Ronald Holden's series of interviews with accomplished pizzaiolos from across the Emerald City continues with The Independent Pizzeria's owner and pizza maker Tom Siegal. The Stranger's Bethany Jean Clement has already called out Independent as one of her favorites in town. Let's see how Siegal turns out his masterful creations.
You've got a prime location here on Lake Washington. How did that come about?
I always knew I wanted to have a pizza place. I was in the wholesale wine business, working for a distributor. A couple of years ago my friend and customer, Fred Andrews, the owner of Madison Cellars, called me to tell me that the little wine bar in his building, Impromptu, was calling it quits.
That was this space?
That was this space, at the foot of Madison, right on the beach. Originally we thought we'd basically do picnic takeout for the beach crowd. Now we're an evening place for the neighborhood. We open at five and usually fill up right away.
What about takeout?
About forty percent of our pizzas are “to go.”
You're from upstate New York, you said?
Yes, Syracuse. I worked as an assistant cellarmaster at Windows on the World before I came out here.
Have you kept up any of the wine bar's selections?
I try. Our clientele here is more used to drinking domestic wines than imports.
Tell me about your oven.
It's a Modena combo that runs on propane and on wood. Personally, I don't use wood, but it's an option. The oven has a burner that's like a flame thrower for fast heat.
For you, what's more important, the topping or the crust?
The crust. Not even close. That's what I do. The toppings, they're sourced, but the crust is mine. I'm from New York, I like a fuller-bodied crust and a crisp bottom. But you can't call it a “New York” pizza because we're using local water, even things like the humidity and air temperature make it a Seattle-style pizza. It's a cross between a New York and a Neapolitan crust.It has a Seattle "terroir."
And how do you make it?
It has to have some sort of density. I use Shepherd's Grain, a blend of their high-gluten and low-gluten flours. The dough proofs at room temperature. It's not bread,” it's not a croissant. It's not “deep dish.”
We stay as local as possible. The Syracuse is an homage to my home town, it's basically a puttanesca sauce, with anchovies optional. The Twin Peaks has locally foraged mushrooms. The Stevedore is what you might think a dock worker would have, a grinder with salami, provolone and Mama Lil's peppers.
Not very many combos on your menu, though.
You don't want to overthink pizza. Keeping it simple is our style.
Stevedore, Farmer, very proletarian, working-class names for an upscale neighborhood.
Well, yes, the names were a conscious decision. But that's the point, it's just pizza.
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