Here's a secret: you can only get the best pizza in C-U two nights a week. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Matt Kitzmiller takes over Mirabelle's stone deck oven to bake pies using simple, freshly-made dough and quality ingredients from places like Common Ground, Art Mart, and the farmers' market. Yet until this paean reaches Smile Politely's 60 readers (just kidding, you other 10 readers!), Kitzmiller's only publicity's been enthusiastic word of mouth, a Facebook page, and a neon sign hung in Mirabelle's window announcing "Pizza-M." So far he's done no advertising, so most people don't even know Pizza-M's there.
I've been hoping for months to write about Pizza-M. I've put it off in part because I didn't want to make it impossible to get the pizza — the pies are incredible. (The dough's freshly made, it's available only while it lasts, and pizzas sold out within 90 minutes on a recent Friday night.) I'm fascinated by it, too, simply as something we should be thankful to have in our community, and I've wondered how an enterprise like this came to be. Fortunately for me, the baker behind Pizza-M was generous enough to spend an hour answering my questions earlier this week.
A baker at Mirabelle for the past ten years, Kitzmiller's spent his career learning about pizza: "Since I was 15 years old, I've worked in places that have pizza," including Timpone's, Papa Del's, and even a youthful stint at Little Caesar's. Like many a chef, Kitzmiller's training has come from working in restaurants and not from culinary school. "I don't even really think of myself as a professional baker, even though that's what I am," he said.
But working at Mirabelle is apparently an education in itself: "at Mirabelle, you really get to do a lot of creative things that keep your mind engaged." Kitzmiller also learns from books like Peter Reinhart's The Breadbaker's Apprentice. Recently, he began trying a new cold fermentation crust, with a different kind of yeast "like that used in lagers. It's got buttery, nutty flavors."
Aside from Kitzmiller's skill as a baker, the pizzas are great because he selects fresh ingredients, makes the dough just a few hours before Pizza-M opens, and makes pies one at a time as they're ordered. "I figure it out starting around noon on Friday, then have it together and ready to go around five. The ingredients are usually whatever's in season, whatever looks good that day. I try to have a new pizza each night." Preparing the dough the same day, Kitzmiller creates what he calls a "rustic crust," using flour, water, yeast, salt, and a little bit of olive oil.
I've even taken to letting Kitzmiller decide the toppings when I order: a recent favorite of mine is goat cheese/veggie with artichoke hearts, peppers, and garlic. One special I'm sad I missed took place during the Sweet Corn Festival last year: sweet corn, salsa, and avocado. Another was brie cheese and anchovies. Pizza-M also makes pies to order using traditional toppings like pepperoni, sausage, and tomatoes. But even these are special: "I don't even chop the tomatoes until it's ordered."
Let me be clear: these aren't the pizzas Mirabelle sells during the day. They're made by hand as they are ordered and when the dough runs out (Kitzmiller estimates he usually has enough for about 20 pies), they're gone for the night.
With Pizza-M and undertakings like Flatlander Chocolate, Kitzmiller sees C-U as fertile ground for people making local, handcrafted food. "These towns support a group of people allowed to be artisan bakers and chefs. I don't know if this would fly in a community where people were less willing to experiment. All of my customers are really great to have because they're willing to try new things." Like anchovies on brie, which I promise to try if it returns.
Pizza-M has grown slowly but steadily in the two years it's been operating. Kitzmiller's worked hard to balance growing the business with keeping the quality that makes Pizza-M so wonderful. "I'm not trying to get rich, I'm just trying to do a good thing making good, healthy, tasty pizza."
All 60 of you (just kidding again) should try it this weekend!
Pies from Pizza-M are available at Mirabelle (384-6460) in Urbana on Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30 until 9 p.m.... or until they're gone! Prices are around $13 for a large pie and they're only available for takeout.