Metro Phoenix may have a new great pizza maker.
His name is Myke Olsen. You can find and eat Olsen's Neapolitan-style pies in downtown Mesa, but on just two nights a week.
In October 2016, Olsen launched a one-man pizza pop-up outside of what is now Mezona Market. Olsen, two gas-fired pizza ovens, several boxes of proofing dough, and an ice tray full of toppings are the entire operation. He works on a Main Street patio. In spite of Olsen’s skepticism, his pizza draws crowds. He sells more than 80 pies on his busiest nights.
The pop-up, called, Myke’s Pizza, was retired for the summer back in May. But as of late October, Olsen is up and running, baking great pizza again.
“Downtown Mesa is really sleepy,” Olsen says. Other than a few standout joints like Worth Takeaway and Republica Empanada, there isn’t a whole lot drawing hungry folks to Mesa on a Friday night. “I hope my skepticism is proven wrong,” says Olsen, a Mesa resident. “I guess I can do my part."
Olsen traces the origin of the pop-up back to pizza parties he used to host periodically with friend Jared Allen, the baker formerly behind Proof Bread. After a particularly successful party held outside of Sweetcakes Café, Olsen made plans with Sean Huntington, whose family owned the Café (now Mezona Market), to sell pizza on the patio every weekend. This year, Huntington transitioned Sweetcakes into Mezona Market.
Myke’s Pizza will continue to be a mainstay on weekends.
Olsen, 35, worked for years as an accountant before shifting into the food world a few years ago when Jared Allen hired him to work at American Way Market in Chandler. In addition to making pizza, Olsen works as a baker for the current owners of Proof, Amanda Abou-Eid and Jonathan Przybyl.
Pizza, Olsen says, is the perfect fusion of baking’s precision and cooking’s improvisation. He also says that it's exactly where he belongs.
Olsen is a pizza nerd. He's a Chris Bianco fan; Olsen even changed his dough hydration level after a brief conversation he had with Bianco at his recent book signing in Phoenix. And after “Instagram stalking” chef Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s Fifty Fifty in Portland for some years, Olsen fulfilled his dream of eating one of her beautiful pizzas this summer: a white pizza with taleggio, potatoes, roasted onion, bacon, fenugreek, and an egg.
“It was a really singular experience,” Olsen says. “I got the chills twice when I was eating it.”
Joe Beddia, owner of the one-man operation Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia and author of Pizza Camp, is another inspiration for Olsen. So is Uno Pizzeria Napolitano, run by hardcore pizza purist Anthony Mangieri. Both restaurants put out less than 100 pies a night, don’t take phone orders or substitutions, and are manned almost obsessively by the chef-owners, all in service of the craft of pizza making. If and when Olsen decides to open a brick-and-mortar pizzeria in downtown Mesa, he aims for something like what Beddia and Mangieri are doing.
“I don’t know exactly what that looks like in Mesa, Arizona,” Olsen says. “While I do feel committed to the craft of pizza, people who support me, and just people in general, are very important to me. I want to be in service to them as well.”
Olsen’s pizzas are not as austere as those of his muse Mangieri, but they are simple, beautiful Neapolitan pies. The crust holds its own among other Phoenix pizza mainstays like Pomo or La Piazza – thin and crispy, grand and chewy, with flecks of char despite not having been cooked in a wood-fired oven. Toppings include crushed Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, coins of cured meats, and drizzled spicy honey. His white pizza is a standout: garlic cream, potatoes, bacon, rosemary, and aged gouda.
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It comes to you immediately after finishing, mozzarella still bubbling. If the line isn’t too long, you may get to chat with the pizzaiolo himself.
“I’m still figuring things out but I really do feel that I can bring something special to the world of pizza,” says Olsen. “Something that can hold its own against other Arizona pizza institutions.”
Myke’s Pizza; 21 West Main Street, Mesa.
Friday and Saturday 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Follow @mykespizza on Instagram for updates.