Little Rhody is about to go big time. Providence Pizza (12925 US Highway 71 South) – a three-week-old pizza shop in Grandview, Missouri, is bringing a taste of the East Coast to the Midwest.
“New York style pizza is all over the country,” says co-owner Luke Salvatore. “I figured it was time for people to eat pizza from Providence.”
Alongside his brother Aaron Salvatore and partner Bill Brison, Luke Salvatore has spent the past year overhauling a former Long John Silver’s. (A third Salvatore brother Ben, has joined them to work at the restaurant). They exposed the concrete walls, built an ornamental wine barrel into the ceiling and had three pizza ovens installed to kick out three different styles of pizza.
“It’s not just that you’re in the mood for pizza. You get in the mood for a certain kind of pizza at a certain place,” Salvatore says. “That’s why we do different dough with different ovens at different temperatures.”
That’s the secret sauce of Providence. Instead of a dominant pizza style, the pies are more nuanced like barbecue is in Kansas City. Just as you might parse out where to send someone for ribs or brisket, choosing a pizza in Rhode Island can depend on one’s mood or need for a given crust or topping.
Two years ago, Salvatore was driving a forklift in a warehouse when he an epiphany – Kansas City needed a pizza makeover.
“I missed the pizza of my hometown,” Salvatore says. “I’m 32 now and I’ve consistently said that my favorite job was the one I had when I was 15 years old and making pizza.”
That job was at Famous Pizza – where he worked throughout high school and at Providence College – a Rhode Island cult favorite known for pepperoni pan pizza. He tapped his experience there and took inspiration from Bob & Timmy’s (thin grilled crust), Fellini Pizzeria (the barbecue chicken pie) and Caserta’s (thick crust). The pizza shops of Providence are featured in pictures on the walls and on the menu.
The slices are cut from 22-inch pies, Providence’s thick crust is Sicilian-style and they’re going to make Neopolitan-style pizzas for dinner in their wood-fired, white clay oven imported from France.
As part of a shared commitment to mastering different styles, his brother Aaron graduated from Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza as a certified pizza maker in June 2013.
“I’m in search of the perfect crust,” Luke Salvatore says. “I feel like I’m trying to create a standard with our pizza, one that’s evolving in a lot of ways.”
The restaurant is evolving, as well. Providence Pizza had to close for two days just so they could have enough dough to satisfy the demand for the pies. Salvatore likes to give his pizza dough 48 hours to proof.
In an effort to use the wood-burning oven throughout the day, the Salvatore brothers have partnered with Tikva Fuller of Café Main to bake the bread for their grinders, as well as make bagels, biscotti and scones. While Fuller is on maternity leave, her brother Lev will be baking the bread. Chocolate sourdough and olive rosemary sourdough are in the works.
The coffee is Onyx Coffee. They’ve got drip and espresso drinks, but Salvatore would like to add in pour over as an option.
They’re also cooking breakfast pizzas, which will eventually include a take on Eggs Benedict made with Hollandaise sauce. Right now, they’ve been selling slices featuring sausage and eggs or spinach, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.
“It will be anything you have for breakfast, but on a pizza,” Salvatore says.
They’re focused on slices for lunch – the pizza cooks have been experimenting with cheese (from cream cheese to ricotta) and toppings. The tri-colored peppers are roasted and the onions are carmelized in the wood-burning oven. A veggie, Hawaiian and barbecue chicken (the sauce done in concentric circles because ““New York pizzas are lacking that eye appeal. Eating starts with what you see,” Salvatore explains) all shared the slice counter next to the register on a recent Monday. Providence Pizza also has grinders and calzones, available baked or fried. In a notable partnership, their house root beer was designed by Soda Vie creator Benjamin Topel.
“The fried calzones are like fried dough. You get this kind of chewy crust that’s a bit oily and then everything inside is nice and hot and you’re like, ‘yeah, this works,’” Salvatore says.
By firing it up in the morning, the idea is to get the oven up to 875 degrees by 5 p.m., so that Salvatore can blast out a Neopolitan-style pie in around 90 seconds. He’s aiming for a light, airy crust with a bit of leoparding – the black char spots on the rim.
“We eat pizza so naturally. It’s universal,” Salvatore says. “We just want to create a renewed excitement over pizza and get people really passionate about pizza.”
Providence Pizza is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. currently, but Salvatore plans to extend the hours in the coming weeks to stay open for dinner. Once they begin offering dinner, they’ll be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The phone number is 816-965-0743.