In Philadelphia, where Sam Pew grew up, it’s easy to find New York pizza.
In Salt Lake City — where Pew now lives and works at Arlo, a restaurant in the Marmalade district — there’s a lot of pizza, but it’s almost always either from a chain restaurant or baked Neapolitan-style in a wood-fired oven.
“I love all pizza, including Neapolitan,” said Pew, but he added he’s glad to be offering something a little different to his fellow Salt Lakers.
At Arlo, Pew has organized an every-other-Tuesday pop-up called “Secret Pizza Club” Pew, who started working in Pennsylvania pizza shops when he was 15, started the club as a hobby in his home. Now, the “secret” is out, and people form lines down the block from Arlo, in Salt Lake City’s Marmalade district.
Pew moved back to Philadelphia last fall, after working for two years as head butcher for Beltex Meats. In Philly, Pew worked at different restaurants, trying out pizza recipes, and then traveled to Europe. He returned to Utah in January, and landed at Arlo, working for chef Milo Carrier.
For several months, Pew said, he was making pizzas out of his house and giving them away through Instagram. He had to stop, he said, when his wife complained of a kitchen full of pizzas, and people driving through the neighborhood, picking up pizzas and clogging up the street.
“That’s how the whole Secret Pizza Club thing was born, because I was doing it out of my house,” he said, and everyone he knew was encouraging him to start his own pizza business.
“It’s just kind of a joke,” he said of the name. “We called it that a couple of times, and people hashtagged it…if you know, you know, but I almost feel the same way now that we’re doing it as little pop-ups, it’s a little secret pizza club.”
The first “meeting” of Secret Pizza Club happened July 12 at Arlo. Pew even had an artist friend, James Saarela, create a club logo based on a cartoonish, super-cheesy pizza featured in “The Goofy Movie.” Pew posts club details — what pies he’s making, and when the next pop-up will take place — on his Instagram account, @sammakespizza_slc. (You can also see the new logo there.)
New York pizza, Pew said, gets a reputation — sometimes earned — of being a greasy, cheap street food.
“Especially in New York, there are plenty of dollar slices,” he said. “But there are also more pizzarias taking a more bread-baker’s approach, making really good doughs, good quality ingredients, but keeping the heart and soul of a New York slice.”
New York pizza has a crispier crust than Neapolitan pizza — because it’s baked in a deck oven, rather than the wood-fired ovens that give Neapolitan pizzas their fluffier crusts. New York pizzas are also usually bigger, 18-to-20 inches wide, cut into six slices rather than eight.
“It’s just a big, hearty slice,” Pew said. “And there’s a richness to them. They’re cheesy. I use a really good olive oil on top of mine. But they’re just crispy, foldable slices.”
Pew describes himself as pizza-obsessed. He went to Pizza Expo in Las Vegas this year, and realized that the pizza-making community is actually quite small and tight-knit.
“We all nerd out on pizza,” he said. “They are all super-welcoming, and I’ve traded tips with a lot of people online. It’s a never-ending process. There’s always something you can learn, so I’m constantly making tweaks.”
For the dough, he said, “I try to have a really long fermentation. I usually start with a pre-ferment, like a poolish or a biga, then I’ll go for anywhere from 48 to 72 hours, usually, depending on the hydration.”
For his every-other-week pop-up, Pew said he likes to offer plain slices — just cheese — and a pepperoni, plus a pie with seasonal toppings, like the “pepper-roni” made with summer peppers and pepperoni. His wife works at the farmers market as an artist, so he’s always there as well, looking around for seasonal vegetables.
Eventually, he said, he would like to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant that draws on his butchering background, as well as his pizza obsession. For now, though, he’s happy to be making and serving up true New York slices. And right now, it is just slices — he doesn’t have the manpower yet to produce entire pizzas on demand.
“It’s super fun to me. I love it,” Pew said of Secret Pizza Club. “Every single time, I’ll tweak something a little bit, just trying to achieve something different. It started as one thing, and now it’s just constantly evolving into something else.”
Secret Pizza Club happens every other Tuesday at Arlo, 271 N. Center St., in Salt Lake City’s Marmalade district. The next one is Tuesday, Aug. 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. Go to his Instagram account, @sammakespizza_slc, to find out when the next pop-up event will happen.