A Chef’s Table at Mission Pizza Napoletana
Mission Pizza Napoletana will go down (so far) as the fastest-selling Chef’s Table ever, selling out in less than five hours. We may have not expected such a fast sell-out for a Neapolitan-style pizza place known for more than just its pizza, but we did expect every bit of excitement that came with the announcement that Peyton Smith, a self-taught, self-proclaimed “pizza maker-in-chief” would be the featured chef of the February dinner.
We featured Smith, a Winston-Salem native and Wake Forest grad, in an in-depth Triad Foodies articles in the Nov. 7, 2018, issue of YES! Weekly. We highly recommend you read it. Smith explained, at that time, his “a-ha moment” while enjoying Neapolitan style pizza on the streets of Naples, Italy. And when we say he’s self-taught, know this: Smith, who has worked in just about every capacity there is in the restaurant business, from serving to washing dishes to culinary staff, literally Googled his way to “pizza geek” status, researching his heart out, along with a good bit of hands-on experience, with the hopes of one day opening a Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant. The market crash of the early 2000s made for an uncertain future for a start-up restaurant, so Smith opened Forno Moto, his pizza food “trailer.” It literally was “trial by food truck.” Little did folks know that they were getting their delicious pizza from a man who was admittedly learning “on the job.” He was great at it then and his expertise a few short years later with MPN has made him a trusted and respected peer among those legacy pizza makers who have generations of experience to add to their name.
One thing I’ve always appreciated about Peyton Smith is his unabashed ability to tell it like it is. From his quippy responses to Yelp reviews (some that have taken on a life of their own) to his fine grasp of the English language, he’s an entrepreneur who wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his business and loving what he does. Very seldom at any of our Chef’s Tables, has the chef kneeled down next to each table and not only described the components of the dish but his intentions behind them.
Citrus Salad with Radicchio, Clementine, Marinated Anchovy, Dressed in Batistini Farms Olive Oil and Siano Whey
“The idea was a riff on a staple citrus salad, incorporating Italian chicory, sweet/ripe citrus, and funking it up a bit with anchovy,” Smith said. “Simple, clean flavor.” The whey was used with the olive oil as the dressing for the salad.
Rigatoni all’Amatriciana with Guanciale, Pancetta, Soppressata, Pecorino, Basil
“One of the classic Roman pasta sauces,” Smith said. “It uses a lot of guanciale and a lot of Pecorino Romano, balanced with just enough tomato in the sauce. This dish is all about deep savory flavor and mouthfeel. It should feel rich and unctuous in the mouth. The character of the sauce and a well-cooked al dente pasta makes for a dish that feels good to eat. If your lips aren’t coated in pork fat upon finishing the dish, we got it wrong.”
Pork Belly Burnt End over Polenta with Chimichurri and Braising Jus
“The idea was to take a humble, oft-used Italian cut of pork and do it NC style, like a BBQ burnt end.,” Smith said. “We braised the belly, then deep fried before plating to achieve a richly charred, almost burnt skin, but retaining a toothsome texture like North Carolina barbecue. Plated on simple polenta, with a bright, herby chimichurri to balance the richness of the pork, and a bit of the reduced/fortified braising jus to amp up the umami and pork flavor even more.”
Pizza Marinara with Garlic and Oregano
Peyton Smith’s favorite pizza on the menu because it’s the quintessential Neapolitan-style pizza and in its simplest form.
“Simply the best pizza in the world,” Smith said. “Simple, clean, nothing to hide behind. It requires a perfectly baked pizza and allows the bread to shine while complemented by bright, sweet tomato, just enough garlic for flavor and interest, and a lot of herbs is how I like it. A showcase on how different pizzas require different baking, even if you only have 70-90 seconds to do it,” he added. “Lacking the dairy sweetness of Fior di Latte cheese, the Pizza Marinara requires a bit harder bake on the Cornicione–or crust–in order to bring out more nutty flavor and sweet aroma of a well-caramelized crust, rounding out the pizza against a bright tomato. However, the bottom crust, in order to retain the desired character, must be baked softer than a pizza with more toppings. This is a great vehicle to showcase the skill and intent of the pizza maker.”
“Simple, perfect 3-bite dessert,” Smith said. “Ours contain a lot of egg, and we like to fry them to a deep, dark, golden brown. The result is a crispy, rich exterior and an eggy, custard-like interior. Combined with powdered sugar and an almost burnt caramel, the flavor overall is balanced sweet vs. savory, rather than simply a sugar bomb like many desserts.” This dessert is standard fare on MPN’s menu.
I think guests of the Chef’s Table left with a new-found appreciation of Smith and his culinary team’s ability to “bring it” and he certainly proved that even though Neapolitan-style pizza is what MPN is known for, the restaurant is really an Osteria, “a full-service tavern that happens to be pizza-centric,” in Smith’s own words. By all means, get a pizza when you’re here. But do yourself a favor and experiment with some other dishes as well. Your taste buds will thank you.
Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.