Going to Michael Schwartz’s new Harry’s Pizzeria after spending time in the Pacific Northwest is like still being out there. Schwartz’s “locavore” thing is the norm there, as is the hipster vibe of his Design District eateries. I’d just had pizza at a Portland restaurant a week earlier, and the offerings at Harry’s Pizzeria could’ve fit right into that Northwestern menu. Schwartz is not the only South Florida chef doing regional dishes, but he is certainly the local pioneer of a movement that sprang from Alice Waters’ hippie roots in Northern California and has become so pronounced in places like Oregon that it can be parodied in pop phenomena like the TV show Portlandia.
No, the menu at Harry’s Pizzeria does not emphasize the provenance of every ingredient. But, on the other hand, all the beers on tap are from Florida microbreweries — I sampled an IPA, Cigar City Jai Alai, that made me proud of my Tampa roots. And Harry’s is serious about pizza. There are appetizers, soups and salads, but there are no sandwiches or pasta, like many pizzerias offer. “It’s not all things for all people,” Schwartz says, acknowledging that his new venue truly is for people who love pizza.
And since there are only 40 seats, there must certainly be 40 pizza lovers in town at one time. There were more than that when I showed up on a Thursday around 9pm, for there was a longish wait for a table. Fortunately, I am a pizza lover, and so are my teenage kids, who joined me that evening, so we were patient. “The caramelized onion is great,” my son said of his pulled pork pizza.
Mine was rock shrimp, which I jumped on, rock shrimp being one of the foods I like as much as pizza, though I was tempted by the special, a kind of Moroccan theme with braised lamb, apricot and harissa. I confess I’m a fan of Schwartz’s groove, which is why this is a commentary, not a review. Not that he needs reviews. Word-of-mouth — in person and on new media — make Harry’s Pizzeria almost more popular than what the small restaurant can bear. In time, I will sample all the pizzas, and I know he will revise the menu and come up with new ones, besides the daily specials his staff chooses. And he will definitely rotate the beers, this he assures us. It makes me think that it must be fun to be Schwartz and come up with the coolest pizzas and find the best regional beers. A chef’s dream.
In fact, Harry’s Pizzeria is his dream baby. “One of the things I wanted to have was a place as a venue to host chefs and friends,” he says. And the pizzeria is it. On quiet evenings, Michael will invite chefs to do their thing at Harry’s, “to promote a book, or if they just want to cook.”
The appeal, he says, is that “every chef loves to work with a wood-burning oven.” Including Schwartz, who got sold on the spot, the location of an earlier pizzeria, for that very reason. “I kept driving by,” he recalls, and eventually, he pulled the trigger. There is a wood-burning oven at his signature Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, and pizzas are baked there, but they must compete with other oven dishes. And at Harry’s, he likes the tight quarters. “It’s easy to fill so people say, wow, this place is packed. The energy is there.”
It certainly is. A lot of chefs try to be personalities who swell their room with attitude, but Schwartz manages this without much fuss. Somehow, his places put people at ease. I think it’s the easy-on-the-palate food. No postmodern challenges or frou-frou. Ingredients shine through; that’s part of the Waters legacy — just like pizza is the legacy of the other California pioneer, Wolfgang Puck. And what could be easier than a pizzeria? Well, not everyone goes out for rock shrimp or braised lamb pizza, so something else is at work: the vibe.
Parodies aside, the locavore movement is linked to a contemporary awareness of limited resources — the reason why it thrives in the politically correct Northwest.
This is not our, meaning Miami’s, legacy. “This is never going to be the West Coast,” Schwartz says. “Different coast, different demographics,” he muses. “But the importance of where food comes from, of the carbon food-print — that grows as Miami settles into itself. That sort of mentality took hold here more than five years ago.”