In February last year, when Covid-19 was a mere footnote in the Australian news cycle, chef Dan Pepperell (ex-Restaurant Hubert, Alberto’s Lounge) and Swillhouse co-owner Anton Forte (Shady Pines Saloon, Baxter Inn, Frankie’s Pizza) booked a gut-busting 12-day trip to New York. They had a singular purpose: hit as many pizza joints as possible each day and fastidiously take notes between slices.
Now, almost a year later, Pepperell has completely overhauled the pizza menu at Swillhouse’s subterranean CBD bar Frankie’s – already popular for its pizza slices (and heavy-rock soundtrack) since opening in 2012. Forte says the new menu brings together a wealth of pizza knowledge from the trip, which could only be gained by consuming New York slices every day for nearly two weeks straight.
“We got really analytical into every place we checked out,” Forte tells Broadsheet. “I’ve got spreadsheets with the dough make up, prove time, what kind of oven was used, the temperature it’s cooked in and for how long. Then we’d break that down to sauces, cheese, and all sorts of shit. So it got pretty geeky but we had such great notes. It was fun to look back over.”
Despite perceptions of cagey New Yorkers guarding family recipes, Forte says most vendors they visited – between 30 and 40 all up – were happy to spill house secrets. Pepperell even managed to snag a stagiaire at Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint – a NYC institution – hand-stretching dough with Brooklynites for a day.
The new menu includes a classic margherita, and a pepperoni drizzled with hot honey (which “is really big over there,” says Forte). From there, the list veers between a simple white pie with rosemary, garlic, black pepper and scamorza, to a Texas-inspired number with pickled jalapeno, roasted corn, ricotta, chilli powder, garlic and lime. Get a whole pie – or a single slice for $6.50.
While Frankie’s faithful old Napoli-style pies were beloved by Martin Place suits, metalheads and everyone in between, Forte says the style was becoming overdone.
“You don’t get too many stylistic differences in Sydney and Melbourne, or Australia really. It’s either bogan Aussie style or high-quality Napoletana. So I felt like we had a really good opportunity to do something different with an amazing chef in Dan, putting in the same effort that goes into a dish at Hubert or Alberto’s.”
Napoletana pizza is characterised by high moisture content in the dough and a fast cook time in high heat. The end result is a sloppy affair – perfect for mopping up the night’s excesses, but not quite in the spirit of a “classic New York pizzeria”.
“We wanted a slice that you could pick up in one hand and it holds straight, but still has a bit of New York flop at the end,” says Forte.
To achieve that, Pepperell uses high ash content, stone-ground Italian flour for the dough. It’s then fermented for three days and cooked at a lower temperature than a Napoli pizza. Because the flour is less refined, it gives the base more texture and structure once it flies out of Frankie’s new Moretti twin-deck oven – the workhorse of the pizza world.
Frankie’s co-owner Jordan McDonald has created a new beer list full of “interesting weird stuff” that sits alongside crowd-pleasing ales. There’s a particular focus on sours, ideal for cutting through the more unctuous pizzas on the list.
50 Hunter Street, Sydney