When we left New York City in a rented Jeep and headed cross country, the round pizza stone we used in our apartment's tiny oven ended up not in a box at Manhattan Mini-Storage with our other stuff, but in the back of our Jeep. We were that serious about our pizza.
So when our road trip landed us in Maine, we slid the pizza stone in our very own oven and we were home. But our homemade pizza still wasn't right. We were pizza-spoiled by our pizza-hero, Patsy, who was three-hundred miles away under the Brooklyn Bridge at Grimaldi's. The crust there is crisp--not too thin and not too thick, and they use only homemade ingredients. Pizza perfection only happens above 700 degrees in Grimaldi's coal-fired oven, which is not home oven territory.
We decided we needed an outdoor wood-burning oven and ordered plans from Alan Scott at Ovencrafters, who for thirty years built brick bread ovens in backyards around Berkeley, California. Alan Scott retired to his native Australia a few years ago and, sadly, died there earlier this year. His plans were beautiful and brilliant, but I hadn't the vaguest idea of where to begin. I needed hand-holding and lots of it.
Along came Forno Bravo and its step-by-step plans to build an Italian-style brick pizza oven called the "Pompeii." The plans are based on an ancient domed design, which heats up quickly for pizza and can be built for a reasonable cost. There was an on-line forum for newbies where I could get lots of help planning my oven.
I began last July with the first step: The oven needed a solid foundation so there would be no shifting and heaving to crack the brick dome. That required excavating a six-by-seven foot foundation deep enough to provide a stable footing. In our heavy clay soil, I dug by hand until water began to leach from the clay at about thirty inches. More than one local expert I asked said I should go down to forty-eight inches, thefrost-line here in Maine. But an equal number of amateur backyard diggers advised a shallower "floating-foundation." There was no consensus and Forno Bravo plans suggested I yield to local custom, so I split the difference.
After the hole was dug (and all that extra dirt was used to level holes around the yard), I filled up the foundation with crushed stone, leaving about six inches at the top. This was where the wood forms would go to hold the concrete for the foundation. Stay tuned for my adventures, ahem, pouring cement...