The most American of holidays has just passed, and with it a gazillion hot dogs and hamburgers were consumed. While hot dogs and apple pie hold the title for All-American food, I would argue that our favorite food has a different nationality…Italian, as in pizza! According to pizza.com, 94 percent of Americans eat pizza regularly, approximately 100 acres of pizza a day. Each person in America eats about 46 pizza slices a year (my personal average is much higher). There are over 60,000 pizzerias in the United States, and the Mid Ohio Valley certainly has its share.
So with the current pizza war of “better ingredients, lower prices” raging, how does a pizzeria stand out and claim victory over its rivals? One peek at the menu of Shorty’s Pizzeria will give you a clue about one local shop’s secret to success. Shorty’s, at 3601 Murdoch Avenue in Parkersburg, has a menu that includes such items as the Manzo Primo, Shorty’s Cucina, and White Crab Creation—and those are just from the pizza list! Appetizers like Wood Fired Bluefin Crab, a Caprese salad or a Tuscan Meatball sandwich will make it hard for you to choose. I know you’re hungry just reading this, but before I write about the food let me tell you a bit about Shorty.
Shorty is a real person, Shawn Dugan, who has gone by the nickname for years. Shawn attended the culinary arts school at Hocking College and during that time enrolled in their extern program in Italy. He spent six weeks at Rosmini College in Domodossala and six weeks at Hotel La Bussola in Orta where he worked with three different chefs. (They later competed at the World Pizza Championship). The experience and education has earned Shawn the right to call his pizza authentic Italian.
The small, unassuming building that houses Shorty’s obviously had a previous life—Tiki Hut? Coffee shop? It is neat and trim with an inviting covered deck attached to the rear. Since there is no indoor dining area, the deck was a popular spot the evening I visited. Inside, you’ll find a small counter area, the floor attractively tiled and several framed awards on the wall. Entering the shop, the first thing to hit my senses was the aroma…not the usual sauce or pepperoni smell of many pizza shops. Nope, the first thing I noticed was the smell of wood fire. And so another feature that puts Shorty’s on the “must try” list is the wood fired oven.
Shawn explained that the wood oven offers a very unique flavor. The pizzas are cooked on a stone hearth between 800 and 900 degrees. The process makes for a very short cook time and gives the crust the crispness desired in a good pizza. The smoke that is constantly swirling around the oven provides a distinct authentic flavor that no other style of oven can achieve.
I ordered the basic pizza with Rosa Grande pepperoni for myself, and Shorty’s Cucina for my husband, who is usually a thick crust kind of guy. The Cucina is described as “pepperoni, our house made Italian sausage, portabella mushrooms, banana peppers, black olives, fresh sliced roma tomatoes, an array of bell peppers and onions and our house blend of cheeses.” As delicious as that sounds, it is not Shorty’s best seller. Shawn tells me the award winning Manzo Primo takes that title- “pepperoni, Italian sausage, capicola, hickory smoked sweet crusted bacon, and the house blend of cheeses”. It’s easy to see why the Manzo Primo outsells his pepperoni pizzas, and why it was named “Best in the Mid-West” at the 2014 North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show in Columbus.
Waiting for my order at the counter, I was able to observe Shorty’s crew practicing their art. The work area is very clean, the employees’ moves are well choreographed. One pulled pizzas from the oven on a wooden paddle while another hand shaped the crusts. As I watched a young man prepare two large salads, I was struck by the colors. The vegetables were brightly colored and looked as if they had just been hand- picked from the garden at the moment of peak freshness. Shawn explained that his vegetables are always fresh; he loves to support local farmers, and buys local produce as much as possible in season. The wood ovens also help by roasting the vegetables to perfection.
Before I left with my order, the customer ahead of me ordered two crème brulees He was directed to choose two from the refrigerator behind us, and he placed his choices on the counter. The worker then sprinkled each with sugar and torched them to create the perfect hard caramelized topping. Dang, I wished I had order the same! Next time…
During my half hour drive home I was tantalized with the smell of the hot pizzas. I forced myself to leave the boxes closed until I was home and my husband and I were ready to enjoy them. As I said, Mike is a thick crust guy and had been a little dubious about the thinner crust. But when he opened the box to a colorful array of veggies and the perfect blend of meats and cheeses, he was hooked at the first bite. He declared the toppings to be done to perfection, and I had to take his word for it since he left none to share. He gave the crust a rave review, which is a high honor from someone who never orders thin crust.
My basic pepperoni pizza was anything but. The crust had a wonderful flaky crispness with a unique flavor I’ve not found in any “chain” pizza. The sauce delivered the hearty flavor I prefer, and the pepperoni and cheese were absolutely delicious. I felt like I had finally found the authentic Italian pizza experience I had been trying to re-create since my trip to Florence.
The next day, I had the pleasant task of finishing my pizza as leftovers. A tip for those of you with the will power to leave some for later—put the slices on a baking sheet and place in a hot oven (I heated mine to 450 degrees). It will only take a few minutes for you to have it heated through, with the crust still crisp and flaky. Don’t disrespect it by using the microwave!
As I write this, I am looking at the menu and plotting my next visit. The Manzo Primo is on my list, but there are so many choices I’ll have to become a regular customer. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make, and you can check out the menu yourself. If you are a crab meat lover, the White Crab Creation is made with lump Bluefin crab and judging by the comments of fellow customers, well worth the price.
When I asked Shawn what made Shorty’s a success, I expected him to tick off his qualifications, education or awards. Instead, he graciously described his primary resource—his team.
“Our mission comes from the heart and soul of the employees that make us successful. Every hour of every day we challenge our employees to achieve excellence by empowering them with education, training, commitment, and dedication. Living by this challenge enables us to always perform at our very best as well as learn and grow from our mistakes. We as a team believe that in order to be successful we must offer the best service and the best quality product. But most importantly, our purpose at Shorty’s Pizzeria is to sell memories.”
If this mission is the secret to success for Shorty’s, it is definitely working. I challenge my fellow pizza lovers to step away from the coupons and online specials the next time you crave authentic Italian pizza. A trip to Shorty’s for your pizza fix, or even sandwiches, salads and pasta, will leave you satisfied and saying “Delizioso!”