Because Pizza – the Ratskeller

I’ve touched on the subject of pizza several times before, but today a map I found over at Maps on the Web inspired me to follow through on an earlier promise.

Having lived in Italy from 1970 to 1971, I mentioned Neapolitan pizza, which is the grandfather of the art form, and followed up with a much longer ramble about it in the next post.

When I came back from Italy, my first real job off-campus was at Dër Ratskeller Pizza Shoppe, at 250 South 300 East[1], which I mentioned here. Unfortunately that chain is now defunct, and it’s a real pity; there are some good pizzerias in this country, but the Ratskeller was a cut above.

I began working at their first location in 1972, after my return from overseas. The chain was owned by a car dealer and restaurant entrepreneur named Roy Moore, and he had several pizza joints in Idaho including the Rathaus Pizza Shoppes in Boise and Moscow, the Gay Ninties in Idaho Falls, and the Red Baron in Lewiston; this was his first venture in Utah.

The following year, the company opened a second location in Sugarhouse, Utah, at 827 East 2100 South – I was tapped to become the assistant manager of that location and actually helped with finishing the construction. In the process, I learned a lot about making pizza.

Building the Ratskeller Sugarhouse (2)

The sugarhouse store looked very much like the downtown location.

Ratskeller - Walk-in Fridge

Finishing the walk-in refrigerator

Ratskeller Bar & Kitchen

Behind the bar and looking into the kitchen. From those doors were dispensed bottles of Budweiser, Heineken, and Beck’s beer.

Ratskeller Kitchen and Bar

The bar (left) and serving window (right)

Ratskeller fireplace

The fireplace being framed in.

Ratskeller Pizza Shop on 2100 South, looking South

Restaurant construction looking south – you can see the Snelgrove’s sign in the background.

Ratskeller Main Entrance

Front entrance

Ratskeller - Oven

Pizza Oven

Ratskeller Sign Large

Ratskeller Logo

The first two shops were managed by Roy’s nephews, Michael and Don Pope.

Michael E. Pope makes the first pizza - 1973

Mike creating the first pizza at the Sugarhouse location. Notice the dough-roller on the back table; windows were arranged so that customers could watch the entire pizza creation process, and rolling out the skins was always an attraction.

Ratskeller pizzas were made differently from any other I had experienced. The sauce was a proprietary blend of spices created by Roy and his mother, Grandma Moore, (the latter also being responsible for a kick-ass Roquefort dressing.) The spice packets were mixed up off-site, and transported to the restaurants where they were combined with brown sugar, red dye, and tomato sauce in large plastic barrels. The sauce was thick, and applied to the pizza skins with a large basting brush.

The cheese used was nothing extraordinary, but a mixture of about 75% mozzarella and 25% cheddar was used, each being crumbled through a grinder (you can see the two cheeses in the bins above.)

Ratskeller Menu Inside Right

The menu above shows a later iteration of the restaurant’s offerings than they served in the first two stored, but most of the old standbys were there.

The Ratskeller made an effort to use only the best ingredients. They used Hormel dry Italian salami and pepperoni, which was sliced at the restaurant for freshness. The ground beef was mixed with red Burgundy wine, onions, salt and pepper; and the sausage was mixed with Sauterne, salt, pepper and caraway seeds. Abundance was the watchword. A “Rat” was made by loading a crust with sauce, cheddar and mozzarella; placing salami on the pizza as closely as possible without overlapping the slices; and then filling in all the gaps with pepperoni so that no cheese was visible. Heavy amounts of beef and sausage were added, followed by mushrooms, split black olives (placed by hand, face down!) and if desired, onions and green peppers. A pepperoni pizza was made such that the entire surface of the pizza was covered with meat – no cheese visible. The Country Club was a Ratskeller combination with anchovies. Portuguese linguiça was a specialty sausage that was not available at other pizza restaurants.

The pizza crust was also unique, and that I can tell you how to make – at least, in 50-pound batches.

42.5 lbs flour
1 C Powdered Milk
1 C Salt
1 C Sugar
1 C Diastatic Diamalt
6 oz. active dry yeast
2 lb. lard
3 gal. hot water
2 T. baking soda

The lard was melted in the hot water in a large commercial mixer, and the other dry ingredients (except the flour) were added. When everything was mixed, the flour was put in – we never weighed it, but you got a feel for where to pinch the 50-lb bag off to get just the right amount. Mixing dough was more of an art than a science – you mixed it until it looked like it was still too dry, and then dumped it out into a large plastic bucket lined with a plastic bag, and left it to rise overnight. In the morning it was perfect – and when it was punched down, it would exhale enough carbon dioxide to asphyxiate the entire Chinese army, or give a kitchen worker a real buzz (but you never heard that from me).

The dough was then rolled out with an industrial roller into a ribbon about 17” wide, and the skins were cut out with huge cookie-cutters, well-floured, pierced, stacked on pizza tins in groups of a dozen, and refrigerated. These could then be peeled off and loaded as needed. Rolling skins was also an artistic venture, and I learned from the fastest roller in the company, Bill Medlin.

For your gratuitous pleasure, here’s the same recipe cut down to family size:

Proportional Recipe (Makes 2 crusts)

3 C flour (1 lb.)
1 ¼ tsp. Powdered Milk
1 ¼ tsp Salt
1 ¼ tsp Sugar
1 ¼ tsp Diastatic Diamalt
¾ tsp active dry yeast
4 Tbsp. lard
1 1/8 C water
1/8 tsp. baking soda

Into hot water, mix lard until dissolved. Add all dry ingredients except flour and mix until dissolved. Add flour. Mix until dough begins to form together – it may look too dry, but you don’t want to mix the dough until it’s soft and elastic like you would for bread dough.

Turn out into a greased bowl, cover, and let rise overnight.

Punch down, turn out, and cut into two pieces.

Roll out the crust with a rolling pin to 1/8” thick. You may want to fold the dough in half twice and roll it out a couple of more times. Pierce with a fork in numerous places to avoid bubbles. Load up and bake on a pre-heated pizza stone on the hottest setting your oven can manage.

Ratskeller Menu Inside Left

 

Ratskeller also made some really nice sandwiches, on French sourdough or nice rye rolls brought in from local bakeries. Working there for a full shift, you always got a meal – either a sandwich or a personal-sized pizza which you could make yourself, and I always experimented with numerous odd combinations. My favorite was Canadian Bacon with mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and smoked oysters.

I lived on pizza for about three years. Mistakes were not common, because the staff was well-trained, but when one was made – either a wrong order or an overdone pizza – it was usually placed on top of the oven where it evaporated quickly. As I mentioned in another post, sometimes (not often), the guys in the kitchen would get tired of pizza, and we’d trade a bunch of food with the guys across the street at Piccadilly Fish and Chips.

As time went on, the restaurant opened branches across from the Salt Palace, in Millcreek, and in Cottonwood Heights. Working double shifts with no overtime got to be more than I could handle, and I left the Ratskeller in January of 1974 and moved to Pipes and Pizza. As a result, I’m not privy to the remaining story of expansion and decline, but I know the quality of the food was not an issue – they made the best American pizza I have ever had. My suspicion is that they expanded too far and too fast, had management problems in their additional locations, and that their generous formulas became economically unviable. Whatever the case, I remember their food with great fondness; as the company has not existed for decades, I wish dearly that I could get my hands on their sauce recipe for my own use at home. And I wouldn’t say no to that roquefort formula, either.

Oh, and that map I mentioned at the beginning? Here it is, showing the nearest pizza chain of the most popular national brands:

tumblr_mvxouxvAMK1rasnq9o1_1280

 

An old forum acquaintance of mine, who went by the handle “Grassy Noel,” came up with the best pizza-related slogan I have ever heard:

“Pizza will get you through times of no answers better than answers will get you through times of no pizza.”

So If you’re distraught, this map will give you an idea of places you don’t want to be.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] Now a French patisserie, the Gourmandise. The Sugarhouse location became “Fellowship Hall,” a drop-in center for veterans where 12-step meetings were also held. The pictures below show the interior, and some features are still recognizable.

IMAGE_00002

The kitchen area converted into dining tables.

IMAGE_00003

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The fireplace and dining areas are still largely the same.

IMAGE_00005

Showing the rear office areas

Ratskeller Remodeled 2008

Dining areas

 

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One response to “Because Pizza – the Ratskeller

  1. Pingback: “He takes them to a pastry shop to eat some good cakes.” | Playing in the World Game

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