I love the parchment paper. Out of all the things that could endear me to the relatively new Surly Pizza Upstairs (“because it’s on the second floor”), the parchment paper that slides between the pizza and the tray it comes on is a real Cinderella story winner. It’s the UMBC of our meal. The white paper with red lettering invoked such a strong sock-hop era feeling at this otherwise thoroughly modern pizza joint, that every bite somehow dripped with nostalgia. Not that there weren’t other contenders for the throne. The pepperoni pizza had burnt honey, which I didn’t know was even a thing you could do to honey, much less put on pizza. But that damn parchment paper somehow brought me back to my grandma’s lemon linoleum kitchen in Omaha, Nebraska, on our way to get greasy cheeseburgers at Johnny Rockets, and then to the movies to see Pleasantville (because this was the mid-90s and as close to a sock hop as I will ever get).
I don’t know if Surly expected anyone to waste 200 words describing their parchment paper, but I like to think it’s this exact type of anachronistic attention to detail that makes new entrant Surly Pizza Upstairs one of the best pizza places in town.
The space itself still retains the general shape of what used to be Brewer’s Table. However, there are key differences. Mainly: rather than a sit-down, server-at-your-table restaurant, there’s a line for beer at one counter, and a line for food at another, and ne’er the twain shall meet. (No, I dunno. What am I saying?) Place your order, get a number, find a table, and wait to be wowed. We had both apps and pizza, and while the apps were good, you wouldn’t be wrong to skip them and just order pizzas. Should you want a palate opener, though, the baba ganoush was a table favorite (omg that bread!)…
…and the Mediterranean salad seemed to get delivered to every table in view.
For pizza, Surly does it New Haven style, an approach new to town. Similar to old school New York style (think Black Sheep), the Havies also use a coal oven, but they stretch the dough a bit thinner, ferment it a little longer, and turn the oven up one louder — for a pizza that’s chewy on the inside, heavily charred (but not burnt!) on the outside. How do I know this? Surly tells you right on their menu to google it. So I did.
We got four pizzas but honestly could’ve gotten all nine of their specialty pies. More is more, as we like to say. Pioneer Hitchhiker, I’m Your Daddy, Walter White, and 4 Stars. If you think those sound like cool nicknames for members of a bowling league team, yeah, that checks out. Entrants into the Kentucky Derby? Yep, that too. Strains of weed? Like, actually tho. But no! If you can’t figure out what they really are, um, you need to work on your reading comprehension…
The 4 Stars is piled high with figs (#bigfig), prosciutto, ricotta, bleu cheese, and arugula. Surly says it’s “figgin’ awesome” and, well, a good pun is never wrong. That’s just law.
We also had to get the Pioneer Hitchhiker. It’s the pizza with clams on it, and if there was one thing I knew, pre-google, about New Haven “apizza,” it’s that they put clams on it. We were a bit disappointed with the clam-to-crust ratio,™ as each slice only had one or two clams on it. But the pizza itself was great — creamy and garlicky, with the clams adding that salty, briny sea quality that good midwestern Lutherans love. And please refer to me now only by my official title:
Walter White was my second favorite, which is bad for me, because nobody puts Walter White in second place and lives to tell about it (rip Gale #spoilers). Is Surly’s potato pizza better than Lola’s potato pizza? I don’t know — why do you insist they fight about it? Just a question, don’t get mad. Wow. I never realized until just now, but you’re a terrible person. Yikes. (Hot tip: Endear yourself to your readers by calling them terrible people. Works every time.)
Anyway, the I’m Your Daddy (top image) took top prize for me. It’s a pepperoni pizza, with all the cheese and salty pork your heart desires. But it also has… yes that’s right, burnt honey’s moment has finally arrived! Burning honey (also per Google) apparently tones back the sweetness for some bitterness and overall depth. However, having never tasted such a concentrated, intense sweetness on a pizza before (other than Hy-Vee’s cookizza, obviously), it still managed to bowl me over with sweetness. I truly forgot where I was for a second. In the instant of my first bite, you could have told me I was the Finance Minister of Bulgaria and I would’ve believed you. Google also tells me that burnt honey is the new thing on dessert menus, and that’s basically what this was — a mid-meal, savory pizza dessert. I loved it, I needed it, I wanted more of it.
The whole menu is strong (As far as apps go, the guys insisted I mention that Surly has some “high quality balls” #quoteofthenight #QOTNnominee), but, to paraphrase the inimitable Walter White, the pizza is the one who knocks.