In March, when dinings rooms were forced to close, Chicago’s beloved neighborhood restaurant Table, Donkey and Stick knew they needed to get creative in order to survive. Under the guidance of chef/owner Matt Sussman, the team ceased cooking the European-inspired small plates that they’re known for, and in a matter of days, launched a brand new takeout pizza concept.
“Pizza made sense for us for a few reasons,” says Sussman. “Obviously, it works really well for delivery and takeout. It’s also a great platform to showcase our expertise with long-fermented doughs and house-made charcuterie, which have always been the foundation of what we do at Table, Donkey and Stick. And finally, we had a prototype for pan pizza ready to go. One of our cooks, Corey Jordan, had been making them for family meals over the course of recent months.”
It didn’t hurt that Sussman, who grew up in New York, admittedly has an affinity for pizza. Thus, the Pizza Asini pop-up was born.
Despite plenty of uncertainty for the future, Sussman didn’t lay-off any of his employees, and he kept all of his full-time staff at their full-time status. “Having a small team, many of whom have worked together at Table, Donkey & Stick for years, has really shaped the way we have responded to this crisis.”
The kitchen team was already accustomed to working with small farms, locally-sourcing ingredients for their Alpine-focused menu. Making pizzas proved to be no different. They use locally-milled grains and long-fermentation to get an extra flavorful pizza crust. The trend of long-fermentation pizza dough has been on the rise, though the technique is nothing new. When the dough is given a longer time to ferment, it develops more complex flavors.
The pizzas are topped with house-made ingredients, like lavender-spiked Italian sausage and ‘nduja, as well as local produce. The ramp pizzas were a particular hit. One featured ramp pesto, pickled ramps, and grilled ramps for a ramp trifecta.
Though restaurants across the country continue to face ongoing challenges, it looks like Pizza Asini is here to stay.
“We are definitely planning to keep the pizza around,” says Sussman, “whether from a different location or out of our kitchen.”