Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Real Detroit: Pizzeria Biga (Extended Cut)

Pizzeria Biga
29110 Franklin Rd., Southfield
248-750-BIGA (2442), www.pizzeriabiga.com
Hours: Sunday through Thursday11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Satuday 11 a.m. to midnight

What does James Beard Award-nominated chef and restaurateur Luciano del Signore do when he’s not creating exquisite nouveau-Italian dishes at Bacco Ristorante? He makes pizza, naturally! “It was pure selfishness,” Luciano says of his latest venture, Pizzeria Biga in Southfield. “[I opened Pizzeria Biga] due to the fact that there isn’t a true hand-crafted Neapolitan pizza in metro Detroit. I couldn’t just go out and buy it so we decided to create it!” And as luck would have it, it turned out to be the right kind of business for the current economy.

The dough has exactly three ingredients: milled wheat flour, purified water and a touch of sea salt, with no commercial yeast, which makes it much easier for your body to digest and thus healthier (Luciano also just perfected their new wheat crust, which is even healthier). The majority of their 57 toppings sound like items you would find at il mercato di Campo de’ Fiori rather than in a pizza joint in Southfield, Michigan. The name refers to an ancient form of leavening called biga used in Italian breads such as ciabatta. The pre-fermenting process is laborious but the long process pays off; the dough is light and airy and can cook very quickly. At Biga the 100% wood-fired brick ovens are fired at 900 degrees and they have perfected the 90-second bake time for their pizzas. This is the way Italians have made pizza for centuries. “Why mess with perfection?” Luciano posits.

They take the time to make things other places just don’t offer. Prosciutto di Parma, besaola, speck, lardo, grana (aka charcuterie and imported cheese) … charcuterie that isn’t imported is made in-house, like the duck prosciutto and bresaola, and many of their items are also prepped in the oven before going on a pizza -- oven-roasted tomatoes, roasted fingerling potatoes, etc.

The same is true of their house made gelato, which is made fresh daily as it is in Italy (freezing affects the flavors so today’s gelato was made today, tomorrow’s will be made tomorrow, and so forth). They use all natural milk (hormone- and antibiotic-free) from local Guernsey Farms Dairy blended with fine Belgian chocolate, their own macerated fruits and Italian espresso to flavor their rotating selections of gelato and sorbetto.

Whet your appetite with a charcuterie plate of house-made duck prosciutto and creamy caprino (Italian goat’s milk cheese). Then try the wood-roasted beets salad with olive pesto, walnuts, arugula, onion, balsamic, olive oil, parsley, goat cheese and a variety of the woefully underappreciated slightly-sweet beet. Follow that with the prosciutto pizza with arugula and grana (hard cheese) on their wonderfully delicate, chewy crust and finish it all off with luscious crema gelato. All you’re missing is the warm al fresco Mediterranean dining!

Hand-crafted products and gourmand-friendly toppings aren’t the only things that set Pizzeria Biga apart. They offer carry-out and delivery -- pretty standard, really -- but they do it with a little more panache. Curbside pick-up allows you to order online or from your iPhone app (yes, there’s an app for that), park in the designated pick-up spots and call the phone number posted on the sign at the space to tell them you’re there, and they then bring your pizza right to your car with a hand-held credit processor so you never have to leave your car.

Once you get your pizza home -- which you can order to-go in 12’’ OR 18’, though only 12’’ is served in the restaurant because it is the ideal size to enjoy it -- you will find an uncut pizza with instructions to rebake and cut along with your very own Pizzeria Biga pizza cutter (if you’re a first-time customer). They do this because it allows you a better at-home pizza experience, allowing the crust’s natural moisture to stay balanced until you’re ready to enjoy it. They also deliver within a four-mile radius and get this: beer and wine is also available for carry-out and delivery at LESS THAN retail cost, cheaper than you would find in any store because you’re not paying for any overhead. They also focus on small-batch, hand-crafted wines and beers to be consistent with the theme of their menu.

If you’re dining in, enjoy a free soup or salad and soft drink with your pizza or pasta during the Biga Lunch Break Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Glass pours and draft beers are half off during happy hour Monday through Friday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the bar, and Sunday through Thursday after 8 p.m. the house pizza is only $2 with your drink purchase.

AND: they’re open Christmas Day. I KNOW. Luciano decided when they opened in June that they would be open every single day of the year for their first year, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Thanksgiving was pretty quiet but Christmas promises to be a little more lively, as the area has many non-Christian residents. New Year’s Eve also promises to be a more low-key affair than your usual high-ticket “swanky” events (which almost always disappoint, am I wrong?).

Fans of the AAA four-diamond Il Posto, which formerly inhabited this space, won’t even recognize it. When Luciano acquired the building, he had it taken down to the studs. The only thing salvaged was the common brick wall which creates archways around the dining area. But if what you liked most about Il Posto was the authenticity, you won’t be disappointed -- the whole identity of this place has been re-imagined from stuffy old-world formal Italian to breezy, casual, stylish yet equally refined nouveau Italian. It’s pizza … but it’s not “PIZZA,” at least not how we understand the pepperoni-grease-soaked with gobs of melty mozzarella (NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT) pizza here in ‘Merica. Pizzeria Biga offers a true taste of how the Italians do it, and this is why everything in Italy is better. (Except the narrow city streets common to ancient European cities that made those silly-looking dinky little cars popular. Of course for every Fiat there's a Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo -- oh yeah, and Lamborghini -- soooooo ... everything in Italy is still better. Including but not excluded to pizza and sports cars.)

Read the article as it originally printed here.