Have dough, will travel.
That could well be the motto of Joe and Shelly Forte, who have been steering their mobile wood-fired pizza oven all over South Louisiana for months now.
The couple started Dat’z Italian, their traveling pizza business, about a 18 months ago. They work regular jobs during the week, test recipes at night, then hitch the oven to their truck and take to the road on weekends.
When not at a festival or fair, they’re at the Farmer’s Market in Hammond on Saturdays, Tin Roof Brewery on Thursday nights or catering a private party.
It all started when Joe Forte was in the dad’s club at Cabrini High School in New Orleans.
“I was selling pizza slices at a fundraiser, and I thought I could do this myself at festivals,” he recalls.
Fast-forward past Katrina, a divorce and a new marriage and now Joe, 53, and Shelly, 52, are making his dream come true.
“We’re a real mom-and-pop operation,” says Joe Forte, adding that they got their pizza oven from a man in Colorado who wanted to make a road trip to Louisiana. Sold!
Joe Forte says wood-fired pizza tastes better because of the high cooking temperatures — 1,200 to 1,500 degrees at the top of the dome and 700-800 degrees at the bottom.
“Because it cooks so fast, it keeps the pizza drier and locks in the flavor,” he says. “A pizza cooks in about 90 seconds.
They don’t do slices, only whole pizzas, which measure 10 to 11 inches, depending on the humidity of the day.
“That (slicing) takes away from the quality because they get put under a heat lamp,” Shelly Forte says.
She makes individual dough balls ahead and stores them in plastic bags. She says the longer it rises and ferments, the better it tastes. The dough is made from Caputo flour imported from Naples. They also import tomatoes and use imported Italian pepperoni.
“We did a lot of research and try to keep our pizzas authentic,” says Joe Forte.
“We have to find extra-good quality cheese to stand up to the heat,” adds his wife. “We buy high-quality provolone with a kiss of Buffalo milk.”
The fresh produce comes from the farmers market.
“Original pizzas from Naples would have a red sauce of crushed tomatoes, olive oil and salt, but we’re from the South and I have to Cajun it up,” says Shelly Forte.
She adds Parmesan cheese, sweet basil, and fresh oregano and thyme. She also does a white creamy garlic and herb sauce.
One of their best sellers at the Farmer’s Market is the “Dat’z a Sunrise,” a breakfast pizza with fresh farm eggs, which come out over easy, their rich yolk oozing over the pizza.
Another favorite is the “Dat’z a Greek,” with fresh spinach, roasted artichokes, sweet red onions, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and constellation tomatoes, which have a variety of colors. The base is olive oil infused with garlic and Sicilian lemon.
“I like the bite the lemon gives,” says Shelly Forte.
The Fortes usually create a different menu for different venues, depending on what foods are in season.
A favorite at Tin Roof Brewery is the “Dat’z White Corny Italian.”
The base is a creamy garlic and herb sauce, with a mozzarella and provolone cheese blend, sweet and spicy Italian sausage, roasted sweet corn, roasted garlic and sweet red onions.
“It’s our version of gravy and biscuits,” Shelly Forte says “It reminds you of home and is kind of rich and sweet and salty.”
When they’re not on the road, the couple lives in Walker. He’s a site manager for Ricoh and she is an account sales rep.