inch pizza, ranges from $4.50 to $5.50. Whole pies are between $18 and $20. That’s a dang good deal, in my book.
Like most good pizza places, the restaurant isn’t fancy but has large communal tables and benches inside. In good weather, it’s more fun to head outside where there are common tables for the neighboring businesses and kids scramble around in the grass.
Kinda the perfect way to eat the perfect slice.
Detroit-Style Pizza: Yes, it’s deep dish. No, it’s not Chicago-style. As the story goes, it was invented at a Detroit restaurant called Buddy’s Rendezvous in 1946. Owner Gus Guerra decided to put a Sicilian-style dough (which is more like focaccia) into a rectangular blue steel pan like those used for spare parts by Detroit auto workers.
Like a good lasagna, the melty cheese gets all crispy and brown and sauce is typically put on top for extra punch. Like St. Louis or New Haven-style pizza, it remained mostly a regional thing until some Brooklyn hipsters got ahold of the idea. You know the rest of the story, but make no mistake, we’re pretty glad they did. The Detroit slices (which are actually square) at Acre stay pretty true to their roots, with cheese or pepperoni and cheese.
Cheese Slice: You gotta do a good cheese slice or fuggettaboutit. They do. Please properly fold it and don’t eat it with a fork. We’re Americans. We don’t eat pizza with a fork. Add Zoe’s pepperoni if you’re feeling crazy.
Potato Pizza: Sounds weird, tastes amazing. Super thinly sliced potatoes are layered atop whole milk mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Gruyere, olive oil and rosemary.
Special Pizza: Each week, there’s a new spin on the traditional pizza toppings. We loved the gourmet mushroom pie, and recently they introduced a pie with WM Cofield blue cheese.
Buffalo Milk Soft Serve: Cow milk’s richer cousin, buffalo milk is often used in Italy but rare in the States. It’s got a slightly wilder flavor than straight-up milk, but it’s well worth trying this creamy treat.
Add a little Mike’s Hot Honey for some pizzazz. Vegan soft serve also available.
Caesar Salad: Lightly dressed with plenty of flavor on lovely romaine. We like throwing a little on our cheese slice to make an impromptu piadine.
Service is quick, and you can order online. Beer and wine is available, but no there’s no Acre coffee brewing. Gluten-free crusts are also an option. Hannmann said the high-quality flour they use is much gentler on the system. Pizza can be delivered to Barlow wine tasting and tap rooms like Crooked Goat or Seismic.
Decosse is still futzing with the lineup to see what folks like best, but cheese and the weekly specialty pizza are always available.
Though you’ll want to stuff some ’za right into your face, take a second to appreciate the beauty of the soft air pockets in the crust, the sweetness of the sauce, the crispy curl of the pepperoni, the perfection of the melted cheese for a moment. Ahhh. Then commence stuffing.
6760 McKinley St., Suite 150, Sebastopol. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, 707-827-3455, acrepizza.com