Harvest Pizza's new pie puts the freeze on fresh

It's Friday night at Harvest Pizzeria, and diners are spilling out onto the German Village eatery's small brick patio, willingly waiting sometimes more than an hour for a taste of owner Chris Crader's wood-fired pies.

The scene is similarly crowded the other five days Harvest is open. But still, people wanted more, Crader says.

Opting not to expand hours to a seventh day, Crader began offering partially cooked pizza customers could enjoy at home. And for the first year, the par-baked pizza crowd was steady but small.

Then, Jeni Britton Bauer issued a challenge to Crader: Could he craft a good frozen pie she could distribute alongside other locally produced products, such as Luna burgers and Brezel pretzels, under her Eat Well label?

"We all felt that if you go to a grocery store, the frozen pizza options were pretty limited," says Crader, who accepted the challenge.

He began experimenting with different combinations of dough and ingredients-variations that involved leaving some ingredients raw, some partially baked and all of those combinations cooked at temperatures starting at 325 degrees to well beyond 800.

"We spent about a month testing and trying 1,000 different variables, it seems-but it was probably only hundreds-until we found one we liked," Crader says.

He settled on par-baking dough and toppings at 875 degrees in Harvest's wood-fired oven for about 30 to 45 seconds. "The pizzas are baked just until the dough rises and we get a little light brown color on the crust," Crader says. "Then we flash-freeze them and send them out."

Crader's first batch hit the aisles of Weiland's Gourmet Market, both Hills Markets and Huffman's Market in June, and he sold 240 pies within the first 10 days. For now, you can find frozen versions of their Spicy Yuma, Fennel Sausage and Ohio Mushroom, with more options hopefully on the way.

How can you get close to a restaurant quality bake at home? Bake it at the highest temperature you can, around 500 degrees, Crader says.

"If you bake it low and slow, the moisture that is in the dough dries out. You get a cracker-y product," he says. "We like a nice brown crust that still has the chew that we're looking for."