Water, flour, yeast.
It sounds simple enough, until you add fire, wood, wheels, and the weather that’s all set to ruin a perfectly planned pop-up pizza.
It’s chaotic, but the pairs in charge of three small businesses serving pies from mobile wood-fired ovens have their systems in place.
âWe call it the pizza circus, I’ll be honest,â said Hannah Welton, co-owner of Weltons Fine Foods.
Welton, from Texas, met her husband Zachary while working in the kitchen at Husk. They each spent three years at the famous Charleston restaurant during Sean Brock’s time before landing in Tulum, Mexico, at Hartwood, an open-air restaurant specializing in wood-fired dishes.
âThis is what reinforced our love for wood-fired cooking,â Hannah Welton said of their time in Tulum. So naturally, when they returned to the United States in 2019, an Italian-made wood-fired oven was on their shopping list.
Oven in tow, the Weltons combined the minimalist methods learned at Hartwood with the hyper-local accent taught at Husk to launch Weltons, a mobile restaurant specializing in natural sourdough wood-fired pizza.
âEveryone loves pizza, so how do we take all of these beautiful products that are here and make it into something super seasonal, super local but at the same time that will appeal to a wider audience? Said Zacharie.
Fire Ant Farm, Spade & Clover Gardens, Peculiar Pig Farm and Rosebank Farms are just a few of the local producers the Weltons turn to for ingredients to make pizzas as a recent specialty: braised butternut squash, red onion, cheese. goat cheese and sorghum with Calabrian pepper. with toasted nuggets and skip seeds.
To bake each pie, the Weltons heat the oven to 700-800 degrees and bake the pizzas for two minutes.
Sweets like Dutch Apple Pie pop up with every pop-up – which takes place at local breweries like Estuary Beans & Barley and Hobcaw Brewing Co. – showcasing the Weltons range while using their oven.
“Not only is it our workhorse, but it is also a point of inspiration,” said Zachary Welton.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
High Pie owners Leah Highfield and Jeremy Williams scoured the Charleston area in the summer of 2021 before deciding to permanently park their mobile oven at Lo-Fi Brewing. Over the course of a multi-month residency, the duo served pizzas baked at 800-900 degrees in a wood-fired oven filled with oven-dried white oak.
âI weighed myself and my body weight fluctuated six to seven pounds a day,â said Williams, describing the summer pop-up circuit while prepping the oven for an October shift at Lo-Fi.
âThe biggest challenge is doing it all yourself. We only sell pizza 15 hours a week, but technically we only have one day off. So most of it is brewing. It’s a small window but there are a lot of things going in there.
The heat hits you in the face as you get closer to the oven; this is because the metal exterior does not allow it to retain heat like the complete stone oven of the Weltons. Highfield and Williams admit they’ve gone beyond this current setup, but the oven is still capable of creating the “leopard” crust that High Pie is famous for.
About 70 percent of High Pie’s natural sourdough sourdough consists of high pH water selected by Highfield and Williams after several water tastings. When water is a big part of the dough, flavor matters, they said.
âWater steaming dough, which is why you get a leopard,â said Williams, referring to the bubbling round bits that dot the crust of their pizza.
The mineral-rich water is only part of what sets High Pie’s paste apart. A 5-year-old sourdough starter is key to the characteristic flavor of the fermented crust.
The term “sourdough leaven” refers to a fermented dough filled with natural yeast from the air. Like commercial yeast, a sourdough raises the dough.
âThe main difference between sourdough pizza and unnatural sourdough pizza is fermentation. With us you basically leave flour and water outside, there is yeast in the air and after a while it starts to build up, âsaid Williams. âIt’s quite a process, but you make it a maternal starter and then you have to feed it every day. You can make it grow exponentially.
A spreadsheet calculator determines when the starter receives a serving of flour and water. If they prepare dough for the service, they feed it in the morning and evening the night before, and then again on the morning of the event.
âOur starter is our pet,â said Williams. “We went to Philly last week and had to take our starter with us because I had to feed her every day as I had to make pizza when I got back.”
The toppings are constantly changing, but a recent service included a Mediterranean-inspired pie called “Artie Zataragus”, a combination of cheese, toum (Lebanese garlic sauce), artichokes, pickled asparagus, and za’atar seasoning.
âWe like to do a mix of flavors in terms of toppings,â Highfield said. âSome have classic Italian flavors, others are totally different and not at all Italian. We kind of lean towards the Israeli Middle East and Italian.
High Pie is on hiatus during the holiday season, but Highfield and Williams plan to reboot the pop-up in 2022.
Dough Boyz co-owner Evan Romano fondly recalls his days carrying an oven his grandfather gave him for pop-ups in the back of his van. When the oven was too hot to take home after an event at the Elliotborough mini bar, he was forced to lock it to a pole in the street and hope he would make it through the night.
That’s what happened, but after a slight nudge from his now partner and fiancÃ©e Jasmine Cofer, Romano realized it was time to level up. He bought the same Italian-made wood-fired oven used in the famous Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta and took his pop-up pizza on the road.
âI have to admit my motivation was Jasmine,â said Romano, who met Cofer while working at Indaco. “She urged me to start doing the pop-ups.”
When pop-ups became more lucrative than their jobs in Indaco’s kitchen, they made Dough Boyz their full-time job.
The couple call their pizza Neo-Neapolitan style, which means it has that leopard you find on High Pie pizzas, but it’s a bit firmer. The pizzas cook for two minutes at 850 degrees.
âI’m a huge fan of the visual aspects of the leopard,â said Romano.
Connecticut-based Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is Romano’s âmeccaâ for pizza, he said. Like the 96-year-old restaurant, Romano prefers traditional toppings and the highest quality ingredients: San Marzano tomatoes, Caputo flour and whole milk mozzarella. Romano and Cofer also constantly incorporate local products into their pizzas.
âWhen things get a little rarer in the winter, we like to look to traditional Italian suits,â said Romano. âWe like to take inspiration from Italian pasta dishes.
Dough Boyz, a staple of Graft Wine Shop’s “Good Neighbor Sunday”, offers the service element of a restaurant by delivering pies to patrons. Romano remains behind the hot oven and leaves the element facing the customer at Cofer.
âI can’t say that my strong point is the facade,â said Romano. “His presence thereâ¦ he’s really real yin and yang.”
Pop-ups are increasingly becoming long-term businesses for local chefs, but it’s natural to think about future aspirations. The Weltons have set their sights on a brick and mortar restaurant, while High Pie and Dough Boyz plan to upgrade their mobile setups in the near future.
In the meantime, Weltons Fine Foods, High Pie and Dough Boyz will team up for a Charleston Wine + Food event called âA Natty Pizza Partyâ. Alongside executive chef Renzo Colin Marcelli and Kyle Jacovino of Pizzeria Vittoria in Savannah, the Weltons, Williams, Highfield, Romano and Cofer will be hosting a pizza night with natural wine pairings on March 4 at the upcoming Ann Street Bodega restaurant.