On Being Pieous

by Meredith Bethune
Photography by Dustin Meyer


“Mom, I think people really like our restaurant,” declares five-year-old Daisy after another busy day at Pieous, the new pizzeria operating out of an old barbecue joint on Highway 290 West. Owners Josh and Paige Kaner’s three children are fixtures at the new eatery, and sometimes Daisy and her three-year-old brother, Casper, will “sit at the bar and order when we’re most busy,” Paige says with a laugh. “They’re little ambassadors of the restaurant,” boasts Josh.

The Kaners first met as coworkers at a record label in Los Angeles, where they immediately connected over food. “Food is really a huge bond between us,” says Paige. “Seeing it, smelling it, touching it, tasting it, learning about it…every single thing about it.” A few years later, they left Los Angeles for a more relaxed lifestyle. “We were ready for change,” she says, “and Austin just spoke to us because of the food, music and the country.”

Several years after settling in Texas, and despite advice from well-meaning family and friends, the couple ditched their stable careers as an attorney and an accountant to pursue the dream of owning a restaurant—a dream that, in many ways, had been fermenting for over 12 years. While still in Los Angeles, Josh made a sourdough starter using Napa Valley grapes. Today, the same starter is used at Pieous for their extraordinarily soft and chewy sourdough bread and pizza doughs. Deciding on “Pieous” as the name for the new venture came easily to Josh and seemed fated—and not just because of the obvious wordplay. “We’re devoted to food,” he says. “Food is our religion.”

 

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Pieous’s exterior still exudes the rustic Texas charm that first attracted the Kaners to the property, but Josh painstakingly gutted and redesigned the interior himself. According to Paige, “there’s nothing Josh does that he doesn’t put his entire being into. He’s one of the few people who has a dream and will do anything to make it happen.” In fact, she thinks it’s a big reason why Josh has succeeded as a self-taught pizzaiolo. “I’m a perfectionist,” Josh admits. “As long as you’re trying for perfection, you’re going to get something great.”

The glowing wood-burning oven that bakes pies in less than 90 seconds is the undisputed star of the restaurant’s bright interior. A bread baker at heart, Josh considers his preferred Neapolitan style of pizza making akin to old-fashioned bread baking. “It’s pizza in its simplest, purest form,” he says. “It consists simply of flour, water, salt and our starter.” The dough is stirred, kneaded and rolled by hand, and then topped with the highest quality ingredients—including local meats and veggies, when available. “We have no packaged mozzarella,” Josh adds. “Instead we make it fresh every morning.”

Josh feels blissfully unplugged from the world while busy at Pieous—only dipping into the Internet to check the weather and alter his pizza dough as needed. Heat, humidity and even rain can affect the starter, which only adds to the mystique of the Neapolitan style. “Every pizza is different,” he says. “Even if you make two Margheritas back-to-back, they won’t be the same. It could be the heat of the oven in different spots, or the different ways the flame kisses the cheese.”

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Because the Kaners are dedicated to cooking from scratch, their menu is limited. Yet customers don’t seem to mind the practice of doing fewer things but doing them very well. Some of the more popular offerings are the House-Smoked Italian Sausage pie and the Bacon Bleu pie topped with homemade caramelized onion and bacon marmalade, Gorgonzola and fresh arugula. The Margherita and the Marinara pies follow traditional Neapolitan topping recipes, and all of the pies have the characteristics and toasted-marshmallow quality found in a good Neapolitan pizza: a thin crust circled by a pillowy edge dotted with singe marks.

There is one completely unexpected item on the menu, though: housemade pastrami. It seemed like such a waste to get rid of the old smoker left on the property by the previous owners, that Josh, in true perfectionist style, added pastrami to his palette of new talents. The rosy meat is thinly sliced and served as a sandwich or on a platter with pickles, mustard and sourdough bread. “It’s so weird that it works,” says Josh. “I can’t say why, but it does.” Paige’s specialties like fresh salads with homemade dressings and pies, cookies and brownies round out the menu.

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Managing a fledgling business while raising three children would be more than enough for most couples, but the Kaners’ dedication to quality food fuels their work. “I don’t care that I’m tired because I love what I do,” Paige says. Actually, the couple is already brimming with ideas for the future. They hope to eventually offer breakfast and daily specials, and they’d like to sell fresh tacos out of the other building on their property. “Pieous is our laboratory,” Josh says. “It’s our foot in the door to the restaurant business, and hopefully there will be many more things to come.”

For more information visit facebook.com/Pieous