As a card-carrying carnivore, I entered Two Boots with some misgivings. This quirky, new pizzeria in Stamford’s Harbor Point was celebrating World Vegan Month, prompting manager Roberta Petit to invite CTbites over for a tasting of The Super Vegan, a totally plant-based “pizzaextravaganza.” Nothing on the pie comes from a creature.
‘Za without juicy sausage? Or gooey cheese? C’mon, this is Connecticut.
“We’re talking salad on a crust,” I mumbled to myself as I sat down with Roberta. My immediate resolution: to earn a positive review, the pizza would have to be “great” in its own right, not a pie that was good – as it were — for a vegan pizza.
No handicaps. No excuses. Nothing less than a party in my mouth.
A pizza without cheese was particularly concerning. Creamy, chewy and elastic, melted cheese is what binds a pizza, melding toppings and crust into a lush, multiflavored whole. In my mind, without cheese the vegan pie could easily turn into deconstructed pizza.
Roberta explained that the main dairy substitute was Daiya, an alt-cheese that melts and stretches, unlike other vegan substitutes. Daiya is primarily fashioned from tapioca flour, arrowroot, and pea protein. Ingredients not found in any other pizza pantry in Stamford.
“Tasted alone, by itself, Daiya is not as yummy as cheese,” the manager allowed, “but combined with our fresh vegetables, the tomato sauce, the homemade pestos, and the crust, I can’t really tell the difference.”
“Melted wax,” I thought to myself.
Roberta pointed out that Two Boots also adds in a second dairy free cheese, a homemade tofu-based “ricotta.” This extra, as well as broccoli, upgrades the original “V For Vegan” recipe featured on the menu year round. That pizza was created for the Occupy Wall Street movement back in 2011 by this New York chain whose funky vibe reflects the forward and fun thinking of founder Phil Hartman.
“Actually, Phil was so ahead of the game, he started serving vegan pizza back in the 90’s,” Roberta told me. Hartman named his first vegan pie “Earth Mother,” in honor of Bette Midler and her efforts to save the East Village Community Gardens from developers. Today, the menu features five vegan choices year round, in addition to the build-your-own vegan options on the menu. The pies are so popular, Petit estimated that 1 out of every 4 pizzas they sell are vegan. She felt most are devoured by omnivores because the ingredients are not only tasty, but healthy and less calorific. (Since they are not dairy, the cheese substitutes are also free of common allergens, preservatives, and cholesterol.)
As my Super Vegan was being prepped, I wondered “Why Stamford?” The town is well served by almost forty pizzerias, and local loyalties tend to be unflinching. National chains such Papa Johns or Pizza Hut don’t bother to invade this artisan pizza mecca. Roberta acknowledged Two Boots still had work to do in establishing a beachhead in the city. Franchisee Ed Rosenthal, a restaurant business veteran who lives in and knows the area, opened the pizzeria just three months ago, convinced the market would support a new pizza experience.
Two Boots certainly brings many non-traditional toppings and crusts to the Stamford table. In addition to the vegan selection, the menu features a marriage of spicy Cajun and comforting Italian ingredients. Toppings of Andouille sausage, Crawfish, Cajun Ham, and Shrimp share pies with classic whole milk mozzarella as well as provolone or ricotta. (“Two Boots” refers to the similar geographical shapes of Italy and Louisiana.)
“It’s a taste you won’t find anywhere else in Stamford,” Roberta promised. Whole pies are served in three sizes — or by the slice, New York style, a rarity in Connecticut. Located just steps from Stamford’s busy train station, Two Boots expects that hungry commuters will order a grab and go slice for the ride home.
Ok, my slice of The Super Vegan had arrived from the ordering counter. Time for the taste test.
The presentation was inviting. A generous pizza triangle, sprinkled with raw broccoli and cross hatched with festive stripes of crimson and green colored pestos (sweet red peppers and basil) that wove through the veggie mashup and thick tomato sauce. The two cheese substitutes had oozed into the pie, perfectly integrated. The blended aromas beckoned. I gave the crust a New York fold, bit in and pulled back. The vegan cheese strings stretched out in lazy, swinging arcs, similar to a New Haven melted mozzie.
Wow. I found the flavors and textures of the Super Vegan unique, well balanced, and surprisingly delicious. A true comfort pizza. The sauce tasted both sweet and pungently acidic. The crust (made of dough rolled in corn meal) produced an audible, mouth pleasing crunch (though it stood a bit thicker and more robust than the thinner styles crafted at a Colony, Fortina, or Amore). Certainly, a no sog zone.
The vegetables – a mélange of sliced artichokes, shitake mushrooms, chopped red onions and those raw broccoli florets – delivered freshness and complexity to the pie. The cheese substitutes — though not as moist and bubbly as, let’s say, a young cheddar — melded nicely with the other toppings, providing unexpected unity, depth and creaminess, with not a hint of wax.
Roberta was right. In the context of the flavor package, I barely noticed the slight differences between the faux and for real cheese.
Final verdict: The Super Vegan was … in a word … “super.” I’d order it again in a heartbeat.
Along with a slice of “The Dude” which I spotted on the menu — a juicy Cajun Cheeseburger pie topped with tasso ham, ground beef and andouille, embraced by a gooey blend of dairy rich, sticky melted cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. A carnivore’s dream.
Now, you won’t find that pie, and certainly not the exceptional Super Vegan, anywhere else in Stamford, much less Connecticut.