Courtesy of Mei-Chun Jau
Thirteen Pies will open in Buckhead Atlanta at 250 Buckhead Avenue on October 7. Serving lunch and dinner, this full-service pizza joint offers a menu of twelve designed pizzas ranging from wild mushroom and leek to garlic and sage white. When it comes to the thirteenth pie, it depends on the whims of the kitchen, which once forged a lobster pie made with tomatoes, a lobster bisque-like base, and Gruyere cheese. The traditional pies use a sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, and salt.
In addition to pizza, Thirteen Pies offers hand-made pastas, lasagna, salads, and desserts. A wraparound bar features craft cocktails, beer, and wine. Meat and cheese lockers are displayed around the restaurant, and sausages hang from above. Walk inside and notice the woodwork, the cobblestone-like floors, and the 100+ seats for dining.
The man to watch is George Ortega. As the kitchen manager, he’s in charge of overseeing the pizza oven, managing the heat, refueling the fire, and determining the amount of time each pizza stays in the oven. We asked him to share some of his pizza-making secrets.
What’s your background?
I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. I started in the industry at age 15 working front of house. I went on to work for Pei Wei. I started in the front of the house and then became the kitchen manager. In April 2013, I started at Le Cordon Bleu Dallas. I have two classes left, but I stopped because of the [Thirteen Pies] opening here in Atlanta. Once we’re up and running, I’m going to finish [culinary school] in Atlanta.
What are your responsibilities at Thirteen Pies?
Stretching the pizzas and working the ovens. Eventually, I’ll take over ordering and scheduling. [Working with the dough] is not something you can pick up in a few weeks. It took me a while. I started with the company at the original location in Texas for ten weeks of training. When you’re working the oven with thin crust pies, you must be careful. Here, we work from the bottom of the pie to focus on the crust. We’re in the process of training right now.
What’s your technique for ensuring quality?
Everything is about touch. You monitor the fire the entire day. You cook with as much heat as you can and not a lot of flame. Our pies take about nine minutes to cook. I try to be very gentle and loose in the wrist to be able to stretch [the dough]. Our pizza is very light. All the ingredients are very thin. We don’t want to put anything heavy on it. The goal is a super crispy pie, in which each slice stands by itself, and there’s no soggy middle. We want an airy, bubbly crust.
Do you toss your dough?
No, it’s more like a rotation on the knuckles. You could toss it, but I prefer to rotate. That way, there’s no pressure in the middle. You don’t want to tear it.
What makes a perfect pie?
It all starts with the dough and the temperature of the oven and goes back to mixing the flour. The person who makes the dough must have experience. They have to make sure the temperature is right, and they have enough water. A lot of timing goes into play. We use honey in our dough for a little bit of a different flavor.
Which pie are you most excited about?
The unique thing is our thirteenth pie. It’s something we rotate every three to four weeks. We do a lot of experimenting. I’m not sure which one we’ll start with. We’ve done pies with shrimp, lobster, apple, and pears—stuff that nobody would ever think of.
Anything else we should know?
Everything we make is [made] fresh in-house. It seems like Atlanta is very Neapolitan heavy. It’s going to set us apart because our pies are crispy all the way through. Our ovens fit twenty pies. We cook at 515 to 535 degrees F. We don’t do ninety-second pies. You won’t see dark spots. It’s more like a golden brown. We do full pies, 12-inches with six slices. I can eat one by myself, but usually two people share one pie and an appetizer or salad.