What if I told you one of the best pizzas in metro Phoenix has no cheese? Well, it’s true. Myke’s Pizza, a pop-up in Mesa, has been blazing a thin marinara pie that’s all red, no white. The pizza is ethereal, magically light, and tomato-caked and perfect for summer.
I can’t think of many pizzas I would eat on 100-degree days. I don’t know many places crisping pizza I can inhale two-slices-in-one-minute on a broiling sidewalk, dripping sweat on a late Friday afternoon.
Olsen's marinara pie, for sure, is one.
Myke’s Pizza is the project of Myke Olsen, who does part-time baking at Proof Bread. Olsen’s pizza pop-up rotates between Cider Corps and Mezona Market, both on or close to Main Street in Mesa. Olsen only cooks pizza a few nights a week. He sells 20 to 60 pizzas a night. People walk by and don’t notice he’s there. That’s insane, because he’s one of the most talented pizzaioli in town.
Last Friday, he was reading through cookbooks between customers. He started with Pizza Camp, by Philly’s renowned Joe Beddia. He also had tomes by Alice Waters and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. These are troves of data light years removed from coffee table cookbooks. These books provide geeky tours of fine culinary minds.
And Olsen was using his free minutes to soak up knowledge.
His skills with dough are already serious. How could they not be? He bakes pizza from dough fermented for 24 to 48 hours – dough that takes on dimensions of yeasty, faintly tangy flavors – and he works coolly on a sidewalk that heats up like a grill.
To keep his dough from overproofing, he refrigerates it for 30 minutes before service. He only keeps 10 to 12 circles of dough by his two portable gas ovens at a time. He stores the rest inside, meaning he has to hurry in and out when free and in need, meaning his reading minutes are scarce.
The gas ovens reach 700 to 800 degrees. On the spinning steel surfaces inside, ultrathin dough discs brown and crisp. Black air bubbles balloon under the wild influence of the fire. Deeply red sauce in the center madly bubbles.
His marinara pie features Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, Blue Sky Organic Farms basil (torn), pepper, and sliced garlic soaked in olive oil so it won’t burn.
“I grew up eating tomatoes out of my grandpa’s garden in Utah,” he says. “He would always serve them to us with salt and pepper, and it was always the most amazing thing.” In a way, he adds, he aims to re-create that experience with this Neapolitan-leaning pizza.
To me, the pizza is more elegant than a simple garden tomato experience. The pizza hits you with the same spirit as a simple summer pasta made with sauce simmered from fresh tomatoes. The garlic – lightly roasted, still snow-white and not remotely bitter – wrings the full flavor from the tomato, working in tandem with a light olive oil doused on the pie at the end.
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The crust rises to puffy ridges on the outside. The airy rim has browned and blackened and cratered from the heat of the spinning oven that plumes fire like a creature from Lord of the Rings.
That crust isn’t a soft, tasteless vehicle that exists to zip you the flavor of toppings. That crust has the nuance and wheaty swagger of heady rolls you get before dinner and, after eating too many of, can’t really finish your meal. But Olsen’s crust is light. You can eat Olsen's airy tomato pizza for days.
And if you want a peek into the future of pizza here, this summer you would.
Myke's Pizza. 21 West Main Street, Mesa (or see Instagram for other locations).
Thursday through Saturday (varies) from 5 to 8 p.m.