So, it’s already been decided that NeoPapalis is kinda good. Like kind of really good. But outside of the pizza, what do we really know about the people that work there?
I had the chance to interview Joe Sheena, the owner of NeoPapalis, to find out more about what he does and, more importantly, to learn more about his craft. You see, Joe takes pizza seriously. It’s been his life for the past 28 years, and he has no plans on stopping anytime soon. He started with deep dish pizzas, learning from a hired chef, and recently got a degree in thin-crust two years ago from an Italian cooking school in San Francisco. In an attempt to settle the debate, I asked him which preferred: deep dish or thin crust.
“That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child,” he said. (I’m going to pretend that means he likes thin crust more. It’s just the right answer.)
Clearly Joe knows what he’s doing. So what better way to test it than a competition?
This year, Joe and his son Gabriel competed in the Pizza Competition at the 30th International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. Joe entered into the “Non-Traditional Division” to showcase a NeoPaps favorite — the North Beach. If you haven’t tried it, you need to stop what you’re doing and go immediately.
It’s ok, I’ll wait.
I asked Joe to give me a play-by-play of what it takes to actually make the North Beach (hold onto your hard hats, kids). After making the dough, he tops it with a basil garlic butter base, and then adds some honey to lightly sweeten the sauce. On top of that he adds aged asiago, a three cheese blend, mozzarella, gorgonzola and figs. After the pizza finishes cooking he tops it with fresh arugula, shaved parmesan and a balsamic vinaigrette.
I know, right?? The judges loved the pizza and it landed him 13th out of the 60 competitors there, only two points away from a top spot in the Northeast division. When I asked if he plans on competing next year he said, “Yup! I think next year we’re going to do a Michigan themed pizza.” Cherries will be included. Game over.
To finish the interview, I asked Joe if he had any tips for aspiring pizza-makers. Outside of picking up the phone and speed-dialing Dominos, what can we do to step up our pizza game? “The key is good ingredients,” Joe said. “The techniques you can learn later, but you have to start with fresh ingredients.”
Joe Sheena has done an amazing job in making NeoPapalis a hit on campus. If you haven’t gone yet, be sure to check it out — even if it’s only for a solid happy hour. Best of luck to him next year for the competition, and if he wants any volunteers to try that cherry pizza, I’m available. Like anytime available. Please…?