Peter Entner, a former acolyte of chef Tyler Kord and his endlessly inventive cuisine at No. 7 in Fort Greene, and Glen Hudson, a lifelong chef who became obsessed with pizza dough while serving a stint in the kitchen at Pulino’s, recently opened PeteZaaz, a ‘Brooklyn-style’ pizzeria in Crown Heights.
These days, particularly when it comes to food, ‘Brooklyn-style’ often means turning convention on its head, throwing caution to the wind, and doing whatever the hell you want to do, really, really, well…with housemade, handcrafted, locally-grown everything.
At PeteZaaz, Entner and Hudson are blowing the roof off the dome of Neapolitan flavors traditionally associated with pizza, turning out pies like the ‘Baked Potato’ – with crème fraiche, white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and green onion; the Cold Fried Chicken pie – with curried yellow squash, fontina, stewed collards and pickled Thai chilis; the General Tso’s Tofu – with miso, cottage cheese, broccoli and carrot; and the Chili Con Carne, with an ancho chili sauce, braised pork shoulder, cream cheese burrata, cold pickled corn and a Cheez-It gremolata.
In his recent review of the new spot on Slice, Adam Kuban mentions overhearing comments like, “…it’s the Do or Dine of pizza,” and “…it’s pizza for stoners, thugs and hipsters.”
We met up with Entner and Hudson to find out what’s behind the madness.
So Pete, you guys are doing some wild stuff here and people seem to be noticing. How did you end up opening PeteZaaz?
Well, I started at the French Culinary Institute. From there I went to Tom Colicchio’s Craft and then to another fine dining place in Manhattan, and both those experiences made me second guess my choice of cooking as a career, because being in those types of kitchens is like being in boot camp. It’s very intense. I thought I’d give it one more try and I ended up going to work for Tyler Kord at No. 7 in Fort Greene.
I told Tyler I was only going to work for a year. After a year he was like, “You leaving?” I was like, “Nah – I love this place.” Tyler had a whole different approach to managing the kitchen and I fell in love what what they were doing there. Tyler was doing this crazy New American, Asian-influenced food at No. 7. I don’t like even calling it New American because he really created his own unique style of cooking. His food was really inventive and original – healthy, delicious food, a lot of vegetable. He became famous for his house-made tofu…
And eventually I was offered the head chef – chef de cuisine – position at No. 7. Tyler explained their plans to me and offered me the position, and I just realized I didn’t want to do it. I had already been acting as the head chef there, because they had been spread so thin working on the No. 7 Sub projects. I already knew the job. There wasn’t anything left for me to learn.
So I gave my notice and I jumped on a plane and flew to Spain to cook. I went over there to work for Martin Berasategui, which is a three-Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian. Big, big-time restaurant. It was listed as one of the top restaurants in the world. I worked there for a month and a half, but it wasn’t a great situation. You’d only get to go on the line for like fifteen minutes a night, and I was spending all my time cutting herbs, cutting chives, and I was like, “You know what? I’m not learning much here. Let me go out and see what else I can find.” So I started to travel.
And it was f’ing awesome. I was taking buses wherever I wanted to go. I was traveling with my knives, on the spur of the moment, so it was just cheaper and easier to take the bus. I’d just go somewhere and walk into a little restaurant and ask them if I could cook with them in exchange for a free room – a place to sleep. I bounced around from Barcelona to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and London, just cooking in all these different places.
When I came back I started a catering thing. But it wasn’t my thing. I was cooking in my house. You can’t really do great food that way. It’s hard to do it justice because you have to do everything ahead of time. You get to the thing and you’re just reheating on Sternos and stuff, sometimes on staircases or crazy places like that. It’s cool doing die-hard stuff like that but it’s not the same as working on a line or flinging out pies all day. You don’t get that adrenaline high that all cooks are addicted to. I like to be in the ring, fighting.
So I knew this chef, Bill Barlow, who had been the head chef at Bonita on Deklab, near No. 7. After Bonito, he had been at Pulino’s, then went to take over the kitchen at The Porterhouse at Fraunces Tavern. I went to help him get his system up and going there. He ended up leaving, but that’s how I met Glenn and the Pulino’s crew. Billy Barlow had brought them with him from Pulino’s.
So when the whole Porterhouse thing eventually fell apart I started thinking about pizza. This space was No. 7’s old bakery space and I knew we could make pizza in these ovens, so I spoke to Billy about doing a pizza thing. He wasn’t interested, but he told me Glenn could cook pizza. Glenn had been working the line on the grill at The Porterhouse, so I had no idea he cooked pizza. I talked to him about it and he was like, “I can make pizza.” I said, “Oh yeah? Well I got a location that we could turn into a good pizza joint.”
He said, “OK.” So I said, “Cook me some pizza.”
And he did. I went over to his house and he made about fifty pies for me and three other people. Ha ha. And it was great. I said, “I love your dough. This is awesome. We could do this.”
And we did. We wrote up a business plan and from there it was all a lot easier than I thought it would be. We met some guys who were interested in investing, and six months later we opened the doors.
I think the thing that really differentiates you guys and gets people excited are you toppings. Was taking that approach always the plan?
I had a lot of experience with the ‘interesting’ and ‘inventive’ food scene because I had worked with Tyler for two and a half years. I got to get into his head. I got to put dishes on No. 7’s menu. So that’s the way I was cooking. That became my style of cooking, and that’s how I love to cook.
With our pizza here, when we started making it the way we do, I was like, “This is good food. And it’s fun food.” What’s great about it — it’s exciting. It’s more than just delicious. It’s fun. Cold fried chicken on a pizza? Who does that?
Tell us about some of the pies you’re doing.
We did a special this week – a chili con carne pizza. I think it’s going to replace one of our standard pies, but I’m not gonna tell you which one!
It’s got an ancho-based sauce. We use dehydrated ancho chilis and we rehydrate them with Sprite. We add garlic, onions, some lime zest, and we puree all that to make a nice little chili sauce. We braise some pork shoulder in the sauce, then we incorporate the rest of the sauce with a tomato sauce for the base for the pizza. We top it with the chopped braised pork shoulder, and I make a cream cheese burrata to top it as well.
We make our own fresh mozzarella in-house, at least twice a day. To make the burrata, I stretch some of the mozz and heat up some cream cheese, then stuff the warm cream cheese into a balloon of stretched mozzarella, and seal it up like a burrata. It’s like a mozzarella and cream cheese water balloon. After cooking it on the pizza, the cream cheese just oozes out.
When we pull the pizza out, we sprinkle it with cold pickled corn kernels, to give you a little acidic burst. Have you ever had Gushers candy? When you bite into a Gusher the juice comes shooting out, and I like that effect. With the cold pickled corn kernels, when you take a bite of the slice you get this burst of acidic flavor.
For crunch on that one we do a Cheez-It gremolata. I love Cheez-Its. I’ve been eating them forever. I mix crumbled Cheez-Its with lime zest, garlic, cilantro, parsley and Thai basil, and sprinkle that over the top for a little crunch.
I like to have an acidic component, a crunchy component and a sweet component as a base for all the pizzas. That’s the rule of thumb when we’re coming up with a pie.
Then we’ve got our Cold Fried Chicken pizza. That’s got southern American, Indian and Asian elements. The curried yellow squash sauce is the Indian part. We throw some collard greens on there that we braise with chicken stock and mustard seed, so you get your southern comfort right there. We use fontina cheese on that one because fontina works really well with both the squash and the collards. We top that with the cold fried chicken and some pickled Thai chili for an Asian touch and there you go – you have three cultures, three cuisines, in one pizza.
And the Baked Potato pie is all-American. That one’s for freedom! We just wanted to hit that all-American flavor profile.
All chefs like to say that we only eat good food, but come on. We’ve all been to Friday’s, and when you go to a place like that you get things like Buffalo wings and potato skins. Potato skins are delicious. We wanted to do those flavors on a pizza.
It took a while for us to actually get it to work, but once we nailed it – with the crème fraiche and the purple potatoes and the applewood smoked bacon lardons, with that little bit of greasy fat that renders out onto the pizza…Bacon!
And we like to keep everyone happy, so we do the Brooklyn, which is our most basic pie – our fresh mozzarella and tomato pie. It’s made with our fresh mozz, and people say, “The cheese tastes different.” That’s because we make it our way. We put dehydrated pickled jalapeno in there, dehydrated Thai basil. Most Italian pizzerias don’t use Thai basil, so it’s all familiar, but still different, and a little surprising.
We’re not trying to do classic pizza here. We’re doing PeteZaaz here. It’s completely different. We’re trying to start something new.
You’ve got original riffs on classic pizzeria apps and sides on the menu, too. Tell us about those.
With the whole menu, our approach is always, “What can we do to get those old Guineas mad!?” We want to get those old Italian guys mad. We want to keep it simple, but we want them to look at our menu and say, “What the hell are these bastards doing to our food!?”
So we thought, “What can we do with a Stromboli?” We tried a few different things, but we weren’t getting anything. So one day my roommate went to Katz’s Deli and brought home some pastrami, and that was it. I said, “I love pastrami! Let’s do this!” So we decided to do pastrami, our fresh mozz and some sauerkraut in a Stromboli with a spicy Chinese mustard seed, and see how it would work. We did it and, wow. As soon as we tasted it we said, “Wow. This is done. On the menu.”
The Broccoli Knots are our version of garlic knots. If you’re doing pizza you want to do knots because you’re always going to have excess dough and you need to find a way to use it. We’re always going to do a seasonal vegetable in a knot, so we’re doing broccoli now.
We didn’t want people coming in and buying bags and bags of broccoli knots because they’re so cool. We wanted to pump it up and make it special – make it a kind of salad. So we top them with a ricotta salata, some of our olive oil, Maldon salt, and pea shoots. You’re supposed to eat the broccoli knot with the cheese, because nothing’s better than eating bread with cheese, except maybe bread and butter, but you know…
And then there’s the Kimchi Bruschetta Roll. We wanted to do something that would feature our fresh mozzarella raw, because it’s so good. We started with a steaky, thick cut of the fresh mozz, and we thought, “Let’s incorporate an Italian tomato bruschetta with some Asian kimchi and see what happens.” I’ve been cooking for long enough that I knew it would be delicious, and it was. So we top that with pea shoots and a crème fraiche pesto. We use fried shallots in the pesto instead of pine nuts and Thai basil instead of regular basil, to stay with the Asian theme. And the flavors work really well together.
I think that’s true with all of our food. I try to explain that to people who come in. The crazy pizzas sound crazy, but they’re really not. They sound complex, they may not be what you expect on pizza, but the flavors go together really easily. The flavors aren’t challenging, they’re just good.
So Glenn, what about you? How did you end up becoming the dough man?
I started cooking after high school. I didn’t like it at first. Not at all. I was doing very fast-paced stuff and I thought it was kind of a degrading job because that’s what the people around me would say – you know how it is when you’re young. But as time went on I finally got into a really good kitchen with some good people and they kind of just let me go. I had the skills and experience to cook well, but I didn’t really realize it. The first day I worked there I was like, “How do I make this?” And they were like, “Glenn, you make it however you like, man.” And that’s when I started to think, “I like this!” That’s when I started to get to really experiment with food, and when I started to really embrace what I was doing.
Where was that?
I’m from Dallas, Texas. The restaurant was called the Greenhouse, in Denton, Texas. It’s one of the best restaurants in town.
When did pizza come into the picture?
I had managed a few pizzerias over the years, so I knew how to make pizza, and I got tired of eating other people’s pizza. It was too hard to find pizza of the kind of quality I wanted. I got obsessed with making dough because I love pizza, and I was tired of eating pizza I didn’t like. I have some family in northern Italy, so a few years ago I went over there and I said, “Yo, show me how to make your pie!”
So we spent a few of days making pizza and I was like, “Really? This it it? It’s this simple?” And they said, “Yeah. If you keep it simple, it’s good.”
So what I developed was a very simple Northern Italian style of pizza dough, because it’s the kind of dough that I like. I’m not trying to make the best pizza in the city or anything. I’m just trying to make really great pizza that I want to eat.
Tell us a little more about your dough. What’s good about your dough?
What’s good about it is that it’s not over-thought. It’s dough made the way people have been making it for thousands of years. Real Italian pizzamakers all have this argument that if you put more than four ingredients in your dough, it’s not pizza dough.
I stay true to that approach, although I am a big fan of olive oil. I love the way it makes the dough fluff up, and I love the flavor it adds, but you have to be really careful with it. The acidity in the olive oil actually kills the yeast, so you have to adjust the amount of yeast you use to compensate for the amount of olive oil you use. It’s a tricky game.
Everyone has their own way of doing it, and their own preferences for the finished product. For me, it’s more about the texture and consistency of the dough than that deep fermented flavor that some people want. I don’t care for the yeasty aftertaste.
What causes those differences in flavor, between more and less fermented doughs?
Just the amount of time you let it rise. The longer you let the dough rise, the more of that tangy, fermented flavor you get.
Like I said, I don’t personally care for that fermented flavor. I’m more interested in great texture. I do mine basically the same way they taught me to do it in Italy. It comes out with a nice crispy consistency that holds itself up, gets nice and toasty on the bottom, and still gets a nice rise on the sides. It’s how I like it.
And we have so much flavor going on with the toppings, that I just don’t think we need to complicate things with the tanginess of a more fermented crust.
How did you guys come up with the name? Who is PeteZaaz?
Ha ha. A lot of people hate on the name at first, but after saying it a few times, they come around to it. And it really helps if you met Pete. We were goofing around with concepts for names, and it just came off the top of his head. He was like, “What if we called it PeteZaaz? Ha ha haaaaaaa…”
I was like, “Ha ha haaaaaa. Sure bro! Whatever man!”
We actually had to fight with some of our partners about keeping the name. They had their own ideas about names, but PeteZaaz is us. This is our thing. We had to do it our way. And we really are doing it – we’re putting our heart and soul into what we’re doing here.
PeteZaaz is at 766 Classon Avenue, near Sterling Place, in Crown Heights.