One of the most popular pizzas at the newly opened 99 Craft Pizza in northwest Fresno is the “PBR” – which stands for pepperoni, basil and ricotta.
The vehicle used to get all those ingredients into your mouth is a little different than your average slab of cheese and sauce.
For starters, it’s Detroit-style pizza, which means the thick, fluffy crust is about an inch and a half tall when it comes out of the oven. The cheese that’s slipped down between the crust and the metal 8-by-10-inch pan has caramelized into an almost black – but not burned – crunchy goodness on the edges.
The pepperoni has curled into little cups, perfect for holding a drizzle of hot honey. And the ricotta – nothing like the pebbly stuff in lasagna – piped atop the pizza is so light and creamy it looks like it belongs on a cupcake.
But enough with the pizza porn. Let’s get back to the basics.
New pizza restaurant opens
The business opened last week, at the southeast corner of Palm and Nees avenues. It’s across the street from Eureka! restaurant and you get to it by driving into the Boardwalk at Palm Bluffs office park.
It was originally supposed to open a week earlier. But at around 6:45 a.m. the day it was supposed to open, a burglar broke in, smashing a window and stealing two cash drawers.
The thief didn’t get much – only a little petty cash – but the payment system’s software didn’t work without all its parts. The restaurant owners had to wait until new parts were shipped in before opening.
“It was a huge bummer at the time,” said Steve McCrary, general manager and one of three partners in the business.
The delay also meant employees who had quit their previous jobs to work at 99 Craft Pizza couldn’t start their new ones. The business paid them anyway, McCrary said.
After an Instagram post with a video of the burglar breaking in and a TV news story, the business was flooded with well-wishers asking how they could help.
Normally, McCrary would say, “Buy a pizza,” but they couldn’t. Now, they can.
What is Detroit-style pizza?
But back to the food and what’s on the menu.
Detroit-style pizza is uncommon in Fresno, though Pizza Hut has done temporary specials featuring it.
It’s a deep-dish pizza, but less dense than Chicago-style pizza.
“This couldn’t be further from the thick and heavy Chicago style,” McCrary said.
The dough goes through a 48-hour cold fermentation process in the refrigerator that creates a lighter, more flavorful dough.
And the cheese – not the sauce – goes on first.
And that hot honey that’s on some of the pizzas? It’s a barely spicy honey, usually made by infusing honey with chile peppers. It’s becoming trendy in the pizza world for the way it pairs perfectly with salty pepperoni and other parts of the pie.
Traditional, or as the business calls them, California style, pizzas are available, too, at 99 Craft Pizza with regular crust. They include a Gilroy garlic chicken, double pepperoni, and an underground gardens pizza that’s all veggies.
That PBR pizza’s full name is Pinnacles PBR (named after Pinnacles National Park), another reference to a nearby attraction.
Gluten-free crust is available. It’s prepared in the same part of the kitchen as regular pizza and oven, but McCrary said they take “considerable” measures to make it gluten-free.
99 Craft Pizza
The restaurant uses local ingredients whenever possible, including cheese from Tulare County and tomatoes from Stanislaus County.
Along with the pizza names, the 99 Craft Pizza name is a nod to the old Highway 99 corridor, where the owners grew up and where many of the pizza ingredients are grown.
The pizza business was born out of the pandemic.
McCrary was laid off from a job in TV news production at the time. He teamed with his brother-in-law, John Cleveland, a vice president at an insurance company who McCrary described as a “big ol’ pizza fanatic and a bread guy.” Cleveland spent the days of stay-at-home orders experimenting with Detroit pizza dough recipes.
They teamed with Cleveland’s physical therapist, who has celiac and had created his own gluten-free dough.
After giving away pizza to friends and family, hosting pop-ups, renting a commercial kitchen and hiring consultants in the industry, they decided to give opening a restaurant a shot.
99 Craft Pizza is at 585 W. Nees Ave., Suite 123.
Hours: For now, it’s open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sundays, when it’s closed. It will expand hours in the future.
Delivery: The restaurant does not deliver now, but plans to eventually deliver through DoorDash.