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Proper Brick Oven offers seasonal menu of pizza, pasta

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 6:30 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Sous Chef Joshua Payne and owner Suzanne Hrach with their harvest pizza inside Proper Brick Oven in Pittsburgh.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Place the fresh mozzarella on top of the puree, sausage, pumpkin, squash and dough for Proper Brick Oven's Harvest Pizza.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Proper Brick Oven Sous Chef Joshua Payne kneads/spreads the pizza dough out for their harvest pizza Wednesday, October 9, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Ladle and spread the butternut squash and pumpkin puree (sauce) over the pizza dough for Proper Brick Oven's Harvest Pizza.

Suzanne Hrach and her boyfriend, Jason Lockney, both of Pine, enjoy traveling and visiting restaurants where they can order good food and cocktails, wines and craft beers, all correctly prepared.

Once, Lockney was served an Old Fashioned with club soda and asked Hrach, “Why can't anyone make a proper cocktail?” The two constantly discuss where they can go to get “a proper pizza” with just the right amount of ingredients — not too many or too few. They cook and bake at home and have definite ideas on proper food and drink preparation.

So when Hrach, 40, a former medical-device saleswoman and self-taught cook, decided to follow her dream and open a restaurant and bar, she named it Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room. The Downtown restaurant and bar opened Aug. 21.

“For 18 years, I worked in a field that didn't challenge or inspire me,” Hrach says. “I set out to build the place I always wanted to in Pittsburgh.”

Proper Brick Oven is in the space Tambellini's restaurant formerly occupied on Seventh Street. It serves lunch and dinner six days a week, primarily pizzas baked in its brick oven, pastas, salads and snacks that are made from scratch. Pizzas include traditional Margherita pizza, with San Marzano tomatoes, for $14; Carnivore with house-made sweet and spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, bacon and house-made mozzarella for $16; and Ocean, with sauteed fresh razor clams and roasted garlic spread for $18.

“Proper pastas” are served after 4 p.m. and include Bacon Broccoli Pasta, with house-cured bacon, garlic broccoli rabe, lemon zest and locally made orecchiette, for $16; and Pasta Funghi, with carmelized mushrooms and toasted hazelnuts in a fresh cream sauce over house-made tagliatelle, for $16.

Chef Josh Payne, 29, of White Oak, is in charge of the kitchen, which produces seasonal dishes, too. This fall, those dishes include Pumpkin Ravioli with garlic marscapone in a light cream sauce for $16; Butternut Squash Fettucini in a brown butter sauce for $18; and Harvest Pizza, with pumpkin, butternut squash and sausage, for $16.

Sandwiches are $10 and come with house chips or jardiniere.

Hrach had the space completely remodeled, with the wood-fired brick oven toward the front, surrounded by a small bar where patrons can watch the pizzas being made and baked. A long bar in back has 21 seats. Its surface resembles vintage copper with a turquoise patina but was created with several layers of concrete and paint.

“I wanted to put in a huge bar,” Hrach says. There, patrons can watch the bartenders prepare proper cocktails or pour one of 30 craft beers from local and regional brewers and 22 wines by the glass. Or they can watch local sports teams on flat-screen televisions.

“We wanted to place equal emphasis on the beers and the wines,” Hrach says.

Brick walls above butternut-yellow upholstered chairs and barstools warm the space. Wine-bottle chandeliers and Mason-jar pendants cast warm light, and an arrangement of wooden lids from wine crates adds a bit of geometric art on the far wall.

Proper Brick Oven is a place where folks with suits and dresses can dine before cultural performances or sports fans in shorts and T-shirts can imbibe during or after a game, Hrach says.

“We wanted something sophisticated, but not snobby,” she says. “That's what we like.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Harvest Pizza

Proper Brick Oven owner Suzanne Hrach and her boyfriend, Jason Lockney, like to experiment at home with various ingredients. Hrach says Lockney is a good baker who produces delicious breads and pizza dough.

The couple came up with Harvest Pizza to satisfy their interest in seasonal produce. Proper Brick Oven produces its pizza dough from scratch, but cooks can always buy some from their local grocery store, either fresh or frozen.

“This is a pizza we made for friends,” Hrach says. “They said, ‘Pumpkin pizza? That's weird.' Then they tasted it and loved it.”

Chef Josh Payne combines tangy sausage with mellow pumpkin and butternut squash to produce a rich, sweet and savory fall pizza suitable for a Halloween dinner or other festive autumn evening.

1 small pie pumpkin

1 butternut squash

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 shallot, diced

14 cup white wine

1 cup heavy cream

1 pinch cinnamon, freshly ground, plus more for garnish

1 pinch nutmeg, freshly ground, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

10 ounces pizza dough, made from scratch or bought

14 cup sweet Italian sausage, crumbled and browned

14 cup (heaping) grated mozzarella cheese

3-4 leaves sage, chiffonade (cut into thin strips)

Roast the pie pumpkin and butternut squash at 350 degrees for 90 minutes, until soft.

Heat the olive oil, then place the diced shallot in the oil and cook until soft. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce until almost dry. Add the heavy cream and reduce by half.

After removing the pumpkin and squash from the oven, increase heat to 550 degrees and place a pizza stone in the oven for about an hour.

Cut the pumpkin and squash in half; remove the seeds and stringy membrane from the pumpkin and squash (See photo 1). Cut both in cubes (photo 2) and keep separate; the squash will be used for topping.

Place the softened pumpkin in a blender. Add the heavy cream mixture, the cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

Work the dough into a flattened disc about 11 inches in diameter (photo 3). Spread 14 cup of the pumpkin puree on the dough (photo 4), then distribute the crumbled sausage over the pumpkin sauce. Place 14 to 12 cup of the cubes of squash on the pizza, then the mozzarella cheese (photo 5). Salt to taste. Bake for about 5-6 minutes.

Garnish with the sage (photo 6), salt, pepper and more freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon. Slice into 8 pieces.

Makes 2 servings.

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