Chef Nick Vella was one of many chefs that found himself furloughed from his job at the start of the COVID-19 crisis in March, but by the first of April, he was making pizzas from his home on the Westside strictly for friends with pick-up at Observation Park, an urban park overlooking downtown Kansas City that is conveniently located down the street from his house.
Within a few weeks, he went from making 8 pizzas a day to 36 as word spread about his quality hand-made pies. He had created a cottage food business almost overnight, and as friends told other friends, his new pandemic pop-up, Observation Pizza, was born.
Vella eventually outgrew his home kitchen and is now renting a larger commercial kitchen space inside of the Bauer Building in the Crossroads Arts District, where he is making pizzas and doing curbside carryout right out the front door of the downtown office and event space.
“My first culinary job was at a Sicilian-style pizza place that used a wood-fired oven, and I just took that experience and figured out a way to do quality pizza in my home oven using a pizza stone, that allows the pizza toppings to cook faster because they cook from the bottom up,” Vella says.
His pizza is a marriage between New York-style pizza and Neapolitan pizza, with Pizza Hut’s heavier topping style. The 12-inch rounds have a chewy crust that is thin but sturdy on the bottom to support the generous toppings; then, it is cut into 4 slices. It's the best of all pizza types, coming together in one pie.
“The dough is slow-fermented overnight using a natural sourdough starter, then it is hand tossed,” Vella says. “California tomatoes go into my sauce, and I cook half of them, and leave half raw or uncooked to give it a fresh and bright tomato taste,” he says.
He tops them with quality mozzarella cheese or ricotta cheese that he makes himself, and from there you can create your own adventure or choose from any of 12 unique pizzas he sells for $12 a piece, all named after musical artists.
The Jimmy Buffet pizza is Vella’s take on a Margherita pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil; it's also his number one seller. The IZ pizza is a close second, and it comes with marinated pineapple, bacon, pepperoni, burrata, pickled jalapenos and is finished with basil, bacon fat, sea salt and olive oil. The Jerome John Garcia is a simple pepperoni pizza, and Robert Weir is his four-cheese pizza that comes with mozzarella, burrata, ricotta and is finished with Grana Padano.
He also offers two fresh starters: a raw and roasted root veggie mix that comes with citrus herb ricotta and a stellar cucumber salad that tastes like a summer version of a Caesar salad with crisp slices of cucumber marinated in Italian dressing, herbs, pecorino, anchovy and Calabrian chili.
Chef Melissa Dodd has also come on board to help make the ice cream flavors that Vella now sells for dessert at $7 a pop. The ice cream, Tumblerz, come in three flavors: watermelon basil sorbet, espresso and biscotti and Chocolate malted ball, and they are each delicious and creative in their own right.
Vella has devised an ordering system that allows him to control the number of orders he takes in an hour, as he can only make four to eight pizzas in that window of time. For the best experience, go to the Observation Pizza website and pre-order a pizza for pick-up or delivery. Book 30 minutes to seven days in advance, depending on the day and the demand. If the preferred day or time isn’t showing up on the website, it means Vella has sold out for that particular time slot on that particular day.
“The time you select for pick-up reserves a window of time, so if you pick 6pm for pick-up, I will start your pizza that time and it will be ready about 30 minutes later,” says Vella. “In the email communication I’ll tell you that your pizza will be ready at the end of your reservation window, also keep in mind that weekends and evenings are busier than weekdays and daytime hours.”
As chef de cuisine for the The Savoy, the restaurant located inside the 21c Hotel downtown, Vella has already gotten the call that he is to go back to work at the end of July, but between now and then, he and Dodd will continue to make the veggie starters, pizzas and handmade ice creams that have made Observation Pizza such an overnight success.
Observation Pizza is open from 11am to 8:30pm Tuesday through Saturday.
Observation Pizza (located inside The Bauer Building), 115 W. 18th Street, Kansas City, MO, 504.758.9646, observationpizza.com