Today, we know East Nashville’s Five Points Pizza as a perma-busy 5 Points food stop and a three-peating Best of Nashville winner. But when co-owner David Tieman and his partners (wife Tara Ertichek Tieman and friend Tanner Jacobs) built and opened the place in 2011, it looked a lot more like a big question mark.
“I know we had put in a ton of time on research and trying to develop our recipes and get our processes down, and I knew we had really good equipment, but you just don’t know,” Tieman says, perched in a booth in his restaurant as a full house of patrons enjoys slices and pints. “Honestly, we triple-mortgaged our house to open this place, and so did our partner. And we were pretty scared to death.”
If we had to put our money on a reason why Five Points Pizza rose and grew so quickly (an expansion including a late-night slice window opened this summer), it’d be pretty simple: really great pizza.
Since the spirit of our neighborhood, at its best, hinges on sharing and caring and stuff, we asked Tieman if he might be willing to share what he views as the surefire secrets to great pizza. He kindly and generously agreed. Fair warning: We're digging deep here, so put your learnin' caps on.
The Secrets to Great Pizza, According to Five Points Pizza’s David Tieman
‘It’s all about the dough’
At Five Points Pizza, dough-making is a two- to three-day process, which includes a minimum 48-hour age (to allow flavors to develop) and the use of a higher-gluten flour to deliver “the kind of chewy, crunchy texture that we’re looking for.” There’s a major crossover when we’re talking about adapting that dough process for the home cook: patience.
“I know for us at least, we’re so busy, we don’t have time in our lives to make pizza dough two days ahead,” Tieman says. “We come home, we cook dinner in an hour, we eat, we clean up and we go on with the rest of our night. And if you really want to make a good pizza, that’s really not the way to do it.”
To get great dough at home, keep these guidelines in mind:
Tailor your flour choice for the type of pizza you want
“We use a New York-style pizza flour, which is traditionally a little higher in gluten than your traditional bread flour. Down on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a Neapolitan place that’s wood-fired, and they’ll use a flour known as Caputo flour from Italy. It’s more similar to a bread flour in terms of its gluten content, and that’s why you end up with a little bit of a softer dough… There are places in town for a home cook to go to get really quality flour, like Lazzaroli’s — they import so many nice products and they’re knowledgeable enough over there to tell you [based on] what type of pizza you’re making, ‘Use this flour,’ or, ‘Use that one.’”
Proof your dough
There are different methods for proofing dough to impart flavor, Tieman notes — some folks use a starter for a quick proof, while Five Points Pizza uses more time to let flavor build a little more naturally. In either case, we’re essentially talking about yeast interacting with flour to break things down into tasty simple sugars and proteins.
At home, here’s what Tieman recommends: “Use colder water, and take your time with it. … Put [the dough] in the refrigerator overnight, at a minimum. Make sure you keep it covered too, because dough will dry out. You can always put a little olive oil over the top of your dough ball, put saran wrap on it, put it in the back of the fridge and just forget about it for a little bit.”
Before you work with it, let your dough come back to life
“You never want to work with super cold dough when you’re actually making your pizza, so pull it out and let that dough come alive a little bit, and kinda wake back up from its slumber. Let it warm up just a little bit — you really don’t want to throw cold dough in the oven; it’ll come out a lot more bubbly, it’s harder to work with, it’s stiffer, it’s easier to tear. Once it warms up just a little bit it totally comes back to life, and it’s much better to work with.”
Don’t be afraid of getting flour-y
“Once you’ve got your dough ball out, it’s sticky, it’s hard to work with. Get a bowl of flour, stick it in the flour. Both sides. Flour that dough ball up really, really well,” says Tieman. “And instead of using a rolling pin, just get dirty with your hands and push that thing out. Get all the air bubbles out of it, try to keep it the best shape you can. Sometimes the best pizzas aren’t necessarily perfectly circular. Good pizza is just good pizza.”
Put a bit of ‘sweat equity’ into your cheese
That pre-shredded cheese? Skip it.
“If you’ve got a decent shredder and don’t mind just a little bit of sweat equity, you’re gonna get a much better cook on freshly shredded cheese,” Tieman says. “A lot of the prepackaged store-brand cheese, they add a lot of chemicals in there that are anti-caking agents, and it’s so it doesn’t get all clumpy in the bag. If you took our cheese and put it in a bag and tried to open it up a week later, it would look like a big mushy mess, because we don’t use any of those chemicals. If you’re out buying pre-shredded cheese, it’s probably gonna have anti-caking agents in it. And if you’re really looking for the perfect pizza, I would say stay away from that.”
Use a hot pizza stone in a hot oven
“Preheat your freakin’ oven. Preheat that freakin’ stone. Do not try to shove [your pizza] in there and then turn the oven on high,” Tieman says. “The thing that a stone will do for dough, and for bread in general, is it helps draw the moisture out of the dough and create a much crispier crust. So that initial crunch that you get when you bite into a really good slice of pizza, a lot of times that’s imparted from the stone, where it’s pulling all that moisture out for you.
“When heating up a stone, it’s obviously gonna be hard if you’ve never done it before — you’re like, ‘Well how am I gonna get my pizza on the stone once I’ve got a 450-degree stone in my oven?’ At home, if you put a little semolina flour or even cornmeal on an edgeless baking sheet, you can make your pizza and it’ll still slide around because all that semolina underneath kind of acts like a lubricant. Make [the pizza] on top of your pan, and then slide it onto the stone — which is essentially what we do with our wooden peels. If you make it on a stone and then put the stone in the oven, you’re probably gonna burn the top and undercook the bottom. It just takes a little patience.”
Don’t overdo your toppings
“A lot of times, pizzas look really really good going in the oven with tons and tons and tons of toppings, and you wanna put so much good stuff on there because it all looks so good together,” Tieman says. “But — this happens both on a commercial level and at home — if you’ve really got too many toppings on a pizza, it’s gonna cook out soggy. You’re not really gonna be able to pull the moisture out of those toppings like you want, and it’ll end up kind of puddling on the top.
“It kinda makes you wonder, ‘Well, why is my pizza soggy and a pizzeria’s is not?’ It’s partially our ovens. But I think some of that may also have to do with the way people top pizzas. You can never forget that mozzarella spreads when it melts, and you can dump a bunch of cheese on there without really much thought. But if you put too much cheese on and a whole lot of toppings, you’re gonna end up with a really soupy pizza on top that’s not gonna brown, and you’re gonna end up burning the crust trying to wait for the toppings.”
(If you try any/all of Tieman’s suggestions, we’d love to hear about the results — hit us on Facebook/Twitter/email.)
Five Points Pizza is located at 1012 Woodland St., open Sunday through Thursday 11 to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11 to 3 a.m.