Reilly Craft Pizza Reveres Pizza and Its Historic Setting

July 30, 2012

By Teya Vitu


Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, 101 E. Pennington St., is very much Tyler Fenton’s world, five years in its creation.

Reilly Pizza owner Tyler Fenton (left) designed the banquette so he could rest his elbow on it. He’s with his brother and business partner, Zach Fenton.

He has envisioned a pizza establishment for the long-time Reilly Funeral Home building ever since his father, Steve Fenton, acquired the 1908 (maybe 1906) brick structure at auction in 2007.

Those five years took Tyler Fenton from a mere 17-year-old with a pizzeria already penciled out in his mind to a 22-year-old now ready to foist upon the world his ideas of pizza, pasta, interior design, and robustly celebrating history.

Fenton expects to open Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink on Aug. 1.

“A lot of people get in a rut of wanting to do something and never do it. I didn’t want that to happen to myself,” Fenton said.

Fenton kept the Reilly name but everything inside is Tyler Fenton’s imagination. It starts right at the hostess station. The right side is straight and the left side is curved, the subtlest hint that the windows at the bar on the building’s right side are rectangular, and the dining room windows on the left side are rounded.

Right behind the hostess station, a series of narrow columns run straight down the middle of the building. Prior to Fenton, walls were built into these columns to create several rooms. Fenton tore down all the interior walls to work with an open space.

“I want the space more cohesive rather than divided,” Fenton said.

The open space does have distinct spaces. A two-sided banquette sets the dining room apart from the bar. Two nooks flanking the front door serve as a lounge and a private dining area that can be isolated with a curtain.

“As we knocked out walls, I said keep it all,” Tyler said. “They were throwing away the lathe. I reclaimed the wood for the wall in the bar. I reclaimed the lathe for the wall in the lounge.”

Two tables are made with doors from the building.

The restroom M and W are made with bottle and ceramic scraps found in a well on-site.

The letters W and M for the restrooms are crafted from bottle, toy and dish fragments found in a well under the building. The round glass table under the elegant, vintage chandelier has as its base the building’s elevator gear.

“We wanted to make an awesome corner table,” Fenton said.

Tyler Fenton has an affinity for black-and-white banquettes. You can find them in the dining room, bar and lounge.

“We specifically designed the height for being able to put your arm up,” Fenton said while seated at a banquette with his arm up. “We were going to create a balance of historic and modern, In modern, we went with industrial.”

Pizza enthusiasts can pick a number of settings to dig into the pie. You lay your slice on a wooden pizza paddle (or pizza peel for the cognoscenti) and sandwiches come on a sandwich board.

The dinning room has black butcher block tables, wooden chairs and the banquettes. Pizza gets delivered to the bar, lounge and private dining. There’s even a five-seat pizza bar, right in front of the pizza oven.

“This is for people who want to watch the action,” said Zach Fenton, Tyler’s brother and business partner. “You can eat, drink and you have a show. We’ll serve pizza anywhere.”

Zach and Tyler Fenton at the pizza oven.

Come fall that will include outdoor pizza at the indoor/outdoor sports bar with many televisions.

“Our food is a cross between regional Italian with kind of a modern flair,” Tyler Fenton said. “We’re not a pizzeria in Italy. We don’t have to follow the rulebook.”

But Fenton does follow the rulebook for pasta dishes.

“A lot of our sauces are made in the pan with the pasta,” he said. “That’s the way they do it in Italy. You cook the pasta with the sauce so it all becomes one. You cook the spaghetti one minute short and then put it in the sauce for a minute.”

The Reilly pizza dough is another matter altogether. We’re not talking New York or Chicago.

“The pizza dough has four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. It’s the technique that creates the unique dough. Our dough is a 48-hour process. It has a very high hydration. It’s almost equal parts flour and water. It creates a lighter dough with an open hole structure. It get a good crisp to it in the oven. Traditional dough has almost twice as much flour than water.

“We’re definitely not in any of the major schools (New York or Chicago). Our dough is West Coast. L.A. and Seattle influenced us. Our school is the new school.”

Reilly Craft Pizza has nine artisanal pizzas on the menu (fennel sausage + roasted peppers and Yukon gold potato + pecorino are two), but Fenton believes in straying off-the-menu.

The wide-open dining room at Reilly Craft Pizza evokes the history of the building.

“Our philosophy here is ‘yes, what’s the question?’ If you want some crazy combination, we’ll make it happen,” Fenton said.

For those that don’t mind ordering off the menu, the pizza selections include margherita (sauce, mozzarella, basil), speck + farm egg (sauce, mozzarella, fontina) and arugula + prosciutto (mozzarella, fontina, lemon, parmigianno).

House-made pasta offerings are papardelle, ravioli, cavatelli, spaghetti, tagliatelle and gnocchi.

“We go for a quick sauce that goes for three minutes before you eat it,” Fenton said. “Sauces are made to order.”

Salads area an adventure in themselves, revolving around Fenton’s desire “to create textural differences” such as a salad crispy apple, a crunchy walnut brittle and a pungent gorgonzola.

Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink offers 20 draft beers – all craft beers – and eight wines from the keg and another 15 bottled wines.

Reilly Pizza stars off with 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. hours seven days a week. Within a few weeks, Fenton expects Thursday, Friday and Saturdays to extend to 2 a.m.