A Community that Begins with One

While guest pizzaioli Ian Knauer turns out two special pizzas at Liberty Hall in Lambertville, Chris Bryan, the chef-owner of the savory pie destination, plays consummate host.

Bryan is a veritable nonna; he seems to live to bring folks together around a table. His house is your house, and the folks in residence last Tuesday night settled in for the duration as the aroma of perfectly charred pizza dough scented the air.

Lily—my longtime co-conspirator in culinary adventure—and I are charmed, and doubly so when Bryan talks to us about his dreams of bringing not just diners around a table, but New Jersey’s burgeoning pizzaiola population.

For once upon a time, there was only Anthony Mangieri, of the singular Una Pizza Napoletana (now San Francisco-based), doing it right in the Garden State, while today there are dozens following the path he forged in the 1990s.

Bryan aims to create a community—underscore that word: community—of pizzaiola, and gather them in his side-car space at Liberty Hall to talk, to eat, to share, to dream.

“Can I show it to you?” Bryan asks, and Lily and I are more than willing to follow this man and his dream.

“We can seat 32 here,” he starts off saying as he shows us a long room adjacent to the public dining space at Liberty Hall. It’s outfitted in vintage-industrial mode, the specialty of Bryan’s business partner, Danny Popkin of Modern Recycled Spaces. It’s ultimate Lambertville, which to my mind did the Brooklyn thing before Brooklyn got itself retro-fitted. But we can talk about that another time.

I am imagining a few dozen pizzaiola in this room and, judging by the smile on Bryan’s face, so is he. I want to hear what Dan Richer, of Razza in Jersey City, and Bryan might say to each other, and what ideas Aimee McElroy and Lauren Castellini, of Medusa Stone Fired Kitchen in Asbury Park, would bring to that one-big-table in Bryan’s mind. What a determined alliance can accomplish cannot be overstated.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall. Not one of those pesky, food-flitting flies, but an all-ears fly.

If you need convincing to hop aboard Bryan’s train of thought, try his pizza: The Margherita di Bufala tastes first of plum tomato (not that phony-sweet kind, but tomatoes that come from earth, from rich soil) and next of milky buffalo mozzarella and olive oil that’s at once peppery and fruity. It’s all bound by the dough, light and crispy, chewy and nuanced, charred and decidedly not yeasty.

Last Tuesday, Knauer, founder of The Farm Cooking School, located at Roots to River Farm at Gravity Hill in Titusville, made two special pies. The “Roots to River Radicchio Pie” had at its base a bechamel that was topped with braised radicchio and bacon, all of it flecked with marjoram and sweetened ever so slightly by honey. Season’s eatings never tasted so good.

Radicchio pizza

Knauer’s “Chef’s Secret Pie” was a double-secret, actually, a white pie strewn with chanterelles the chef had foraged locally. Where? That’s the back-story secret. And Liberty Hall’s diners on that night benefited mightily from his nose for wild mushrooms—and his discretion.

Chanterelle pizza

If Bryan’s guest pizzaioli program, which occurs periodically on Tuesdays, is any indication of what he has in mind for creating community in the pizza world, we’ll all be rising high.

Liberty Hall is located inside the Canal Studios Complex, 243 North Union Street in Lambertville. 609-397-8400; libertyhallpizza.com.

The Farm Cooking School, which Ian Knauer runs with Shelley Wiseman, his former colleague at Gourmet magazine, is located at Roots to River Farm, 67 Pleasant Valley Road in Titusville. 646-236-0605. thefarmcookingschool.com.

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