When it comes to pizza, Pete Wojda takes a scientist's approach.
The owner of Little Pizza Paradise in the Cascade Village Shopping Center says that precision is the key to consistency in making a good Italian-style pie.
“We try to use the best of everything," said Chicago native Wojda (pronounced “VOY-da"). “If you don't use the best cheese, the best tomato products, the best dough for the crust, then you don't make the pizza the best quality you can."
In 2006, Wojda bought Little Pizza Paradise on Butler Market Road from local chef T.R. McCrystal, now at Jen's Garden and the Deschutes Brewery. On May 18 of this year, after a brief closure, Wojda reopened the restaurant in the northeast corner of the building that houses Sleep Country, near the Best Buy and Target stores.
“We wanted to be in a nice central spot," he said. “We've already more than doubled the business we got in our old location. And here, we're able to offer beer and wine with our pizzas." Beer, indeed, is something of which Little Pizza Paradise has no shortage. Against one wall are 15 taps featuring regional craft beers, and another two dozen brews are available in the adjacent cooler from 22-ounce bottles.
Four bar stools allow some diners to watch cooks tossing dough in the open kitchen, but most dine-in patrons sit at a half-dozen tables. Two colorful abstract paintings on an ochre-colored wall draw attention away from a pair of flat-screen televisions often tuned to sports events. Contemporary rock music plays on a radio in the background.
The pizzas, without question, are some of the best available in Central Oregon. On two visits — one to dine in, another to take out my order — I sampled three varieties and found each one of them excellent.
My favorite was Delsie's Joy, a garlicky white pizza with a vegetarian's delight of toppings: spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and red onions, topped with a crumble of feta cheese. As a white pizza, there was no layer of tomato sauce between the crust and a layer of melted mozzarella cheese.
Another “specialty pizza" was the Chicken Pesto, featuring roasted chicken on mozzarella with basil pesto sauce, topped with red onions and green bell peppers.
Finally, I tasted a pizza called The Usual, which — perhaps not surprisingly — had most of the ingredients that I typically get on a pizza. Pepperoni and spicy Italian sausage were layered with mushrooms, red onions and sliced black olives.
I think I found these pizzas so good because I really liked both the crust and the mozzarella on top of it. Granted, I didn't find the edge of the crust as soft or as crispy as I do on some pizzas, but it was light and tasty throughout.
It's not just the pizzas that are good at Little Pizza Paradise. The salads are fresh and very generous in size, and the service is excellent.
That includes the house salad, made with a mix of baby greens with thinly sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes. Slices of crispy fennel were a delightful and surprising addition to the salad, which was sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
Typical dressings — blue cheese, ranch, Italian and Caesar — are offered, but I opted for a more unusual blend: mango curry vinaigrette. I found it too sweet for my liking, but I'm sure other diners might enjoy it.
The garden salad is a spring mix with a variety of fresh vegetables, including artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, tomatoes and red onions. It was good with a blue cheese dressing.
The Caesar salad was a not-quite-traditional mix that featured sun-dried tomatoes along with the Parmesan sprinkles. The creamy dressing was appropriately tart but lacked the telltale flavor of anchovy.
With regard to service at Little Pizza Paradise, I found the staff to be top-notch. Not only were they prompt at taking and delivering orders; they were happy to volunteer recommendations, and offered tastes of various draft beers to undecided tipplers.
'A lot of changes'
“You don't realize how good Chicago pizza is until you leave," said Wojda, who moved to Bend in 2004. “After I bought Little Pizza Paradise, I made a lot of changes and upgrades to bring the food up to East Coast pizza standards."
To do so, he uses a whole-milk, Italian-style mozzarella by Grande Cheese of Wisconsin. “It's an old family company and they have a lot of skill and knowledge," he said. “The texture and consistency are phenomenal."
For the crust, Wojda said, he uses a blend of high-protein heirloom and whole-grain Great Basin flours. “The important thing about the crust is the whole fermentation process," he said. “You have to be very precise."
To that end, the pizza maker uses water that he measures between 82 and 85 degrees to start the fermentation. “If you have a cold dough," he said, “the yeast won't activate and you'll have unleavened dough. And I'm always looking a day and a half out. Dough that is 30 to 40 hours old is optimum for pizza."
Wojda said he trained in Neapolitan pizza-making in Italy and subsequently attended international pizza workshops. “I have a stack of books about pizza that is 3 feet high," he said. “If you want to do it well, you have to be knowledgeable about it."
Greg Simmons, who owns the west-side Pizzicato Gourmet Pizza franchise in Bend, will reopen today as Hot Rock Pizza. Simmons said he severed his franchise relationship with Portland-based Pizzicato to better serve clientele in Central Oregon. With that in mind, he's changing the menu to offer sandwiches and salads as well as local beer, all at cheaper prices. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. 1288 S.W. Simpson Ave., Suite A, Bend; 541-382-1228, www.bendnights.com/pizzicato/.
Togo's sandwich shops have opened a second location in Bend, this one in the Cascade Village Shopping Center. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. A grand opening party is scheduled Nov. 17. 63455 N. U.S. Highway 97, Suite 56; 541- 647-1118, www .togos.com. Togo's first Central Oregon store opened in April on Bend's east side. 2115 N.E. U.S. Highway 20, Suite 101, Bend; 541-678-5699.