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I’ve been exploring Neapolitan pizzas in NYC, but I haven’t had a better one than I did yesterday at Citizen Pie, a new addition to the Cleveland food scene, in a once gritty neighborhood directly across from Beachland Ballroom, one of the most cutting-edge/eclectic music venues in the state. Chef Vytauras Sasnauskas, Chef V, a native of Lithuania who arrived here in … No, stop …

That was how I intended to begin this post, until now, having returned home from my second consecutive meal there.

You see, on this night (last night) I’d brought my 16 y.o. son, James, and his friend there on the pretext that they would eat the best pizza they’d ever had. These boys like their pizza so much that they once actually bought a pizza at Brothers pizza on Coventry in Cleveland Heights, then walked to Chipotle and created their own pizza burrito (to the consternation of the Chipotle staff). Which is to say, these boys think for themselves and, yeah, right, best pizza ever? Sure, Dad.

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But Chef V was waiting for us with a deli of his starter. T-shirt, jeans. “Not chef,” he said when I greeted the classically trained chef. “The pizza guy now,” he said. And then he gave us the starter to smell, spoke of the flour (from Italy), the fundamental challenge of perfecting three simple ingredients, water, salt, flour, into an extraordinary creation. The living nature of the dough—how they have to account for a faster rise as service heads into full gear and the oven and bodies heat the place up, the difference between .25% starter with a three-day rise and 2% starter with a one-day rise. He took the lads to the oven, 900˚F on the floor, 1000˚F on the roof, a little too hot, he said, but will cool as they cooked, and then the pizza. They put their hands in and jumped back immediately.

My son’s friend, Joe, wanted to start with a traditional margherita and he and Chef V discussed the Naples history of it. As Bonn and his fellow cook, Jamie, worked the pizzas, Bonn, stretching the dough and making the simple margherita, V talked to the boys about his love of pizza. Bonn peeled it deep into the oven, watched it, turned it, watched turned, and then, 75 seconds later, pulled it from the oven.

Jamie sliced it and brought it to the counter where we sat, and we all ate. Joe above all appeared to be poleaxed. “This is, this is,” and then more unintelligible sounds came out of his mouth. Chewing long enough to regain his senses, he said, “You can taste the dough. You can taste the dough.” He chewed off a piece of darkly blistered crust and shook his head.

I told him he couldn’t have said anything that would have honored Chef V more.

Chef V leaned on the counter beside us, unsmiliing; you’d have thought he only spoke Lithuanian. I said, “Did you hear that?”

He nodded, once, and stared at Bonn, stretching more dough.

Then, then, we got into the pizzas for real (everyone especially impressed by “The Americano,” with V’s ingenius pistachio cream).

I have so much more to say about the variations but well, I’ve had too much pizza. Claudia’s comment about how both the dough and the oven are alive. How Chef V said he’s made maybe three doughs (pizzas) that were perfect, but it was only by accident, the humidity was just right for the acidity in the dough, etc …. “Because you can never make it perfect, never,” Chef V said.

More to come, but till now, some pix from my pick for one of the best pizzerias in America. I’m biased, yes. So come taste for yourself (or ask Joe). Three ingredients, flour water salt, on the bottom, three on top, cheese tomato basil, for one of the worlds great culinary treasures.

As we rolled off Waterloo Road in North Collinwood, Ohio, I said, “Pizza guy.”

Joe said, “Pizza god.”

Blissed out hyperbole perhaps, but the man is pretty damned impressive.

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© 2016 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2016 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.