Blue Plate Special: New York pizza arrives in Charlemont via Berkshire Pizzeria
Berkshire Pizza's The Berkshire — a combination of spinach, pepperoni, mushroom, artichoke hearts, tomato and fresh garlic.
Berkshire Pizzeria manager Seth Martin prepares The Berkshire at the restaurant.
Berkshire Pizzeria manager Seth Martin and assistant manager Darline Upton with The Berkshire specialty pizza.
Darline Upton and Seth Martin of Berkshire Pizzeria in Charlemont.
By TINKY WEISBLAT
Greg Rowehl has homes in New York City and West Hawley. A lover of good food and of good pizza in particular, he spent months eyeing the empty storefront on Main Street in Charlemont that had housed a number of pizza restaurants.
“I kept passing by the vacant building,” he told me a couple of weeks ago. “I thought for $20,000 I could replace the carpet, paint the walls and throw in a bunch of used equipment so we could have some good pizza in town.”
Rowehl is trained in restaurant management, although he currently works in kitchen design. In the end, he engaged in more renovations than he had planned for his Berkshire Pizzeria.
He purchased new equipment, put tile on the floors, installed shiny new bathrooms and decorated the place with fun knickknacks, a giant map of New York and a charming vintage stove.
He is pleased with the results, however, and with the brisk business the pizzeria has seen since its debut in early April. “I never thought we’d be this busy,” he confessed.
Rowehl spends most of his time in New York, but he has installed a young, enthusiastic team on the spot in Charlemont. His general manager is Seth Martin of Plainfield, who told me that he had been “in the pizza world” for 15 years at Country Pie Pizza in Ashfield before coming to Charlemont.
Martin apparently predicted his food future as a student at Sanderson Academy. “When I was in third grade,” he noted, “we wrote letters to ourselves in the future. Mine said, ‘Is pizza still your favorite food?’”
Clearly, Martin hasn’t lost his passion for the delicious Sicilian tomato pies. He is enthusiastic about the product he makes and about his coworkers. Of Rowehl he said, “We have a very cool relationship even though we’ve only known each other for a few months.”
Martin is assisted by Darline Upton, who keeps track of inventory, takes orders and does whatever else needs doing, and by prep cook Sean Bresnahan and several other employees.
Martin designed the menu using his own recipes as well as Rowehl’s. The restaurant serves calzones, sandwiches and salads as well as pizza.
When photographer Micky Bedell and I stopped in for a visit, Martin and his helpers threw together one of the restaurant’s specialties, the Berkshire Pizza. This vegetable-rich pie includes spinach, chopped garlic, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts.
Like all of Berkshire’s pizzas, it was prepared New York style — with a thin, tossed crust — and rapidly baked in the pizzeria’s ultra-hot oven.
Rowehl plans to expand on Berkshire Pizzeria’s success to date. He has applied for a beer-and-wine license. He also hopes at some point to build a deck at the rear of the restaurant. “We’re just figuring out what we can do and what people want,” he explained. “People love to sit outside.”
In the meantime, he and Martin are working to streamline their processes for ordering and serving to ensure that their customers will remain happy. “It’s easy to lose a customer. It’s difficult to get everything right,” said Rowehl. “Repeat business is what we want.”
This makes a 19-inch pizza. If you would rather make a smaller pie, just reduce the ingredients. A 16-inch pizza would require about two-thirds of the amounts listed here. For the dough, use your favorite recipe or purchase pre-made dough.
1 19-inch pizza crust (1½ to 2 pounds pizza dough)
cornmeal and flour as needed for stretching dough
1 cup high-quality tomato sauce
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
3 cups shredded mozzarella plus an additional sprinkling later
20 thin slices of pepperoni
4 large artichoke hearts, torn into “kind of hunky” pieces
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
a sprinkle each of grated parmesan cheese and dried oregano
Bring the pizza dough to room temperature. (At Berkshire Pizzeria the dough is made at least a day ahead and left for 24 hours in the refrigerator, then allowed to sit at room temperature for 1½ hours.)
Preheat the oven. The oven at the pizzeria goes up above 600 degrees; 475 or 500 will have to do for most home ovens.
Gently stretch the dough out on a mixture of cornmeal and flour, pressing and turning it to create a nice circle with a clearly defined, slightly higher outer ring.
If you feel brave, toss the dough to stretch it further. It should be as thin as you can make it.
Place the dough on a clean pizza peel. (At home you may not have a pizza peel; in that case, place the dough on the pan you wish to use for baking, over a thin base of flour and cornmeal.)
Spread the tomato sauce on the pizza crust, going all the way to the edge.
Cover the sauce with the spinach leaves, followed by the mozzarella.
Sprinkle the pepperoni slices around the pizza, followed by the mushrooms, the tomato slices, and the minced garlic.
Dab a bit more mozzarella on top.
Place the pizza in the oven, and bake it, rotating once in the middle of cooking, until the cheese is melted and the crust is a lovely golden brown.
At the pizzeria with its very hot oven, the pizza is done in five to six minutes.
In a home oven it could take 10 to 20.
Writer and singer Tinky Weisblat lives in Hawley. She is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” (www.merrylion.com) and “Pulling Taffy” (www.pullingtaffy.com.). If you have a suggestion for a future Blue Plate Special, please email Tinky at Tinky@merrylion.com.