A Larchmont Lager at Elation Brewing in Norfolk (Matthew Korfhage/Virginian-Pilot)
For a while now, John McCormick of The Bakehouse at Chelsea has been keeping a dream journal of sorts — all the things he’d like to put on a pizza.
But in his tiny wood-fired bakery in Ghent’s Chelsea District, he had to be careful about what he put on top of his Neapolitan- and Sicilian-inspired pies. Not every ingredient travels well, or looks as good when it arrives.
“I always had to think about the fact that I was probably putting the pizza in a box,” McCormick said.
But soon he’ll have a little bit more room to play. By the end of March, the Bakehouse plans to be slinging its pies on a second wood-fired pizza oven inside Elation Brewing at 5104 Colley Ave., less than 3 miles from the first Bakehouse.
There, McCormick hopes to serve all the pizzas the Bakehouse has become known for — the fresh-mozzarella Margherita, the chorizo, and poblano, the white pie, and the salami and arugula — already popular beer accompaniments at the multiple breweries and beer bars in the Chelsea district.
But at Elation, with more room for dine-in customers and more prep space in the kitchen, he’ll be a little more “unshackled.”
“It’s a big difference in ordering a pizza that you put in the box and take home and eat, and one that you serve and eat right there five minutes after it’s come out of the oven,” McCormick said. “You’re able to do a lot more.”
McCormick rattled off possibilities: a house-prepped brisket the way he’d done it as a special at Bakehouse the year previous, various varieties of mushroom, maybe fig and prosciutto, or other interesting cheeses and peppers and farm-fresh produce.
“Really we want to push the envelope a little bit,” he said. “I follow all these great wood-fired pizza places around the country, and I look at these pizzas, and I’m like, ‘That’s a gorgeous pizza. That’s a great idea.’”
The partnership with Elation was hatched right before the pandemic, he said. He and his wife were already fans of the brewery’s beers, and its comfortable high-ceilinged space and tent-topped patio. He casually dropped a hint to Elation co-owner Kenny VanHook: Wouldn’t a pizza oven look nice in that corner over there?
By the next time they saw each other, both business owners had already started drawing up the plans in their heads.
“I said, ‘That’s an awesome thing, you guys have the best pizza around,’” VanHook said. “John said, ‘You wanna think about it?’ And I said ‘No, I don’t.’”
The pandemic railroaded those plans for a while. But by the end of the summer, they started talking again in earnest about how to bring the pizza to Elation. It would be two businesses sharing the same space, they decided. Bakehouse pizzas would be sold alongside Elation’s food and beer from the same point-of-sale system, so customers didn’t have to worry about maintaining separate tabs.
“We didn’t want people to have to get into multiple lines,” VanHook said.
Elation, of course, already serves food alongside its menu of house-brewed lagers and IPAs and sours — not to mention guest taps of gluten-free ciders and mead. That will continue, with a few adjustments.
“We expanded our salads — instead of two we have four or five,” VanHook said. “We’re keeping our shareables and apps easy and light, but we’re also getting some unique sandwiches with local ingredients, unique and off the beaten path.”
Those dovetail with McCormick’s plans for the pizza menu. His bakery had long made use of seasonal ingredients, especially in the fillings on the pastries. But now he hopes to double down on seasonal ingredients for the pizzas as well, branching out into farm-focused specials and special pizzas that might be timed to beer releases.
“When Elation does a beer launch, right when they’re going to be uncorking a new beer, we’re going to make a pizza that we feel like goes with that. We’re going to go to kind of do that hand in hand.”
He says a no-gluten crust might even be in the works, though the bakery hasn’t worked out the right recipe.
“We haven’t really cracked that code yet,” he said.
The new wood-fired pizza oven arrived at Elation months ago from California. The two owners had hoped to launch the Bakehouse pies at Elation’s two-year anniversary on Feb. 27. Along with numerous other beer releases planned for that day, the brewery launched a beer designed specifically to pair with pizza.
“It’s the Bakehouse Bo Pils,” VanHook said. “The Bo is short for Bohemian; it’s literally a light, refreshing, Bohemian-style Pilsner — it’ll go fantastically with the pizza.”
But after some construction delays, the pizza will have to wait a few extra weeks, arriving sometime in March. And with luck, McCormick said, the weather and the geopolitical landscape will cooperate.
“The vibe inside is so great, and it’s relaxed, there’s plenty of seating,” he said. “The pandemic will end one day — so I’m told. And we just feel that people can come in there and really enjoy the process of picking a great pizza, watching it be made right in front of them, and then eating it right there.”