A guy and his pies

Next time you go to pick up a pizza, look and see if anyone is actually making pizza. Remember when the dough was tossed into the air, caught on the fist and tossed again? When’s the last time you saw that? If you peek into the kitchen at your local pizzeria, more likely you’d see someone pulling dough from the freezer.

John Ray, the proud owner of Big Guy Pizza Pie, concedes that throwing the dough is for show, but he says the dough has to be slapped back and forth between the hands. This spreads the dough and moves the air bubbles out to the rim of the crust. No one wants bubbles in the middle of a pizza, he explains, because bubbles displace the sauce and toppings.

“I’m beyond picky when it comes to making pizza,” Ray told me. He mixes the dough himself, nothing but flour, water, sugar, salt and yeast. The crust is thin and crisp. It is spread with a top-of-the-line sauce and sprinkled with a blend of three cheeses — mozzarella, provolone and Romano — that are grated daily. The toppings are cut by hand, fresh every day. If you ask for something Ray doesn’t have — one of his first customers wanted green olives — he’ll go out and get it. He makes a very good pizza.

Ray, 27, has been working in the restaurant business since he was 17. He developed a specialty in “quality control management,” meaning that he takes over failing restaurants and turns them around.

With the support of his family, Ray decided to start his own business. He and his wife, Holly, bought a failing pizzeria in Warren. He gave his restaurant a new name and opened two months ago. Big Guy Pizza Pie was named after Ray’s father-in-law, a retired engineer who is a friend and a mentor. “He encouraged me to throw all my fears aside and go after this,” Ray says. John and Holly have two young sons, 5-year-old Logan and 1-year-old Griffin. Logan plans to take over the business when he’s a little older, and Griffin is a pizza fan. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” says Ray. “And I’m not even bringing home a paycheck.”

Big Guy is a little place, very little, with two tiny high-top tables and a few stools. You can eat in, but it’s more of a waiting space. When our family of three ate there one night, we had to put our pizza on one table and eat at the other. There’s a box of toys to keep the little ones entertained.

In addition to pizza, John Ray makes subs, calzones, salads, chicken wings and dessert pizzas. The garden salad serves three or four for $5; add ham and salami and it’s an antipasto and still only $5.

John Ray has a mutual admiration society going with Kramer and Twitch, talk radio hosts at WKRK-FM 97.1. Twitch has Cajun cheese stix named after him, while Kramer’s moniker is attached to a dessert calzone. It is filled with apples, cherries and raisins, liberally spiced with cinnamon, and wrapped in a crust that is brushed with butter, sprinkled with sugar and chopped pecans. It’s pretty good, but we found that the crust was still doughy on the inside. The same thing happened with a sausage calzone that we brought home on another night. A little tinkering is in order.

If you’re really into gluttony, try a cherry pizza pie. Spread with cherry pie filling and topped with a sugary frosting, it’s interesting but requires a big appetite.

John Ray is a believer in coupons; there is a “clipless coupon” special every day of the week. The most popular is Wednesday when a medium pizza is $5 with unlimited toppings.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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