Good execution turns into good pizza at Lucky Pie
Like skinny jeans and narrow ties, food is trendy. What was fashionable last year — burgers, say, or tacos — might be as out tomorrow as the boot cut. But restaurateurs can't just go to H&M to update their menus. So what's a chef to do? If you're Joe Troupe, executive chef of Lucky Pie Pizza & Tap House, which opened under his direction in Louisville in 2010 and in LoDo six months ago, you play it smart: Invest in classics and update with trends.
It's the classics that strike you first at the Lucky Pie that now occupies part of the former home of Dixons. Dark-wood tables and comfortable banquettes, sports on the bar TVs, a patio hopping with families and folks out for the game: All are tried-and-true combinations for a downtown pizza joint. Look closer, though, and you'll spot the trends. Kale chips? Housemade mozzarella bar? Organic ingredients? Lucky Pie may seem as traditional as a little black dress, but it's tricked out with the latest accessories.
Take the dough, for example. A standard recipe includes bleached white flour, salt, yeast, sugar and a little oil. Troupe starts with organic white flour, then adds organic spelt flour for nuttiness, yeast, sugar, olive oil and sea salt. Dough is hand-stretched, then tossed for roundness. After a quick stint in the 900-degree brick oven, pies are brushed with extra-virgin olive oil mellowed with garlic confit.
Similar care is taken with other ingredients. Upwards of 90 percent of the summer produce is organic; in winter, that number will dip to a still-admirable 50 percent. Much is made in-house, including fresh cheeses and most accoutrements on the mozzarella bar, and what isn't made on site is often locally sourced. Sausage comes from Old Style Sausage in Louisville, chèvre from the Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy in Buena Vista. Is this evidence of focusing on fads or a conscientious restaurateur at work? The answer is likely both, given Troupe's time at North and Brasserie Ten Ten.
Come while the weather is still warm — this year, that might well be November — and kick back on the patio with one of the 27 beers on tap and a bowl of thick, chewy peanut brittle, with large Virginia peanuts and slivers of bacon. (The sweet-salty duo is also in vogue.) Complement the candy with a bag of hot fritters studded with bits of ham, or the fantastically crispy (if sometimes oily) kale chips, featuring a vegetable that until recently was the best-kept secret of the dehydrator set and is now obviously trending big time, to appear at a pizzeria.
If you're enjoying the scenery and your conversation and aren't ready to order a main course, follow up your snacks with cheese-stuffed lamb meatballs or the strawberry salad with crunchy almonds and just the right balance of tangy chèvre and sweet berry. Or choose something from the mozzarella bar: Lucky Pie makes 180 pounds of fresh mozzarella a week, serving that day's cheese at the mozzarella bar and reserving leftovers for pies on the second day. (Refrigeration isn't kind to the texture of fresh mozz.) With four cheeses and four meats to choose from, plus sides ranging from strawberry-rose jam to marinated olives, the possibilities are almost infinite. Some choices — like prosciutto, mozzarella and the cream-plumped strands of mozzarella known as stracciatella, paired with a chunky red-pepper-and-green-olive tapenade to offset the richness — work well together. Others, not so much. Deviled ham with pickled beets? Ricotta with fig gastrique? Remember that flavors are like finger paints: Combine too many, and all you end up with is brown.
Diners are less likely to commit a fashion faux pas when it comes to Lucky Pie's signature dish. Unlike other pizzaioli who have made a name for themselves with charred, chewy crusts and minimalist toppings, Troupe crafts a pie so full of the good stuff, it would sag under a less crisp crust. Whether you prefer this kind of pizza or a true Neapolitan version is a matter of taste; there's room for both in the world.
More than a dozen pizzas are listed on the menu, including such standbys as cheese and pepperoni (albeit with fresh mozzarella and salumeria belliese, respectively). Some give Troupe a palette with which to showcase the season, as with the roasted-corn relish on the "Benton's ham" or the herb-marinated, lemon-zest-dusted zucchini on the white "zucca." Many feature combinations you might not have thought of — but are glad the chef did. The "sausage," for example, pairs the namesake ingredient with fennel, caramelized onions and basil. If the fennel weren't sliced so impossibly thin and the onions weren't coaxed into such sweetness, the flavors would compete — a foodie version of a feather boa over a leopard print. Good execution ensures that they accent instead.
Execution, however, isn't always so precise. At dinner one night, my friend's prosciutto-wrapped trout, one of several heartier, protein-based entrees on Lucky Pie's menu, was served skin-on. While this ensured a moist fillet, fish skin is an acquired taste — and when he peeled off the skin, the spicy breadcrumbs and bacon-esque wrapper peeled off, too. At one meal, the normally delicious lamb meatballs arrived cold inside, followed a few courses later by s'mores on crackers so hard they had to be chopped, icepick style, with a knife. And one evening a pizza crust left a greasy residue on fingers, indicating that the garlic-infused oil had been applied with too heavy a hand.
These occasional missteps don't seem to dampen the good time everyone's having at Lucky Pie, perhaps because the staff is so friendly. Servers are thoughtful, offering pitchers of iced tea on hot days and bringing off-menu dipping sauces that complement on-menu items. Such cheerfulness, though unprofessional in more formal environments, is in keeping with Lucky Pie's fun, casual vibe.
LoDo has some revolving-door spaces. But with Lucky Pie's ability to swap out the next big accessory when today's kale chips and bacon brittle start to fade, this restaurant just might get lucky. After all, pizza — especially when crafted with care, as it is here — never goes out of style.
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