Everyone loves pizza. I know, I’m probably generalizing, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that almost everyone in America has eaten the doughy, saucy goodness at some point in their lives. We have an extravagant choice of options when it comes to pizza - from take out, to dine in, to frozen. It’s tough to nail a good ‘za, so when you find one that you like, you’re not going to stray far.
The first time I had the thin crust brick oven crisp pizza at Monroe Street Brick & Brew, I knew I found a spot I’d frequent. Enter the former laundromat, and your senses are besieged. Orders being yelled out, fresh crust cooking at 1000ºF, vegetables being chopped and sprinkled. And when my order came out, it wasn’t your standard “perfectly round/packaged/sliced” ‘za. Its shape was different than the ones my friends ordered.
That’s the vibe Justin & Steve Feldman and Frank Maduri, co-owners, want to project with their latest restaurant endeavor. Handcrafted, brick oven pizza - no hidden hook, but a straightforward, simple, casual pizza experience.
“The brick oven experience is 50/50,” (Justin) Feldman explained. “Half of what we do is the brick oven pizza. The other is creating the food and creating the experience. When you first walk in the door, the flame from the oven is angled dead center to catch your eye. It starts there. The rest, really, is simple. We wanted the creation aspect to be visible (you can see the pizzas being put together and cooked) so folks can see what they’re getting. We want to get away from the cookie cutter pizza mentality.”
Getting away from that mentality is a breath of fresh air for pizza lovers everywhere. Too often, we’re stuck with the same prepackaged ingredients and expectations. But Brick & Brew, although giving us ‘pizza’ in a sense, does less of knocking on traditional pizza’s door than breaking it right down.
“We get our dough fresh every week,” he said. “Our girls are in here every day, prepping and slicing fresh vegetables to use on the various pizza creations. And we found a company that stocks up on tomatoes, which we buy from all year long. The sauce isn’t doused in salt, pepper or olive oil - it’s pure tomatoes, sliced and diced. That’s it.”
The oven, running at a very cool 1000ºF, cooks the pizzas in 4 minutes. If you’re thinking that means quality will be sacrificed to churn out quantity, you’re wrong. Even though the pizzas cook at hyperspeed, the time is put in before that: the right amount of sauce, veggies, cheese, and whatever else you decide to create from their extensive ‘pick & choose’ menu.
“Getting the place open was the tough part, but now we’re getting into the fun stuff,” Feldman said. “It’s so fun to see the brainstorming going on during our manager meetings to see what we can do differently, what we can do to take it to that next level. The feedback being provided by our customers so far has been outstanding, and we’re making minor tweaks while staying true to our original mission statement.”
Owning a food truck and being in the service industry led Feldman and his other co-owners (who each have extensive restaurant backgrounds) to this imperfect idea. Why try to make pizza something so high-end or perfect? Pizza isn’t perfect. It’s sauce and meat and veggies on a slab of dough cooked at a high temperature.
“Eventually, we’d love to get into doing more of these,” Feldman said. “But for right now, we’re getting our blueprint dialed in. I’m a team guy, and I love to see our team keep growing and making the place better and better every day - whether that means tweaking how we prepare our brick oven wings, or how much goes into the calzones, or what new ingredients we should be trying. It’s a learning experience, and I couldn’t love it more.”
Monroe Street Brick & Brew is located at 21 Monroe Street, downtown Ellicottville, in the old laundromat, across from Balloons. Check the menu at monroestpizza.com or head to their FB page at Monroe Street Brick & Brew. Call for pick-up at 716-699-1051.