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Blue Plate Special

Blue Plate Special: The Bakers Oven Bistro

The Baker’s Oven Bistro in Shelburne Falls is the perfect January eatery. Winter may be blowing outside on Bridge Street, but the atmosphere inside the small restaurant is literally and figuratively warm. The large pizza oven in the kitchen warms the air. The earth tones of the décor and the welcome from the staff warm the heart.

Co-owners Michele and Daniel Mojallali work hard to make their bistro a relaxing, nourishing place to visit. It opened in March 2012 and has attracted tourists and locals ever since.

The restaurant is currently in the process of adding the word “Bistro” to its name. It was originally simply called the Brick Oven, named after the mobile wood-fire oven the Mojallalis use for festivals and catering. Michele Mojallali explained to me recently that she wants the name change to communicate the establishment’s identity to customers.

“People walk by on Bridge Street, and they see ‘The Baker’s Oven,’ and they think bread,” she said. “We’re still baking bread. Daniel’s bread is amazing. But we’re more than a bakery. We really are a restaurant, and we want to project that to people.”

The Mojallalis are both bakers, so bread will always be important to their business. The two met while working for a chain of natural-foods restaurants in Eastern Massachusetts. When they decided to apply their training and talent to their own business, Michele Mojallali remembered loving Franklin County, where she spent her first 11 years.

They started with the mobile pizza oven and then moved into the restaurant space when it became available, transforming the interior with soft, warm, earth tones.

Daniel Mojallali, an artist and craftsman who actually fashioned the mobile oven himself, then created a mosaic above the bar with subway tiles. It says “Bridge Street” to indicate that the restaurant is a good place to stop.

The bar itself and the shelves behind it are made from reclaimed wood from local houses and bridges. The main portion of the bar was salvaged from a covered bridge in Colrain after Hurricane Irene. The overall effect is both old-fashioned and chic.

The bistro is open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for brunch as well as dinner. Michele Mojallali told me she was excited about the upcoming expansion of entrees on Friday and Saturday nights.

“We’re hoping to keep the bar open a bit later on weekend nights,” she added, “and serve a little pizza to people at the bar. Everything shuts down in Shelburne Falls at nine o’clock.”

Asked to describe the experience of running the restaurant, Mojallali laughed. “It’s crazy but fun at the same time. I think the main reason it’s crazy is that Daniel and I are parents as well.” The two have a little girl who is almost a year-and-a-half as well as a boy who is six.

“Luckily, we have a really amazing staff,” said Mojallali. “We have a group of creative cooks who are working with us. We’re not taking all the credit for what’s going on there. We really rely on our staff.”

When I visited the bistro, the staff member in charge was Shammah White. White grew up in the bakery business ... her family owns the People’s Bakery in Warwick. “I’ve been doing this since I was four,” she said when I commented on her expertise at rolling out pizza dough.

White prepared her personal favorite among the Baker’s Oven’s specialty pizzas, an all-natural white pizza (that is, a pizza without tomato sauce) bursting with fresh vegetables. As it baked, the tantalizing aroma of garlic filled the small but well organized kitchen.

Here’s the recipe:

THE BAKER’S OVEN VEGGIE WHITE PIZZA

for the base:
1 16- to 20-inch pizza crust, rolled out

for the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons other (e.g., canola) oil

1 pinch sea salt

1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 clove garlic

for the toppings:
2 to 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 zucchini, sliced

1/2 yellow summer squash, sliced

several dollops of ricotta cheese (about 1/2 cup)

1 tomato, cored and sliced

1 handful chopped scallions (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle cornmeal on a bread peel or cookie sheet, and place the rolled crust on top.

Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a blender or small food processor. Spread sauce on the crust. (You may not need all of the sauce. Use your judgment.)

Sprinkle mozzarella on the crust, leaving a little blank space at the very edges to enable those edges to brown in the oven. Arrange the squash pieces on top. Dollop ricotta in blank spaces on the pizza, followed by pieces of tomato. Sprinkle scallions overall.

Bake the pizza until it is slightly brown and the cheese has melted nicely. This should take from 8 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

Serves 8.

Writer and singer Tinky Weisblat lives in Hawley. For more stories and recipes visit her blogs, In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens (www.ourgrandmotherskitchens.com) and What’s a Girl to Do? (www.tinkyweisblat.wordpress.com).

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