Roughly two years ago, I’m standing in the check out line at Publix, ear buds fully engaged likely in Shalimar or Van Halen. The two ladies behind me were clearly having a secret conversation and pointing at me. Ten seconds later, the question comes. “Are you the food guy?” One bud now removed: “I’m sorry?” “She says you are the food guy? You the food guy?”
I hate to stereotype, but the accent was what it was. So was the attitude. If you know it you know it. Straight out of Bay Ridge. Maybe Jersey.
“Where can I get some pizza around here?” “Well.” I said “Because I’m from New Jersey and I’m always looking for good jersey style pizza.”
I mention a few of the usual suspects that I know Savannah loves and the response I got was “Pfffffft. That ain’t jersey pizza.”
“Well, have you tried New Jersey?” is about all I could pop back with.
It’s tough sledding around here with the pizza crowd sometimes. Sheesh.
All of that to say that when it comes to pizza, options are good. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I believe Kyle Jacovino’s Pizzeria Vittoria is Savannah’s best. For my money, Squirrel’s Pizza has gotten better over time. Grafitto at Plant Riverside is one of the few eats I enjoy at that complex. Jon Lyle’s Riverboat Pizza and Big Bon Pizza both deserve mentions here.
Now there is a new one coming on to the scene that will rival them all. The guy behind them is Jay Langfelder. The pride of Buffalo, New York.
“I’d been visiting Savannah since about 2015.” he says. “I’d been thinking about doing something here since then.”
It didn’t happen sooner, frankly, because Jay was tied up building one of America’s best pizza shops in Buffalo. That is, according to people who measure that kind of stuff.
“We were doing a food truck a lot like Big Bon Pizza.” He says. “We had a good local following. We got great local reviews. But our first big thing was The Daily Meal. They do a list called 101 Best Pizzas in America. We made that in our first year.”
Boom, their game changed.
Jay went three for three on that list in his first 3 attempts. Fair to say things were going well. Now three years in and approaching the end of a lease on his brick and mortar pizza shop, he decided to sell to his first employee and move. He landed here in Savannah back in January.
“I’ve always loved it here. Once we came, we started visiting every year.” He says.
It didn’t take long before he met Big Bon’s Kay Heritage. She suggested they sit down for lunch one day and immediately suggested a collaboration.
“She pretty much suggested it the first time we sat down to chat.” Jay says. The idea made perfect sense. Big Bon Bodega runs morning and midday, but is otherwise closed. Once Big Bon’s bagels are done for the day, there’s an empty oven sitting there. Jay’s experience is making pizza. Perfect for the evening crowd.
It’s a match made on Bull Street. At Big Bon Bodega. But it is not Big Bon Pizza.
“No, it’s not. It’s different.” Jay says. “We use a lot of the same ingredients. We have similar views on what it is. For example the bagel oven they have at the shop is different than the dome oven they have on the mobile operation. So we couldn’t produce the same pizza there if we wanted to.”
“This is going to be engineered for take out and to go in a box.” he says. “With Big Bon people are pretty much eating it right there.”
If this is the first time you’ve heard the word ‘engineered’ associated with pizza, join the crowd. Jay filled my notebook with talk about hydration, fermentation and cook times. It’s information that, frankly, I found fascinating but it doesn’t serve a purpose here.
Back in early August, I was invited—along with a group of other ‘Friends of Big Bon’—to a pizza pop-up at the Bodega. There was a lot of pizza that night, all of it created by Jay Langfelder. There was foccacia, charcuterie and pizzas in a few different styles.
It was absolutely outstanding. Savannah is in for a treat here.
“To start we are looking at 16 inch New York style pizza. Slices of Grandma style pizza. We are planning on a vegan option and lots of vegetarian options right out of the gate.”
Within the first two weeks, he says they should be ready to roll out gluten free pies as well.
It is fair to say that making a handful of pies for some friends is different than creating hundreds per day. Consistency in this art form is the name of the game here. Jay’s background tells us he’s got that down. I suspect it won’t be long before Jay’s pies are the talk of the town. Someone let that lady at Publix know.
The goods will roll out beginning October 6. Wednesday to Saturday for now, 4:30pm-8:30pm Carry out or delivery via Savtakeout.com. In between, it is business as usual at Big Bon Bodega. So please, don’t show up at lunch time looking for pizza. That’s a party foul.
“They will do the same things they always do for breakfast and lunch. Then they will close and we will re-open at 4:30pm.”
Big Bon Bodega pizza is what we can call it. I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait.