Howard Bulka is one of those chefs who will get fixated on something, then research and tweak it to death until it’s just right.
Such was the case when he decided to trade decades of preparing fancy, fine-dining, prixe-fixe menus for pizza instead.
Howie’s Artisan Pizza opened in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village four years ago. Crowds have been lining up ever since for the pizzas, constructed with a bread flour-dough, which takes two days to mix and proof before being turned into pies that are baked in a gas-fired brick oven at 600 degrees for 5-6 minutes.
These are multi-dimensional crusts with puffy edges of air holes that provide chew and crunch, and centers that get thinner and crisper.
Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant. We started with the Chinese Chicken Salad ($10). The generous-sized salad is more than enough for two to share. A mountain of chopped romaine is tossed with cucumber, green onions, peanuts, cilantro, chicken chunks, crispy won ton strips and a creamy, mustardy dressing. It’s almost like an Asian version of a chopped salad.
Spicy meatballs ($9) come as big as your palm. Meaty, fluffy yet dense enough, they are total comfort food.
Bulka is experimenting with selling focaccia, so brought us out a few slices to try. They’re made with the same dough as the pizzas, then smeared with tomato sauce or olive oil. I hope he does end up selling them. I could see picking up a slab to go with dinner at home.
Baked Potato Pizza ($18) has tender, creamy slices of potato strewn across the pie. Gruyere cheese, bacon and rosemary complete it. Take a bite and it’s like your favorite scalloped potatoes at Christmas, but on a bed of chewy, crisp crust. Heaven.
We ordered the Margherita with anchovies ($19). Topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce, Parmesan, fresh basil and olive oil, this is one of the finest renditions of this classic you’ll enjoy. The cheese gets melty, but it’s not so runny as to make the crust soggy.
For dessert, there is Straus soft-serve. The espresso one arrives like a giant Marge Simpson beehive. Get it with hot fudge sauce and toasted almonds ($5.50) to make it even more indulgent.
This summer, Howie’s has been hosting a Trivia Night. Answer questions correctly, and you can win a Howie’s gift card or T-shirt.
Bulka is also mulling over expanding his business by opening other locales of the pizzeria. Let’s hope so. Pizza this good definitely deserves a bigger audience.
More Town & Country Village Eats: Asian Box