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From the kitchen: Taking pizza to a new level

By By Judy Grigoraci
For the Gazette
Photo courtesy Anne Johnson
Eli Urbanic (left) is ready to put a pizza in the outdoor oven, as soon as his dad, Tim Urbanic, finishes stoking the flames.
Photo courtesy Anne Johnson Fresh from the over and ready to eat!
Photo courtesy Anne Johnson Chef Tim Urbanic keeps a close eye on the embers glowing inside his new outdoor pizza oven.
Photo courtesy Melody Urbanic The new outdoor pizza oven, complete with seating.
Photo courtesy Anne Johnson (From left) Chef Tim Urbanic, with wife, Melody, and son Tim.

Chef Tim Urbanic of Café Cimino and Inn in Sutton has a new culinary joy that he’s more than ready and willing to share with his patrons.

On Thursday last week my husband, Vic, daughter Gina and I were unknowingly in attendance at what turned out to be the public debut of his new cherry wood-fired brick pizza oven.

It looks more like an elegantly designed fireplace in a wooded resort, not the adobe mound one would expect.

“We’ve had it up and running since the end of last summer, but have been rehearsing since then,” Urbanic said. “It hasn’t been open to our customers until today. We started by baking bread, an artisan blend from a special Italian flour, soft inside with a crisp wood-fired crust. When it was perfected, we started on pizza.”

Eli, Tim’s son, has taken over the outdoor oven, with a gentle assist from Tim.

He’s responsible for all the fresh-baked loaves of ciabatta and monk’s bread and the pizza for the Café. In addition to those duties, he also raises shiitake mushrooms.

“Yes,” was Eli’s answer when I questioned if grilling is planned, seeing a space for wood and a metal grill topper built into the side of the oven. “My next goal is to begin grilling not only the expected steaks, chops, kabobs and seafood but grilled pizza and even to keep bubbling cauldrons of soup going.”

It’s another playground for Eli’s culinary imagination and ability to put anything over an open flame.

Tim had always desired an outdoor pizza oven and the time was right last year.

Eying the space that contained their vegetable garden in back of the Inn as a likely spot, he ordered the base dome and kiln, the shell or heart of the oven, (the “adobe” part) from The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (Pen Mac) in Pittsburgh. It was shipped directly from Italy to Sutton.

It came with 17 pages of instructions, all, of course, in Italian.

Tim turned to Facebook and conversations with the seller to get a handle on its assembly.

The rest of the construction was accomplished without any architectural blueprints or drawings.

Tim knew what he wanted in the way of design and consulted with his contractor, Ray Denuzzo.

Together they arrived at what they have today, a spectacular oven of polished concrete and brick with ceramic countertop work spaces.

Attached to the fireplace structure is a wooden roof-covered deck for dining and enjoying the atmosphere of gentle breezes and flowing water of the Elk River.

They term the space the “pizza pavilion.”

“I have a friendship circle of old cronies now who, when customers aren’t around, like to enjoy kicking back, sitting around talking, eating, having a drink and smoking cigars with the knowledge we aren’t bothering anybody,” Tim said of the pavilion.

“In all instances, the space brings chef and guests closer to what we’re cooking and makes a connection between us and sitting around a fire more symbiotic. It’s so much fun for our clientele here.”

He said the pizza area is also his acting “chef’s table,” a seating that is near and often in the kitchen of a restaurant itself, where guests are treated to special tastes in multiple small courses from the chef de cuisine.

There isn’t room inside the Café’s restaurant for that purpose, but the pavilion is close to the kitchen.

Tim has just returned from an annual “all-guys” trip to Abruzzi area in Italy, his seventh trip to that country, to unwind and to pick up fresh food ideas and techniques to apply in the Café.

His wife, Melody, said he terms his cooking as “Italiachian” — half Italian, half Appalachian.

“I always learn something new abroad, even if it’s just one tip, to maintain my quality,” Urbanic said.

“I visit Italian culinary schools, balsamic vinegar works, nose around chef’s home and restaurant kitchens and tour buffalo mozzarella cheese-making farms, watching the processes in each of them go from the ground up.”

Melody interposed that there were actual buffalo at the cheese site and one “became sweet on Tim, following him around the whole time he was there.”

The staff of the Inn, friends of staff, family, friends of family, and friends of friends have all shared the dining experience of pizza during the trial process in the quest to find the right formula.

“We were happily guinea pigs for lots and lots of pizza before Eli and Tim got it where they wanted it,” joked hospitality specialist and extraordinarily knowledgeable and personable server, Shaun Johnston.

Having had several crusts that could bounce from the floor, Tim wasn’t satisfied until he hit upon the right flour, a Tipo 00 Caputo brand from Penn Mac. He firmly holds that pizza “is all about the crust.”

True. And proven.

Eli produced a pizza for us with a thin, crisp all the way to the center crust, bubbled perfectly around the edges and toasted in all the right places.

Margherita pizza, with fresh tomato and basil, is the current selection, but more choices will follow.

Café Cimino has two themed nights: tapas Tuesday and “If this is Thursday it must be pizza!” known as Throwback Thursday.

Melody explained why Throwback Thursday is so named.

It also applies to her philosophy: “Tim and Eli like to throw back to their Italian heritage. To eat as their ancestors did, enjoying the outdoors, in a relaxed manner and ambiance, a sharing of food and fire with friends.”

Reservations are recommended for all dining, especially for the outdoor seating in the pavilion.

Please alert the reservation clerk if you will be ordering pizza and if you desire outside seating.

Otherwise, it’s first come, first served. The brick oven is fired up beginning at 4 p.m. each Thursday, the only day pizza is available.

Reach Judy Grigoraci at jg@suddenlink.net.


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