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Rick Marzan's wood-burning pizza oven is based on a traditional design that is thousands of years old.
Photo by Rick Smoak
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Photo by Rick Smoak
My first time in Noah's Antica Pizzeria, I admit to being a little starstruck.
Having watched Bull Durham dozens of times, I was more than curious to see one of the film’s stars running a pizza joint. On an average day, you don’t run into Hollywood expatriates in Irmo.
He greeted us at the front counter, dusted in pizza flour and wearing a few more years and pounds than when he played Jose, the Durham Bulls’ first baseman, in the movie. Then Rick Marzan quickly diverted my attention from movie stars to real Neapolitan pizza.
“First timers?” he asked. We’d barely nodded yes when he rattled off his spiel: Only genuine Caputo flour in his pizza crust, direct from Naples, Italy. San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. A 900-degree, wood-burning Pompeii oven that cooks a pizza in 90 seconds, so the crust comes out soft in the middle, crispy and charred around the edges. Perfect, authentic Neapolitan crust.
“You’ve never had pizza like this,” Marzan states boldly, “unless you’ve been to Naples.”
Marzan’s modest little restaurant has taken some flak for being short on atmosphere, but he knows the real star of his show is his pizza, not his décor.
“Everybody that comes in here is comfortable here. They know this is a hole in the wall,” he says with a chuckle. “You don’t come here for ambience or atmosphere. You come here to eat good food.”
And don’t come looking for pepperoni or the routine chain pizzeria pies. Be bold—try the signature Pizza Noah, or “Blue,” as it’s known in house—blueberries, pancetta (Italian bacon), mozzarella and tomato sauce. Or the astonishing Pizza Emma—whipped cream, spicy sausage, mozzarella and black pepper. There are pizzas here for more traditional tastes, but the adventurous can enjoy toppings like smoked salmon, peaches, walnuts, gorgonzola, pistachio puree or chili apricot sauce.
What path takes a man from acting in TV and movie roles in Los Angeles to crafting creative pizza combos in Irmo? For Marzan, it was a little bit about coming home, a little about chasing dreams.
Marzan graduated from Spring Valley High School in Columbia in 1978, then left to play college football, followed by a little professional baseball. When that ended, he took up acting. Bull Durham was a big break, and multiple TV roles followed. But none of that made him happy. Cooking made him happy.
Three years ago, Marzan packed up his belongings in a Toyota Tundra, left L.A. and drove east, back to South Carolina, where his parents still live. On the way, he hatched his plan to open Noah’s, named for his young son and based on the techniques for crafting authentic Neapolitan pizza taught to him by his friend Peppe Miele, a Naples native and L.A. restaurateur.
Noah’s opened for business in August 2012 and serves pizza seven days a week, from 4 p.m. “until we run out of dough.” Traffic and satisfaction are high enough to have Marzan looking into a second location in downtown Columbia, plus several more around the state in years to come.
“Since I’ve been back, I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been extremely happy. I’m the happiest I have been in over 20 years,” Marzan says. “I have passion, and I respect my art. That’s what it’s all about.”
He boxes up our leftovers and predicts we’ll eat the rest of our “Blue” before bedtime. If not, then maybe breakfast—the fruit is already on there.
MAKES 9 12-INCH PIZZAS
4½ cups warm water
3 teaspoons salt
10 cups Caputo flour
½ teaspoon dry yeast, dissolved in warm water
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (marked “D.O.P.” or “certified”)
Sea salt to taste
Fresh mozzarella cheese (buffalo mozzarella, if available)
Fresh basil leaves
Grated pecorino cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Pour warm water into a 5-quart stand mixer with dough hook. Add 3 teaspoons salt; mix to dissolve salt.
Add 1 cup flour; mix for 5 minutes. Add remaining flour and dissolved yeast, and mix well.
Knead the dough by hand for a few minutes and divide it into nine 9-ounce dough balls. Wrap each ball well in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. (Dough will keep for 72 hours in refrigerator, or it can be frozen.)
To make the sauce, pour tomatoes in a large bowl and squeeze them by hand until they are soupy (do not use a blender). Add sea salt to taste, and mix well.
To make a pizza, preheat the oven to 550; heat pizza stone for 10 minutes. Bring a dough ball to room temperature. Shape the dough by hand into a 12-inch pizza round. Do not use a rolling pin, as this will take the air out of the dough and prevent it from rising. Top the dough with tomato sauce, hand-torn chunks of mozzarella and several basil leaves. Transfer to pizza stone.
Reduce oven heat to 500. Bake in oven for about 7 minutes. Crust should be burnt and crispy at the edges, soft and wet in the middle. When the pizza comes out of the oven, sprinkle it with garlic powder and grated cheeses and drizzle with a little olive oil to enhance the flavor.
Noah's Antica Pizzeria
7719 St. Andrews Rd., Irmo | (803) 445-1376
Hours: 7 days a week, 4 p.m. until dough runs out