Words and images by JOHN BULTENA
Dough is crucial. It forms the foundation that can make or break a pizza. Little Oven Pizza makes our own dough that, in conjunction with local ingredients, helps provide Merced with high quality pizza. That all said, pizza is not the only thing our dough can do, as a dear friend discovered.
Tanisha McClain is a well known Downtown Merced figure and amazing chef. She first met Thad and Dan of Little Oven Pizza when a pizza shop was only an idea. “They were awesome dudes. When they were sourcing ingredients, they were meticulous about finding local sources and making things fresh in house.” Inspired by Little Oven Pizza’s attention to quality, she approached them about a pop-up restaurant event. While Tanisha has done pop-up events in Downtown Merced prior, this one would be special because of dough.
Provided with some of Thad’s pizza dough, Tanisha got experimenting. The results were revealing, “Their dough is the perfect texture of chewy with that nice bite. It was surprisingly versatile when making it into other items that were not pizza.” But just serving it up in non-pizza dishes would not be enough. Noticing a gap of brunch oriented options in Merced, Tanisha had a distinct direction. Focusing on Little Oven’s dough, Tanisha came up with a variety of dishes utilizing it along with companion pieces that would form an excellent and tasty Sunday brunch for Merced while fostering a developing Downtown Food Culture.
The menu featured a combination of sweet and savory baked goods. Not on the menu was the excellent tea and coffee service. Aided by Alissa Haynes, Tanisha provided consistent refills of a variety of choices: Earl Grey, Chamomile, and Green Teas. Coffee was provided as drip Kona or a French pressed organic Indonesian courtesy of Coffee Bandits, just down the street! All great ways to start and finish a meal.
The khachapuri and breakfast braid were the pieces that showcased Little Oven Pizza’s unique dough and Tanisha’s culinary skills in tandem. Both utilized eggs from Green Acres Farmstead of Hilmar here in California. Khachapuri is a Georgian styled pie that is akin to pizza in its native land, as it the dough is formed to have a bowl area that can contain a myriad of toppings. The breakfast braid is a flaky dough, that is filled with eggs, and either sausage/bacon or kale and onions from Raw Roots Farm of Catheys Valley. In addition, a sweet version with strawberries and cream cheese proved popular. To round it out, egg scrambles in veggie and meat-lovers manifestations were present. On the sweet side of things, Krantz cake, similar to a babka, had numerous fans at the pop-up brunch. Alongside that, two variations of cinnamon roll were available: a traditional one and another featuring bourbon bacon.
A lot of buzz was abound from the guests enjoying the food. Word traveled fast for this event via Facebook. Eric raved about the bourbon bacon cinnamon rolls while stating he hopes to see more events like this one. Alex said the dough is what made this particular brunch “especially intriguing.” A long time fan of Tanisha’s, Colton, who has meals prepared by her weekly, said the “social element” of this event was what made it really stand out. His tablemate, Louisa, found the diversity of dishes to be most appealing, especially the Georgian Khachapuri. In fact, it became difficult to get photos of the food because everyone was so eager to dig in to such a delightful meal.
Coming together and fostering a downtown food culture with such positive people, while seeing ample support from the local community warms our hearts. We are thankful to Tanisha for utilizing our space in an extra-pizza way! Synergistic maneuvers like this will help spread the notion of quality food that local purveyors, such as Green Acres Farmstead, Raw Roots Farm, and Coffee Bandits, have available. But more importantly, it serves to remind our community of how much the Central Valley has to offer us up as bounty of the land.