Photo by Nico Segall.

Most people don’t consider pizza haute cuisine, but Driftwood Oven in Lawrenceville is definitely serving the upper crust.

“I hope we’re changing people’s perceptions,” chef and co-owner Neil Blazin says. “The reality is our medium is pizza and the canvas is bread. We just want to provide good food.”

Blazin was recently named a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef in the 2020 James Beard Awards, the food industry’s highest honor. Spork’s Christian Frangiadis and Chengdu Gourmet’s Wei Zhu are in the running for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic. Nominees will be revealed on March 25 and an awards dinner will be held on May 3 in Chicago.

Blazin spent most of his restaurant career as a manager and a bartender. During his time at Trevett Hooper’s Oakland eateries, Legume Bistro and Butterjoint, he developed a love for baking.

At his Greenfield home, Blazin experimented with sourdough bread, a style that has just three ingredients — flour, water and salt — but takes a lot of effort to get just right. Once he perfected the process, he brought in samples for Hooper to try.

The loaves were a hit with the chef, so Blazin started baking in Legume’s kitchen during off-hours. He’d hop on his bicycle and deliver the naturally leavened bread to local markets. The Pedaling Baker was born.

Driftwood Oven grew out of this nomadic business model.

In 2015, Blazin joined forces with Justin Vetter, his Legume co-worker, and bought a mobile wood-fired oven. They’d load up on West Virginia oak and hit the road, stopping at hotspots such as Brew Gentlemen in Braddock and Dancing Gnome in Sharpsburg to serve their special brand of pizza.

Photo courtesy of Driftwood Oven.

Several years and a successful Kickstarter campaign later, the pair opened a brick-and-mortar pizza joint at 3615 Butler St. Bon Appétit magazine named it one of America’s Top 50 Best New Restaurants of 2018.

It’s a small shop, with a dozen tables and 12 seats at the bar, but folks don’t mind waiting. Each pie is scratch-made using organic flour and mozzarella stretched in-house. Blazin and Vetter pride themselves on their partnerships with local farms to ensure the freshest ingredients go into their product.

Customers can opt for a classic pie or indulge in a specialty offering such as The Greenfielder with arugula and basil pesto, mozzarella, fresh garlic, buttercup cheese and aged balsamic vinegar.

Dozens of people are enrolled in Driftwood’s monthly bread share program, which gets them a different loaf each week. Varieties range from spent-grain and porridge bread to olive and Parmesan.

Blazin hopes to expand the bakery options to include bagels, danishes and croissants that people can order online.

Does he feel threatened by the Keto diet and other low-carb lifestyles?

“It hasn’t worried me yet,” he says with a laugh. “Bread is having a revitalization.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.