Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mondays with Moxie

Jan. 9 was the first Pizza Monday at Moxie in Beachwood. The new wood-burning oven was fired up and turning out wonderful pies. I was there to try them at the kickoff for this once-a-week-only special. Right now, there are three versions: a classic red white and green Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato, Romano and basil; the Funghi made with oyster mushrooms from Killbuck Valley farm, Fontina and a toss of aurugla after it's baked; and a Calabrese topped with slices of spicy salami, fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and slivers of garlic. Don’t ask me to name a favorite because I thought all were superb. photo courtesy of of Michael McElroy

Executive chef Jonathan Bennett and his crew are making hand-shaped, Neapolitan-style rounds, each one beautiful in its irregularity. The crust is really outstanding — thin on the bottom, puffy at the edges, with the right crisp to chewy ratio. Charring, a characteristic of wood-fire baking (Bennnett calls it "leopardness" for the pattern of dark spotting) adds a dark, smoky note. Long-fermenting dough is one of his secrets. Another is a lot of trial and error. A pleasant tempered perfectionist, Bennett admitted to me that he’d spent the month of December experimenting to get every detail right.

“When you’re working with just a handful of simple ingredients, every little thing, every step matters,” he says. In addition, he got schooled in the craft at an intensive, four-day training course taught by certified experts with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Marina del Rey, Calif., where he did nothing but make pizza for 8 to 9 hours each day.

I also had a great, not-your-usual salad composed of juicy marinated grapes, frisee, walnuts and sheep milk feta, and a bowl of heavenly warmed olives. I sampled the meatballs small plate too, not because I needed more food, but because I needed to taste them. Verdict: delicious. I discovered that dipping the thicker pieces of the pizza rim into the red sauce they come in is an excellent idea.

Another incentive to show up here at the start of the work week is that all bottles of wine less than $100 are half price on Mondays. It’s an incredible deal. The server helped me select the terrific Tikal Amorio malbec from Argentina that normally sells for $64.

With the Monday options of pizza and bargain vino, Moxie has managed to redefine when the weekend begins and ends. You might also want to come in on Thursday, Jan. 19. The restaurant is having a whiskey dinner featuring five courses paired with brown spirits from Ireland, Scotland, Kentucky and Tennessee. $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Reservations required, 216-831-5599 or here.

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