Orange Peel Bakery’s weekly Pizza Night relies on one condition: Everyone must B.Y.O.T., bring your own toppings!
Our dinner experience at the bakery began about an hour before we even arrived at the State Road location in Aquinnah. Presented with the question of: If I could put anything on pizza, what would I choose? I ran around Cronig’s like a kid in a candy store.
Even to the uninitiated, as soon as you approach the oven, you can clearly tell that Juli Vanderhoop is the producer of the show. A modern-day Hestia, goddess of the hearth, with her hair tied back in a print bandana and her waist cinched with apron strings, she slings pizza in and out of the oven, rotating them around the seven-foot cavern to make sure each is evenly cooked. “Some get a little crispy, but we’ve never burned one!” she cheered.
Vanderhoop opened Orange Peel Bakery back in 2007, inspired by an outdoor dining experience with friends in Germany, “It went on forever; it was one of the most wonderful meals,” she said. Vanderhoop decided to bring that communal eating style home to Aquinnah by building a 10-foot-high stone oven. She wanted to create a place where neighbors, friends, visitors, and everyone in between could gather to make bread and break bread.
She certainly succeeded. The lines to get your personal slab of dough can be as long as the lines for the Ferris wheel at the Ag Fair. Luckily, I arrived just before 6 pm, while the crowds were just starting to gather.
The launchpad is the dough, made with the basics: flour, water, yeast, salt, and sugar. Although simple in its basic ingredients, the blank canvas opens the artist to infinite possibilities.
Once your sauce-and-cheese-prepared dough is handed to you on a paddle, you carry it over to two folding tables set up next to the oven. This station provides the full palette of toppings. Pesto, chocolate hazelnut spread, white chocolate, garlic, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes of all sizes, spinach, and marshmallows were all up for grabs.
Another benefit of customizable pizzas: They can be made for any dietary restriction. For my vegan pizza, I requested no cheese on gluten-free prebaked crust made with cauliflower.
On a base of tomato sauce, I sprinkled my shiitake mushrooms, arugula, tomatoes sliced with someone else’s knife, and scooped some pesto out of a neighbor’s container. The whole while, there was no arguing over ingredients, or even asking for permission. People bring their favorites and then leave the remainder on the tables for others to share.
The slices came out so hot that I burned the roof of my mouth in my eagerness. I shared the first slice with a woman I had just met. The cauliflower dough was tasty in its own right, more crispy and tangy than plain dough. The sauce, made with puréed fresh tomatoes and salt, was light and refreshing. It tasted like summer.
For my second creation, I was inspired by the giggling kids next to me making s’mores pizza. On my own dessert pizza, I slathered chocolate hazelnut spread, fig spread, blackberries, and arugula.
This was a different kind of al fresco dining. Mismatched chairs and tables were scattered around the backyard. Pizza is the great equalizer: People ages 8 to 80 lounged in chairs and conversed with friends new and old.
For dessert part two, I paid $6 to try their strawberry shortcake. It came prepared by employee and family friend Rodeo, age 12, in a paper bowl. He halved a crumbly biscuit — made with flour, butter, milk, baking powder, and sugar — and heaped on macerated strawberries and a mountain of whipped cream. It was delicious.
More than anything, Orange Peel Bakery is all about living in the moment and retaining that joie de vivre.
“Sometimes, in the middle of the day, things are just not going right and we feel down, we’ll close the shop for 45 minutes; enough time to allow the yeast to activate the dough to rise. We’ll run down to the beach, jump in the water, have a blast, and then come back, shower, dry off, and keep on going,” Vanderhoop says. This is the inspiration behind the bakery’s slogan, “Bake, Beach, Repeat.”
“I feel like I’m living the dream. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined this,” said Vanderhoop with a twinkle in her eye. “I get to host what I think is beautiful.”
Under the shade of the sassafras trees, as the sun set over Aquinnah, and the laughter of new friends and the smell of pizza filled the air, it truly did feel like a dream.
Orange Peel Bakery Pizza Night, every Wednesday from 5 to 8 pm. Admission for adults is $20, $10 for children.