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Apr 25, 2013 09:56 AM

Crust Lesson -- Punch Pizza?

The Twin Cities board has many threads discussing our preferences for one pizza purveyor over another, particularly those of the Neapolitan style.

Saveur's cover story in the May issue is pizza in Naples, and one brief sentence deep in the narrative jumped right out at me. Paraphrasing here: over-stretching the dough is a mistake that yields a thin, floppy center that can't support the sauce.

What would you all make of this in regard to Punch Pizza? Is the repeated complaint about the disintegrating middle of their pie potentially solvable ... a technique error? Not a hallmark of authenticity that we Minnesotans just fail to sufficiently appreciate?

Punch, it's not supposed to be a soggy mess. Why not fix the problem?

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  1. True Neapolitan pizza's are quite austere in regards to the toppings; just a few pinch-fulls of this and that. What happens to any pizza, not just thin crust ones, is when too many ingredients are piled on, making for a soggy bottom.

    So, while Americans can thank them for piling on more (as we so like it), it's actually ruining the integrity of the dish.

    3 Replies
    1. re: SmartCookie

      I get a version at Punch with very few toppings. In fact, the photos in the Saveur magazine display quite a bit MORE coverage of sauce, cheese & toss-ons than the Punch renditions.

      This point got brought up pretty regularly in previous discussions -- as did the notion of steam -- but I'm beginning to think from the article that neither is the root cause for the sogginess on nearly every order from the Grand Ave location.

      1. re: KTFoley

        Never believe the pictures you see in magazines. Food photography is a lot like taking a glamor shot for a cosmetic company. Move that parsley a quarter inch please, there, much better, not!

        Couple of things you can do if you're making it yourself. Form it by hand but cup your hands praying mantis style as you rotate the pizza dough. Next, sauce it but not too much on the inside. Finally, when making multiple pizzas, always use a different spot of the oven for each pizza. Even though the oven is hot, the pizza dough sucks a lot of heat out of the stone.

      2. re: SmartCookie

        Do you think the "bread" that comes with the salads at Punch is an example of toppings-austerity? It's got salt, pepper, rosemary and a little olive oil on it. The center isn't soggy.

        I happen to be a fan of Punch-style pizza, the soggy center doesn't bother me.

      3. I believe Punch Pizza is meant to be soggy in the middle. Personally, I love the soggy middle, and often ask for the pizza DOC, with more olive oil to make it extra wet. I'm not in the mood for that all the time, but often the wet pizza is what I'm hankering for. And yes, I agree with KTFoley that the images in Saveur show pizzas more heavily loaded than many at Punch.

        It seems that some folks think Punch ownership is completely unaware that their pizza is wet in the middle, or if they are, unaware that "it's not supposed to be wet", as though they've never eaten any other Neopolitan pizza other than their own. I'm fairly sure (both from what I've read and from logic) that Punch ownership intends for their pizza to be wet, and indeed gives the option for it to be wetter.

        That's their style pizza, and they are one of the relatively few members of the Vera Pizza Napoletana in the US and Canada. They must have some clue as to what they're doing. So maybe it is supposed to wet, but for some, it's just not their thing. Luckily for those, there are other Neopolitan style pizzerias in the Twin Cities.

        8 Replies
        1. re: foreverhungry

          So you would say that it IS a hallmark of authenticity that we fail to appreciate?

          1. re: KTFoley

            No, I wouldn't say that because I don't really know what "authentic" Neopolitan pizza is. I looked at the VPN site and what it takes to be VPN DOC, and there's a list of requirements, but there's nothing about the structural characteristics of the pizza - meaning, there's nothing about whether it should be wet, dry, or what.

            I think that for whatever reason, Punch ownership likes their pizza wet, so they make it wet, with an option to go wetter. Maybe that same characteristic can be found in some Neapolitan pizzerias, maybe not.

            1. re: foreverhungry

              I don't think that the issue has anything to do with how thin the dough is stretched or whether it should or should not be wet in the middle (although personally, I do not mind the wetness; to me, the flavor of the crust and the red sauce far outweighs the sogginess in the middle.)

              I think the problem (and I can't remember, but I think I mentioned this before) is that they don't (or somehow can't) control the heat in their ovens. And I think this has to do with what kuan said about how the dough sucks a lot of heat out the floor or the oven each time a pizza is placed onto it. And considering the large number of pizzas that Punch makes each day, it is probably impossible for them to constantly maintain the temperature required to cook each pizza to the "well done" state.

              When I make pizzas at home in my oven (with a baking stone that I preheat for one hour at 500 deg.), I always roll the dough as thin as possible and the first pizza turns out fine, but when I load the second one in, it is always soggy in the middle unless I give the stone some recovery time.

              As an experiment, tomorrow I will go to Punch right as they open and try to be the first person in the door and I bet you $1, the first pizza that comes out of that oven will not be soggy in the middle.

              1. re: jeff55432

                Jeff, please do that -- it would be so cool if we could learn something more definitive, one way or the other!

                1. re: jeff55432

                  Interesting theory! It makes sense. Though the other major Neapolitan pizzerias in the area should face the same issues, unless they have "better" ovens that maintain heat better? I'm guessing Black Sheep and Lola crank out pizzas at around the same pace as Punch during their peak hours.

                  I'm anxiously awaiting your results!

                  1. re: foreverhungry

                    Black sheep also has a gas burner under the floor. Lola's oven looks quite a bit bigger.

                  2. re: jeff55432

                    As an extreme neo style pizza geek who cooks in a wood-fired oven on a very regular basis, I'll give credit to the statement that the pie takes some heat out of the oven floor. This is true. Whether it's the biggest factor in this particular aspect of Punch pizza--highly unlikely.

                    The thing is, there's just WAY more to it than that one thing. Every single factor that has been discussed and many that have not can contribute to the soggy middle. Presumably the statement in Saveur about overstretching the dough refers to that specific dough and that specific oven. IME this wouldn't necessarily translate to every dough and every oven.

                    The experiment of arriving first thing probably doesn't reveal much. It depends on how the oven/fire is or isn't maintained when the resto is closed and how the fire was maintained the previous day. Also, when does someone arrive and restart the fire to heat the oven to pizza temp? This is not a 15 minute or even one hour process in a ~60" diameter oven.

            2. I agree. Whether it is a personal preference or not, pizza is intended to be eaten by the slice. That slice should hold its integrity. It’s not about flavor, it’s about texture. Basically, its needs pizza Viagra. You should be able to hold it, and not have it go limp in the hand. I like the texture of the rest of the pizza, so the middle slop seems avoidable per the OP.

              It clearly appears to be a dividing discussion for quite a few, so it seems something they should at least address...whether or not they want it that way its a business so you have to cater to customers if you want to stay that way.

              2 Replies
              1. re: brlattim

                I have no doubt that Punch management (a) are aware of how wet their product and (b) understand their customers' collective feeling about the wetness. They've been in business for 17 years - around 10 in their current "faster food" configuration - and have 7 locations. One of their owners founded Caribou Coffee. They know customer service. I'm sure they have addressed it to the extent that they're going to.

                I don't mind the wetness and generally like Punch Pizza. But I totally understand that it may not be some peoples' first choice. I also prefer Coke over Pepsi, but PepsiCo is not completely changing their recipe because of my preference. While they'd love to have me buy their product, I'm sure they feel they'll be able to survive if I don't.

                1. re: brlattim

                  Actually, Punch pizza is a small Napolean - sized pizza intended to be eaten European style with knife and fork.

                  With that said, I don't like the "wet" either and I don't remember any pizzas I ate in Italy or any other place in Europe in Italian pizza places like that.

                2. I always order my pizza well done when at Punch. Learned this at Pizza Regina in Boston. I think it helps a lot.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: parallevar

                    It only "helps" if you don't enjoy the wet center.

                    Can you say more about Pizza Regina in Boston? Are their pies similar to Punch's in terms of wetness?

                  2. A couple of comments.

                    I've had authentic pizza in Naples. It is served unsliced and eaten with a knife and fork. So I don't quite follow Saveur's comment about supporting the sauce. You think the magazine would know better.

                    If you want a sliced pizza where the crust has more "structure" and is supposedly Neapolitan, I think Pizza Nea does a good job.