By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
It was at this point that the DeGraffs pulled the one smart move that made all the difference. Rather than try to go it alone -- the mistake most rookie restaurateurs make, almost always to the delight of bankruptcy courts and veteran owners looking to pick up spaces and equipment cheap at foreclosure auctions -- they brought in people who knew all the things they didn't. General manager Andy Andurlakis, for example, who comes from a restaurant family three generations deep. For the chef in that brand-new/used kitchen, they got someone with absolutely unimpeachable vegetarian/organic/earth-friendly hippie credentials: Amy Wroblewski, ex of Whole Foods and the Mercury Cafe.
And all of a sudden, the DeGraffs had a business model. They had the music to get the Deadheads in the door, something to feed them when they got peckish and started gnawing on the coasters, Wroblewski to make good and goddamn sure that what they were being fed was both well-sourced and delicious, and Andurlakis to stop the place from hemorrhaging cash -- as Matthew will be the first to admit the D Note was doing before the cavalry arrived.
Enter the pissy, opinionated and cynical restaurant critic. The DeGraffs had done everything possible to bias me against their joint short of hanging me in effigy over the front door, and yet ten minutes in -- after having been offered an invite to the D Note's community clothing swap by my waitress and free salsa lessons by a bored-looking instructor who otherwise sat alone in the corner talking to himself -- I was already having a good time. I'd gotten involved in a heavily liberal political debate with the ten-top of multiply pierced, dreadlocked and bespectacled proto-Marxists at the table behind me, which caused me to barely notice the twenty minutes it took for those old deck ovens in the back to fire up my small, classic, double-cheese-and-pepperoni and my choose-your-own-adventure-style pie of basil, pesto, oil, tomato and ricotta.
Veggie pizzas: $9.25/$14.50/$18.50
Meaty pizzas: $9.75/$15/$19
Dessert pizza: $5.50
The minute those pizzas hit the table, I was blown away.
The mozzarella Wroblewski uses is vegetarian (meaning cured without rennet -- animal stomach juice) and comes all the way from Wisconsin. The handmade crusts are tossed thicker than a New York thin but thinner than a pan-fired thick-crust, occupying some enchanted, miraculous middle ground that makes them like a focaccia without all the aggressive Italian-ness, like bread in their complexity, like magic in their understated, perfect subtlety. And the toppings are stacked so high and so thick as to defy conventional pizza physics.
These pizzas are rustic masterpieces, mounded with balls of ricotta or mild goat cheese as big as a child's fist, dotted with roasted pine nuts, fat pieces of chicken, thick-cut pepperoni cupped by the heat of the ovens, green chiles and jalapeños roasted in-house, aged gouda, artichoke hearts, chicken, shrimp and chunks of ham. Everything is rough-cut, fresh, natural when possible, immaculately sourced. The garlic is used whole-clove, roasted under the intense heat of the pizza ovens, which makes for a nutty sweetness impossible to get out of a conventional oven -- like garlic peanut butter. The basil leaves are fresh off the stem, the pestos hand-ground and powerful. Every sauce is made by hand (and most of them are vegan), each uniquely calibrated to the pizza it is meant to attend. The red is sweet and thick, the roasted-chile pesto (paired with Italian sausage, capers and artichoke hearts on the XTC and with jalapeños, red onions and tomatoes on the Flaming Lips) as spicy as promised, the BBQ just weird -- but in a good way.
I went back to the D Note a couple of nights after my first visit, then again and again. I tried about half the available pizzas -- including one of the dessert pizzas, the Chocolate and Cheese, which pairs mascarpone with bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon, so that it tastes like Mexican hot chocolate smeared on a loaf of flat bread -- and several of my own mad invention. I loved the place more and more with each visit, despite the occasional open-mike night, the pounding salsa music, the poetry, the politics, the scent of patchouli drifting through the air. Not once did the kitchen disappoint me; not once did Wroblewski or her crew let me down.
And though the newsletter continues to spew poetry, the tables still circle 'round the big stage and the servers can be easily distracted by shiny beads or driven to dance while in the middle of taking an order -- none of that is going to stop me from coming back to the D Note whenever I'm in the mood for a little space music, some good conversation or a small vegetarian pizza named after the Artist Formerly Known As Prince.