Market Watch: Have pizza oven, will travel

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2011 - 2:59 PM

The smell of Big River Pizza will get you; the taste will hook you.

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Big River Pizza features the Red Rooster pizza for morning shoppers.

Photo: Rick Nelson, Star Tribune

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Like many smart entrepreneurs, Steve Lott found opportunity in the recession. "I've wanted to open a pizza place for years, but when the economy went south, I gave up on the idea," he said. Instead, he started building a pizza oven in his back yard. Then he saw a newspaper story on the Magic Bus Cafe -- a 1978 Chevrolet school bus, retrofitted with a kitchen, a funkadelic purple paint job and a hot dog-centric menu -- and he had an idea: a portable, wood-burning pizza oven that he calls Big River Pizza.

"And my wife has regretted it every day, ever since," said Lott with a laugh. "She says that my obsessive-compulsive behavior has taken on forms that she never thought were possible."

Pizza lovers are the beneficiary of Lott's focused approach, which emphasizes local, seasonal ingredients, often sourced from his fellow market vendors.

The 10-inch pizzas, meticulously seasoned as they come out of the oven, are built on chewy crusts that blister nicely, and the careful toppings range from a familiar basil-mozzarella margherita formula to standouts like a duck sausage-Haralson apple pairing. A big hit with a.m. shoppers combines crispy fried bacon with a runny baked egg. Lott calls it the Red Rooster. I devoured it.

The sleek black oven -- Italian-designed, and so well insulated that Lott can bake bread in it a day later, that's how well it retains its heat -- weighs in at 3,900 pounds; Lott hitches it to his GMC pickup. It's fired by red oak and maple, and if the unusual sight of a pizza oven on wheels isn't enough to grab customers' attention, the alluring wood-smoke fragrance will certainly do the trick.

"That scent is your best advertisement," said the guy standing next to me, who was chatting with Lott while waiting the two minutes for his pizza to bake.

I agreed, until I sat down -- the Fulton market thoughtfully sets out tables and chairs for shoppers -- and scarfed down that Red Rooster. Yeah, the smoke is a nice touch, particularly on these crisp October Saturdays. But take a few bites, and you'll agree: The pizza clearly speaks for itself.

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