FOOD & DRINK // Pie in the sky

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October 10, 2011
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar

Element  //  96 NE Broadway  //  379-3028

There’s pizza, and then there’s Pizza. Some aren’t worth the drive, or calories, and others earn a pilgrimage. Element, the new kid in Nordeast, deserves the capital P. To use Mary Poppins-speak, it’s “practically perfect in every way.” Bet the uber-nanny would approve of what Ismael Karagoez is shoveling out of his wood-fired oven.

The Turkish owner/chef, who gained his pizza skills in Germany (which, I guess, underscores the universality of this particular addiction), took a red-brick building on Broadway that once housed a dentist’s office, remodeled the cozy site with lots of knotty pine, and installed the Holy of Holies that makes it happen: an oak-fired oven behind the order counter.

The crust, incorporating sea salt and olive oil of quality, provides your teeth the kind of workout a good crust should; the former dentist might bestow his blessing if he stopped by. It billows into a formidable lip, alluringly blistered from the intense heat, then smoothes into a slender underpinning for its toppings, ladled with a generous hand.

Choose among versions labeled Fire, Water, Wind and Earth (elements: Get it?) or the fifth and sixth powers in this part of the city, Nordeast (sausage and pepperoni) and Old World (spinach, feta, sundried tomatoes, calamata olives, red onions), all built to serve two ($8.50–11.75).

Ismael’s ruddy tomato sauce is born of elite San Marzanos; his sausage lush with fennel and red peppers, a real treat; his mozz procured fresh in globes, not tasteless slices; and his basil straight from the farmers market. Remarkable.

So was the salad of our choice, based upon a garden patch of baby spinach liberally festooned with rich and tangy gorgonzola, dried cranberries and savory walnuts, all drizzled with a mild raspberry vinaigrette (small–hah!–$4.25; large $7.75).

Warning: There are appetizers, too, and they’re terrific. Choose individually, or go for the gold, a plate of everything ($10.75, feeds four): creamy hummus that’s milder than most (translation: add a hint of garlic to the garbanzos and maybe more tahini); bouncy, fresh mozzarella; a terrific spread constructed of feta, with its in-your-face personality, abetted by red pepper: It’s terrific. Then Ismael layers on leaflets of prosciutto, a couple of slivers of salami, lots of tangy Greek olives, plus fresh tomatoes, cukes and onions. His delicious rosemary flatbread is at the ready for scooping all the goodies up.

What to drink? Classic Nordeast faves like Grain Belt, Miller, Leinie and Summit. There’s a small selection of wines on hand, too. And dessert? Not right now. Presently it’s a brought-in brownie, but keep tuned. He’s talking about a brownie on a stick. How Minnesota is that, I ask you? But sitting outside on the tiny, umbrella-clad patio with the roar of passing motorcycles in your ear, you could swear you were in Rome.