Trailblazing chef Wylie Dufresne has made a lot of really good food over the years, and for me, this includes an extraordinary birthday feast back in the aughts at his much-missed temple of molecular gastronomy on Clinton Street, wd-50; a bunch of fun meals at his experimental East Village spot Alder, which went through several menu iterations before closing in 2015; and dozens of his donuts at Du’s in Williamsburg, which concerningly remains on a pandemic “pause.”
Starting today, though, Dufresne is up to something completely different and, as it turns out, extremely delicious: making pizza with his buddy Gadi Peleg of the great Breads Bakery, and selling pre-ordered pies every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening from the latter’s Union Square flagship shop. The operation is called Stretch Pizza, it’s the first time in some five years that Dufrense has professionally cooked anything savory, and based on a few stellar preview pies I ate last night, we can only hope it’ll stick around for a while.
“During the early months of the pandemic,” Peleg said, “we would run into each other all the time in the neighborhood, and Wylie started bringing me pizzas he had made in his home. We talked about collaborating on something, and brainstormed some croissant-type ideas, but Wylie said he had been going down the pizza rabbit hole for a whole year, and wanted to run with it.” And so, with the help of Breads “dough master” Darwin Castillo, Stretch Pizza was born.
The twelve-inch pies at Stretch Pizza are what Dufresne and Peleg call “New York Style,” with toppings that have real presence, plenty of cheese, and crust that’s not too crackery, not too doughy, not too wet in the middle, just some classic NYC folds. “We’re both from the city,” said Peleg, “so we didn’t really consider any other kind.”
There are four varieties to start things off. The Everything pie is fantastic, with a slathering of cream cheese, some excellent aged mozzarella, and a generous sprinkling of everything-bagel spices (garlic, poppy, sesame, salt) and tiny bits of chive covering the top. Dufresne plans on using the Union Square Greenmarket as a primary source for screaming-fresh specials, and right now that means ramps, which he grills and lays atop a pie, along with a lively Romesco sauce and two types of cheese, called Sketches of Spain.
The Classic New York pizza stars Dufresne’s house-made tomato sauce and more of that aged mozzarella, all charred and chewy. Your fourth choice for now is the Couch Potato, which pairs fingerlings with sour cream, rosemary, scallions, and cheese. As a delightful bonus, the duo are also offering a fantastic Calzone, possibly the sleeper hit of the whole operation, a big doughy package stuffed breakfast-style with soft scrambled eggs, melted muenster and American cheese, and scallions for some bite.
As someone who is still learning and practicing the actual, physical craft of making a pie, Dufrense came up with the name “Stretch” as an homage to all the pizza makers who make it look so easy, even meditative when they’re stretching out the dough. “I have nothing but respect for those guys,” he said. “This is hard to do.”
Stretch Pizza will be serving its pies out of the Union Square Breads Bakery, 18 East 16th Street, every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Preorder via Tock, with new open slots added frequently.