PIE.ZAA super-sizes the perennially popular pizza pie

It goes without saying – but we’ll say it anyway – that if your standard whole pizza is bigger than a hubcap,

size matters. But at PIE.ZAA, home of the 28” pie, it’s not what matters most.

“We focus on the quality of our ingredients,” says Rick Martin, named GM of the Asheville store shortly after coming on board three years ago (now regional manager).

Co-founder and now sole-owner Tyler Kotch made that clear when he and his then partner opened PIE.ZAA in Asheville’s South Slope in September 2020. As they renovated the building that had once been a transmission shop/garage, Kotch says the dough went through an extensive testing process, they sampled 20-30 types of cheese, almost 15 kinds of sausage and pepperoni and made batch after batch of sauce to get it just right.

They pared the menu to four staples – cheese, sausage, pepperoni and garden (vegetarian) – and rotate a special pie every month. They sell by the whole pie, or the slice. Three dipping sauces are available and that’s it. Bada bing, bada boom.
“We purposely only do five so we dial in on making the best pie,” Martin explains “We don’t offer a dozen kinds and we don’t do build-your-own, extra toppings or modifications. It also helps lower stress on our staff, which is another big priority for us. Five pies may seem simple, but there’s a lot that goes into it.”

By a lot, Martin means a lot of time and skill. Let’s step into the PIE.ZAA kitchen.

Days before an order is placed, the dough magic begins. “It’s a long process, from start to finish,” Martin says.

As long as 72 hours, in fact, and never less than 48. Ingredients are placed in the big mixer, and once a dough is formed, that large ball is pulled out and plopped on a table. There, it is cut and weighed into 3-pound balls, and each ball is hand pressed to get the air pockets out. The dough balls go into the cooler for the crucial next step, proofing.

“America has an instant gratification problem,” Martin says with a laugh. “When you don’t proof dough long enough, the glutens bind together, and your body doesn’t process it well. We shoot for a 72-hour proofing range and that gives us the fullness, airiness and taste people know and love.”

In the cooler, the balls flatten to more of a patty shape, which is helpful for the next step – making the pie, which are all made to order (with the exception of the slices).

It’s one thing to stretch a 1-pound ball out and give it a toss or two to make a puny 12-inch pizza. But forming a PIE.ZAA pie is a skill that takes time. And a lot of dough. “It starts with flattening out that dough disc and stretching it. We don’t have the table space to stretch it to 28 inches, so eventually you’re going to have to trust and let gravity take the lead.”

That means hanging it from your hands and eventually tossing and spinning.  And most importantly, Martin says, having fun with it.

“We’re an open kitchen, so people are watching, and they want to see our people have fun with the pizza. Not everyone tosses it in the air right away, but in a couple weeks, they will be. There are a lot of ways to get there, and we encourage practice. We lose a lot of dough, but we want people to get comfortable with it.”

Once the dough is formed into a pie – it’s NY style so no rimmed crust – marinara sauce made fresh every morning is ladled on, then strewn with handfuls of buffalo milk mozzarella. Toppings are added and the pie goes into a 650’ oven for six minutes, moved from a screen to a stone for precisely one minute more, and voila, a PIE.ZAA.

Martin says whole pies are typically ordered for family and friends’ gatherings, celebrations and office lunches. Slices, on the other hand, are often impulse purchases. “We get a lot of people walking by and see the slice pies in the window and come in for one or two. We under-bake those slice pies a little so that when people order, we finish it in the oven and it’s hot and fresh.”

Among the monthly special pies, the Pineapple Express is guaranteed to attract lovers and trigger haters. “Pineapple and black olives are the bugaboos of pizza toppings,” Martin says.  Most popular of the specials is the Sweet Carolina –marinara, mozzarella, sliced Roma tomatoes, ricotta, basil, honey and balsamic.

Three dipping sauces – zip, marinara and ranch – are also made fresh in house. “I didn’t really get the dipping sauces,” Martin admits. “Then I tried them and they’re all pretty great.”

PIE.ZAA is one of Asheville’s most popular spots for late-night fuel stops, serving until midnight Sunday – Thursday and 1 a.m. weekends. What PIE.ZAA doesn’t offer is utensils. “We don’t do cutlery. We have a tutorial on our Instagram for the best way to fold a slice of PIE.ZAA. People have all kinds of ways of doing it; it’s fun to watch.”

For more behind-the-scenes views and videos  of the people of PIE.ZAA, follow here PIE.ZAA (@pie_zaa) • Instagram photos and videos In February, Kotch opened a store in Charlotte with plans to expand further.

For more on PIE.ZAA, visit piezaapizza.com

— Kay West

Photos courtesy of PIE.ZAA
First photo: 
Rick Martin and the Farmhouse Ranch pie of the month
Second photo: PIE.ZAA
Third photo: PIE.ZAA slices