ORLANDO, Fla. – Let me paint a picture you can smell – a high countertop, a stack of white boxes, a massive metal oven. Slowly a man in a white shirt and a red apron pulls down a door, wisps of steam pouring out. Using a wooden spatula he reaches in and pulls out a round disc of bready goodness, edge puffed up, garlicky, oregano-speckled red sauce like molten lava amid an ocean of white cheese.
With a knock and a hefty thrust, a steel wheel runs across the disc, and he lifts out a triangle, cheesy strings stretching a mile long like tendrils reaching out to the rest of the pie.
Any food can evoke an instant memory and pizza evokes so many —from sports team pizza parties to book reading rewards, from late-night study sessions to home moving days.
For those of us who toil in a newsroom, pizza means breaking news and election nights.
Foodies travel to find the best pizza. Folks defend their hometown slice like they support a football team.
And how many intimate relationships began over a pizza counter?
In Central Florida, you don’t have to travel far to come upon a pizza shop. We asked Facebook followers where the best pizza in the area could be found and got hundreds of comments, proving the best pizza is not universal, it’s just the one you love.
While some dream about the perfect slice, others dream about creating the perfect slice. Not all of those dreams come true with a pizzeria in a shopping plaza. These days, if you have a good oven, you can make pizza anywhere, and the underground pizza movement is growing in Orlando, experimenting with different crusts, creative toppings and more. Here are a few.
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You’re at your favorite craft beer place and the only thing that would make that brew perfect is a slice of pizza. Enter this pop-up pizzeria, tossing small-batch pizza dough with interesting ingredients, cooked in a countertop pizza oven.
Traviss Santos started Black Magic Pizza after the pandemic closed the restaurant he was managing. He started with pre-orders on Instagram and soon was hosting events at local bars that were selling to-go drinks.
Santos said he has his own kind of dough.
“It’s not New York style, and it’s not Neapolitan, it’s somewhere right in the middle. We follow traditional techniques when making our dough but are always stretching the boundaries of what a pizza should be,” he said.
In addition to pizza, Black Magic also sells flame-roasted chicken wings, roasted cauliflower in vegan garlic butter, garlic knots, cheesy breadsticks and cannoli.
What started as a search for Chicago-style pizza has become a popular pick-up and delivery spot in Orlando that has had foodie social media salivating.
“For the last 16 years, I’ve been working on my recipe, so I could give the people of Orlando something they’ve been waiting their whole lives for. I love the people of Orlando and we deserve to have good pizza,” said Brad Czerkies, the founder of Brad’s Underground Pizzeria.
Czerkies started his pizza business on Instagram, where people put in orders for deep dish, tavern or double-decker pizzas and sometimes had to wait months to satisfy their cravings.
“I had over 1000 messages from people that wanted to order, so I needed a way to do more volume,” Czerkies said. “Collab Kitchens had a hood system, walk-in fridge and freezer. They also had people that I could learn from. Johnny Tung has offered me guidance and knowledge of the restaurant industry. He has given me the ability to grow, and I continue to learn from the other chefs at Collab Kitchens. I am very thankful to be there.”
Czerkies is still making all the pizzas himself, by hand, and running the business for pickup and delivery from Collab Kitchens in Orlando. But he hopes to one day bring his brand of Chicago’s finest all over Central Florida.
“It may take years, but it will happen,” Czerkies said.
Buttercrust Pizza — Website
A Connecticut pizza girl brought her own style of pizza to Orlando.
“I had stayed in the restaurant industry throughout my adult life, and when COVID hit I did some serious soul searching as to what career path would be the most fulfilling for me,” Brianna Feldman of Buttercrust Pizza said.
Feldman created a pan-style pizza in her kitchen, but for many customers, it’s similar to pizza from another part of the country — Detroit. Feldman said while the pizza may be similar, the process of making the dough is different and her own. She also has a hand-tossed round pizza similar to the pies of her CT youth.
“My main focus for the pizza is the crispy cheese edges, the fresh and fluffy dough that I make every day, and the homemade sauce that gets layered on top to avoid disrupting the cheese melt. I love the basil in my sauce — you can pretty much smell it once you open the box,” she said.
She also has a gluten-free pie made with cauliflower, along with wings, salads and pepperoni pinwheels for starters.
Unlike most of these businesses, Buttercrust has a shop in the Fort Gatlin Shopping Center on South Orange Avenue. However, the shop is only pick-up and delivery. Feldman is also looking to open a second location.
Kaleigh Gardner grew up with chef parents who never ate pizza because they hated it. Now she runs her own pizza business.
“When I turned 18 I traveled the country (and) world eating at over 850 pizza spots,” she said. “I started attending pizza festivals and the International Pizza Expo. Through my pizza travels, I began learning from the best of the best across the country.”
She shared her travels on Instagram at @itsthepizzaslut, and then eventually decided to start her own business in a pizza trailer, because, as she said, it goes well with her brand. She gets “around” just for pizza.
Gardner uses a sourdough Neapolitan crust, made with a special blend of flours. On top of her creative toppings (Mike’s Hot Honey, rum-soaked pineapple) and hand-pulled mozzarella, she also does garlic knots with sauces rotated weekly.
But eventually, the Pizza Slut hopes to settle down with a shop of her own.
“I can’t wait to continue to feed all of Orlando rad, out-of-the-box pizza,” Gardner said.
Rollin’ Dough Pizza — Website
Hanni’El Gutierrez’s pizza is a family tradition.
“I’ve been making pizza my whole life,” the owner of Rollin’ Dough said. “My dad and uncle introduced me when I was younger and I’ve been doing it ever since, so it only made sense to continue the tradition and recipes that people in Florida, New York and Puerto Rico have been enjoying for decades.”
Gutierrez and his wife started their Rollin’ Dough pizza truck three years ago as a part-time job but now travel around Central and North Florida, selling pizza, salads and small sandwiches they call Garlic Knot Sliders.
Gutierrez said his crust is light and unique and fired in a wood-fired oven. The dough is homemade and hand-tossed, topped with a homemade sauce and customers’ choice of toppings.
And for Gutierrez, this truck was a step to the bigger dream. He’s working on opening his own store in New Smyrna Beach, which will be called The Knot House, sometime later this year.
Wandering Goat Food Truck — Website
William Young and his wife decided to get into the pizza game in 2019, but they were veterans to the food truck business. They opened the Hayburner food truck in 2017, had success and wanted to try something new.
Now they travel in a specially made truck with a wood-fired brick oven, bringing pizza to the masses all over Central Florida, from Winter Garden to Merritt Island and points in between.
“We make Neapolitan style pizza which is thin in the middle and poofy around the edge,” Young said. “We use only a few ingredients for our pizza dough: flour, water, local beer from central 28, yeast, and salt.”
Pizzas are named after cities and vary from classic Margherita (the Lake Mary) to Young’s favorite, the Titusville — bacon, chorizo, jalapenos, mozzarella and hot honey.
They also serve salads and meatballs as sides.
As for whether Young might try to open his own pizzeria — right now, he said he likes his freedom.
What are your favorite pizza places in Central Florida? Tell us on Facebook. While you’re there, tell us your favorite kind of pizza too!