Pizza is a topic not unlike barbecue—everyone’s got a strong opinion about what region makes it best, the superior style, and what constitutes the best sauce. From New York thin-crust pies and Detroit pan slices to Chicago deep dish and West Coast sourdough pies, pizza connoisseur Vincent Huynh tried it all in his research to open Vinny’s, a Houston-based pizza joint dedicated to perfecting the slice.
For Huynh, the New York slice is quintessential comfort food he wanted to offer at the east downtown pizza place. He formally studied the pies in New York, staging at pizza places, Italian restaurants, and with dough makers, and had his own experience making them at Coltivare, a full-service Italian restaurant in Houston. But, he needed a formula to translate this expertise to a fast-casual, by-the-slice setting.
Huynh and his two business partners embarked on a whirlwind weekend trip to New York, where they set out to taste test more than 200 pizza spots…for the sake of research. From the high end to a dollar slice, “We set out to see it all, hear it all, eat it all,” Huynh says.
They pinpointed historic icons, researched the best-rated places, and gathered intel from fellow industry members about where to sample a slice. At each stop, they considered cooking method and time, sauce style and the proper sauce-to-dough ratio.
Their research took them to old school pizza joints that used the same techniques for 100 years, as well as new school restaurants riffing on technique and tradition. Pepperoni was their go-to slice to define a place (or cheese if they’d had too much pepperoni).
The trio returned to Texas with a key strategy to craft the perfect by-the-slice. Despite their dedicated research, these techniques apply beyond the restaurant sphere to at-home pizza nights. Huynh shared his four essentials to enhance your pizza night.
Four Tricks to Improve Pizza Night
- Dough The dough technique is arguably one of the most important to Huynh’s pizzas. “We apply Italian principles, and an Italian would choose the best, freshest product available. For us, that means using King Arthur Flour.” he says. They use this non-GMO, American made flour to create a biga, a sort of short-lived starter with a lot of lifting power and a mild, sweet flavor. The dough gets portioned into balls and refrigerated overnight. If you want to skip making your own dough (though we love this recipe from Lampo in Charlottesville, Virginia) or need it right away, Huynh recommends buying it from your local pizzeria. He says most will sell you a dough ball, no problem.
- Sauce Huynh loves using Valoroso canned tomatoes for Vinny’s marinara sauce. For him, they have the right acidity and not too much water content. “We like a bright sauce, one that’s less cooked.” He recommends topping pies with a completely raw tomato sauce that cooks with the pizza, to help ensure its acidity. Huyhn applies a less-is-more principle for saucing the pizza. 2 to 3 ounces of sauce will suffice for a twelve to fourteen-inch pie.
- Toppings The toppings are yours to have as you like, but make sure you use high-quality ingredients. If you can source them locally, even better! For the cheese on Vinny’s pizzas, they use Wisconsin-made brick cheese, which melts with a creamy, buttery texture.
- Cook Huynh dismisses the notion that the best pizzas need to bake in a coal-fired oven for ninety seconds (great news for those of us who lack a pizza oven). Good quality, less-processed ingredients need more time to cook. Depending on the size of your pie, baking or grilling it for three to five minutes at 450 to 500 degrees should do the trick.
If you, like us, feel that pizza night demands a movie, Huyhn has a few pairing suggestions in mind:
Cheese: This pizza is for friends hanging out, so choose something cheesy that doesn’t require too much attention, such as Joe Dirt or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Alternately, cheese pizza, while boring, is safe enough for a date night. Pair with a romance, like Her.
Pepperoni: Pepperoni demands an action movie. Huyhn reaches for a Jackie Chan flick, like Rush Hour or Rumble in the Bronx.
Supreme: This classic pie calls for a classic pairing—the sort that makes the cinephiles swoon. Try Once Upon a Time in the West.
Hawaiian: “Hawaiian’s definitely the stoner pizza,” Huynh says. Pair it accordingly with the Big Lebowski or Life Aquatic.
Veggie: This hippie pizza goes great with an old school, quirky movie, like Dazed and Confused.
Meatlovers: “This is the pizza you order every week,” Huynh says. Enjoy it with a serial you can view each time, like the Sopranos. “Order it weekly, watch it weekly, and don’t tell your doctor about either,” he says.
Mentioned in this post: