Downtown Reno’s West Street Market recently gained a crusty phenom – The Pizza Collective. The restaurant shares a space with Sol, one of Reno’s only kava bars.
I dropped in on a Thursday evening around 6:30 p.m., and the entire market was buzzing with diners and food-slingers. The diversity of dishes being eaten was a sight to see.
North Indian food from Thali, South Indian food from Maya’s South Indian Cuisine, sandwiches and bowls from The Deluxe, beautiful pies from The Pizza Collective, and more created a wonderful food mecca.
Three co-owners were working at The Pizza Collective when I arrived. Mark Duncan, one of the three pizza pros, informed me that everyone that works for The Pizza Collective participates in their profit sharing program allowing each of them to retain co-owner status. In fact, the restaurant name refers to the collective and equal effort of all co-owners to serve the finest, locally sourced ingredients possible. Farm to fork enthusiasts will be pleased to see the local origins of the restaurant’s flour, cheese, meat, vegetables, and other ingredients displayed on their serving counter.
Duncan shared some of the secrets behind his and his cohort’s success. The first major factor is their gorgeous, wood-burning oven. The Italian-made oven was imported to a pizzeria in San Francisco. The Pizza Collective purchased the oven when the restaurateur in San Francisco moved on to open a restaurant in NYC. The oven burns at approximately 905 degrees Fahrenheit – much hotter than typical domestic made ovens. Duncan himself cut and split the maple and birch wood used to cook the pies. Each pie cooks for only 90 seconds to preserve nutritional value, texture, and flavor.
The second critical factor to creating exceptional pies is the ingredients. 00 Italian-style flour, produced domestically at Central Milling and Camas County Grains, in conjunction with a sourdough starter, produces chewy, mildly sour, and especially flavorful crust. A bit of whole wheat flour gets peppered into the dough for additional flavor. The produce and cheeses, also locally sourced, are markedly fresher and tastier than toppings I’ve eaten elsewhere.
The size of all the pizzas is uniform at about the size of a dinner plate. I ordered a mushroom pizza and a Margherita pizza.
The mushroom pizza was served with chimichurri and Romesco sauces for crust-dipping. The chimichurri hit the oil, herb, and acidic elements perfectly. The acidity really helped balance the richness of the mushroom pizza. The Romesco sauce, composed of almond butter and roasted chilies, was new to me. The pasty sauce was creamy with a touch of heat. Given the stranglehold ranch dressing has on the West, the chimichurri and Romesco sauces were inventive and welcome additions to my meal.
The mushroom pizza ($16) included oyster mushrooms, leeks, Tallegio, Fontina, crème fraîche, and lemon juice. The pizza was rich and had a strong umami flavor. The cheese was stringy and melty. The crème fraiche added a nice creaminess. The extra-hot oven nicely crisped the oyster mushrooms. The leeks added delightful herbaceous and caramelized elements. The crust, arguably the most important part of the pie, was nicely charred in select spots and had a delicate chew. The char created some bitterness that helped cut the richness of the cheeses. The chew could have been a tiny bit more pronounced to reach my preferred texture, but I’m a nut for crisp textures. I did not taste the lemon juice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pie nonetheless. One pie was definitely enough to sate my appetite, but in the name of journalism, I carried forward onto pie number two.
The Margherita pizza ($14) included a red sauce, mozzarella, basil, sea salt, and EVOO. Pizza snobs might lament the fact that the restaurant does not import San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, but I’ll take locally grown tomatoes from west coast farmers any day. The fresh basil leaves were big, beautiful, and alive with flavor. The pie had a great sauce to cheese ratio. The fewer toppings on this pie compared to the last really allowed the sourdough crust to shine. I think fewer toppings also allowed for the crust to cook more to my chewy preference and allowed for the necessary char. The red sauce was mildly sweet and acidic. I enjoyed that the sauce played its role, but did not overpower the pie.
I’ve never eaten a Neopolitan pie from NYC or Naples, but the Margherita at The Pizza Collective is the best I’ve ever eaten. Artisanal pizza will always cost more money than chain-store pizza. Total cost, though, is less relevant to me than value. If any diners out there are reluctant to pay $14 – $16 for a personal-sized pizza, consider the value of the locally sourced, farm to fork ingredients; consider the dough made from scratch — full of nutrition and flavor; consider the planning necessary to create a new menu weekly; consider supporting a local business run by friendly people who will go to whatever lengths necessary to serve you the tastiest pie they can.
The Pizza Collective, inside West Street Market, is located at 148 West Street. They are open Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. or until the dough runs out. Reach them by phone at 775-686-6774.