Nana’s Bakery and Pizza is among the best in Connecticut – Robb Report
In Connecticut, where old-fashioned pizza dominates and New Haven icons Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza continue to pitch their charcoal masterpieces, Bakery & Pizza Nana performs what looks like a magic trick. Nana’s, which opened in Mystic last October, makes great Connecticut pizza that tastes both familiar and brand new.
“I know Connecticut is famous for its pizza, in New Haven for sure,” says James Wayman, chef-owner of Nana. “We’re doing something very different from that.
The Clam Pizza (known as New England) at Nana’s is a delicious, transporting riff on clear Rhode Island clam chowder. The creamless pie, baked at 650 degrees in a gas oven, evokes roadside seafood shacks with its combination of local clams, bacon, potatoes and garlic butter. The thin sourdough crust is very soft and a bit crunchy, with a chewy flavor.
In many ways, Nana is more like large bakeries and all-day restaurants like Tartine Manufactory and Gjusta in California than pizzerias in Connecticut. It starts with the flour. Nana’s, a waterfront destination in a former port town that is home to the famous movie Mystic Pizza, uses 00 organic flour from Utah’s acclaimed Central Milling. Nana’s also obtains local grains, from Connecticut’s Still River Farm and Maine Grains, and grinds them in-house. The pizzas are naturally leavened, with just a little yeast that stabilizes the dough and “gives out a bit of the classic yeast flavor,” Wayman says.
All pizza dough is fermented in bulk for 24 hours. Then the leaven is shaped and continues to ferment.
“I am a great fermenter,” Wayman says. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. So whatever is alive and alive and wild, I love the funky flavors that you get out of it. It just adds that other depth and dimension. Plus, a long, slow fermentation makes it easier to digest and tolerate.
At Nana, “it’s kind of room temperature, so things fluctuate,” Wayman adds. “We like it best around 48 [hours]. It depends on the heat, the humidity.
This sums up Wayman’s mindset. He is always ready to make adjustments. Likewise, he’s thinking about what kind of local whole wheat he could use after Nana’s runs out of his supply of Still River Redeemer wheat. It might be something else from Still River or Maine Grains.
Wayman and Nana co-owner Aaron Laipply also runs the butcher shop and the Mystic restaurant. Grass and bones, which makes the uses of bacon Nana. Nana’s gets local Beriah Lewis Farm beef and Wild Harmony Farm Berkshire pork from Grass & Bone for an excellent tomato-based Bolognese pizza that involves cooking a meat sauce for an hour and a half to two hours.
Wayman also has a small batch soy sauce business, Moromi, which makes shoyu with organic soybeans and Connecticut wheat. Moromi uses rice to create shio koji, an umami-rich seasoning that amplifies the flavors at Nana.
“It allows me to have a very simple pizza sauce,” Wayman says. “It’s just tomatoes, shio koji, water and salt. Koji makes tomatoes more tomato. We put some tomato leaves in our shio koji this summer to push this out a bit more. “
There is also koji in the habanero ranch that you can order as a dip for the crust. Another dip, born out of Chef Corey Lein of Nana’s penchant for za’atar, is a crunchy za’atar that gives the idea of crunchy chili a herbal touch from the Middle East.
Wayman is quick to mention Lein, Nana’s baker David Vacca and other key players in his culinary community, including the koji expert. Rich shih (the co-author of Alchemy Koji) and Moromi founder Bob Florence. Florence first reached out when Wayman ran the kitchen at Mystic’s Oyster Club, a restaurant that opened in 2011 and has become the cornerstone of the city’s emerging food scene. Florence made her own soy sauce and miso, and her relationship with Wayman began when he dropped some off at the Oyster Club. Florence then went to Japan and found a mentor at Chiba Shoyu, a soy sauce powerhouse that dates back to 1854.
Wayman enjoys bringing global influences to Mystic, where he has been cooking since 1999. He believes there is a lot of room for more innovation and lots of new restaurants. At the same time, he wants to honor local ingredients and local history, of course.
For example, he puts Connecticut cornmeal on his pizza peel to add a little crunch and flavor while keeping the dough from sticking. Flint corn, originally cultivated by Native Americans, comes from Davis Farm, a Pawcatuck institution that dates back to 1654.
Nana’s and Grass & Bone came about because Wayman recognized the need for a more casual, mystical meal that doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the food. So he set out to open places that people would like to visit every day.
Besides thin crust pizza, Nana’s offers thick crust pizzas (including square slices) that are a nod to Grandma’s pies in nearby Westerly, Rhode Island. Nana’s also serves made-to-order sourdough donuts as well as sourdough bagels, breakfast sandwiches, roasted local vegetables, Maine Grains salads, chicken wings, meatball subs, rolls of pizza, kombucha (homemade with koji and local produce) and small batches of Canyon Coffee drinks. In addition to fresh cut meats, Grass & Bone sells cheeseburgers, sandwiches, soups, salads, tacos, Asian noodle bowls, roast chicken, steak frites, chicken curry, aguachile de. line-caught tuna and a “butcher poke” made from local products. Coastal mushrooms and local kelp.
“I just want to see the stage and the area grow,” Wayman says. “When I got here you were seeing all these restaurants in one of the most amazing fishing grounds in our country, if not the world, buying frozen Alaskan cod. It’s wonderful to see the evolution of agriculture and artisans and an amazing culinary community that has grown over the past 10 years.