Ninety seconds at 800 degrees. That’s how long it takes to create a perfect wood-fired pizza at Punch in Wayzata. There is definitely a method to the madness that results in a pizza complete with a chewy yet crackling crust, imported cheese melted to perfection and fresh, natural ingredients that complement the taste sensation.
At Punch, everything begins and ends with the oven, starting with its installation.
“Every time we open a new restaurant, the staff at that location works together to tile the outside of the oven,” says Jenny Nyquist, senior manager for the seven Punch restaurants in the Twin Cities. “It doesn’t have to look perfect or pristine. It’s just a communal experience for everyone who will be using it. I’ve helped with four of them and it’s a lot of fun.”
In fact, every Punch oven has a name, all in honor of famous pizzerias in Naples visited by owners John Soranno and John Puckett. The Wayzata oven is known as “Mattozzi.”
The pizza oven at Punch is the only oven on the premises; the restaurants don’t even have microwaves. Ingredients such as goat cheese, saracene olives, sundried tomatoes and eggplant—used to make the Borgata a.k.a. “the Meryl Streep pizza,” which earned raves from the Oscar-winning actress after she tried some at the Highland Park location—are all cooked in the wood-burning oven.
As beautiful as the outside of the colorful ovens are, it’s what is inside that matters and that’s heat—lots of it. No gas or other heat source is used, just oak logs from a sustainable tree farm in northern Minnesota. There’s no thermometer, which is one of the reasons careful attention must be paid to the oven’s conditions.
“The pizzaiolis—the cooks who make our pizzas—have to stoke the fire every two or three pizzas,” says Nyquist, who has worked for Punch since 1998. “You want the flame, which gives the pizza its smoky, wood-fired taste and authentic Neapolitan crust.”
Not just anyone can become a pizzaioli; it’s an intense craft that requires several months of training. At Punch, there is an apprenticeship program for all prospective pizzaioli, led by Soranno, who then certifies those who successfully complete the training.
For those who have become addicted to the unique and delicious taste of wood-fired pizzas like those served at Punch, consider building or installing your own backyard wood-burning pizza oven.
“Outdoor pizza ovens are definitely a trend,” says Craig Stark, owner of Ecoscapes Sustainable Landscaping. “You can use them to make pizza, bread—really anything you’d cook in an oven. Everything has a better flavor.”
The ovens don’t require a great deal of yard space and according to Stark, costs typically hover in a range similar to that of an outdoor hot tub.
“You can cook for many people in a short amount of time,” says Stark, who works with many clients around the lake area on creating outdoor living spaces and patios. “It’s not just something you can use in the summer. What’s better than hot pizza on a cold night in the middle of the winter?”
Nyquist isn’t surprised that people want to try to replicate the rustic, earthy flavor of Neapolitan pizza. “I think it’s great. I know people with those kinds of ovens definitely enjoy creating the pizzas on their own,” she says. “Having that experience with friends, sharing pizza in a communal way, can be really fun.”
Punch's summertime menu additions include the Rugula Pizza, made with cheese, fresh arugula and prosciutto, and the Pulcinella, any large salad served in an oven-split focaccia, which Nyquist calls perfect for sharing.
1313 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata; 952.476.7991; punchpizza.com