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It was my friend the Gentle Giant who reminded me on one of my recent trips to our nation’s capital: One of the best pizzas in Europe, if not the world is found in Copenhagen!
Or so the rumor has spread across the internet fueled by mentions on such major and influential sites as Big 7 Travel and numerous others! – “One of the best pizzas in the world, you say? Want to go decide for ourselves,” I asked rhetorically in response to his friendly reminder, and instantly a plan was formed!
Is this one of the best pizzas in the world?
Now, full disclosure, the Gentle Giant and I have gotten some terribly stupid spur-of-the-moment ideas together over the years – with sometimes humorous, sometimes disastrous results – but pizza hunting in Copenhagen was certainly not one such terribly stupid idea. So, in the company of Giant’s beautiful girlfriend, we headed out to Nørrebro one early Friday evening in search of star chef Christian Puglisi’s pizza venture, BÆST.
It’s probably hard for a foodie not to have heard of BÆST (literally: Beast). It has been all over the national and international media in the past few years. However, should you not yet have heard its song of priase, allow me to fill you in: In the trendier part of Copenhagen’s Nørrebro borough, internationally renowned star chef Christian Puglisi of Relæ (and The Mind of a Chef) fame has set up shop. Pizza shop more specifically. Along with partner Kim Rossen, he has created a tribute to his native Italy; a loud and bustling space where gourmet pizzas are fired up fast and hot in a custom-imported pizza oven and served at breakneck speed to hordes of hungry diners in a modern, trendy space. Nice and gimmicky as that all may sound, here comes the twist: BÆST is much more than just any other pizza place, it represents a strange but loveable mission by decorated chefs to make simple, local, organic, quality food available to the masses in an informal, often loud and busy setting:
The main attraction is the pizza, of course, but what is more interesting and impressive than serving one of the world’s supposedly best pizzas is the supply chain that goes into spinning it out. All produce and dairy for the is sourced from Puglisi’s own Farm of Ideas located only 40 kilometers from the restaurant, while the pork which accounts for most of the animal protein used at BÆST is of a local, historic, Danish, organic breed. From these local, organic, quality ingredients, (nearly) everything on the menu is crafted inhouse: from the pizzas themselves over wonderful cheeses to world class charcuterie and a number of small, seasonal dishes scattered across the menu.
Chaotic service and lovely drinks situation
The Gentle Giant, the beautiful lady and I arrive at BÆST on a sunny Friday afternoon for a very early evening seating, only to find the place already quite nicely packed and buzzing with waiters running in all directions with (ironically) no apparent sense of direction. We are seated quickly and politely then left with a drink menu and plenty of time to decide.
The interior at BÆST. Our table is seen to the right under Mr. Americano. Photo Credit: Bæst Press Kit
I personally decide to kick things off with BÆST’s signature cocktail, the BÆST Sprtiz’ino, a delightfully refreshing mix of bitter Aperol and organic apple cider which, at DKK 75 (EUR 10) turns out to be a surprisingly good (and potent) deal. It also quickly becomes the envy of the Gentle Giant who ordered an otherwise beautiful mix of cachaca and herbs known as First Thymer. The lady – not unwisely – opts for a glass classic white Grechetto from Umbria: lightly sweet, herbal, fruity, refreshingly acidic and sold by the glass.
Aperol and apple cider spritz. Strangely addictive!
Thus armed, we gaze at the menu and quickly decide on a battle plan: We want a bit of everything! Well, almost everything… We couldn’t possibly eat everything! Lord knows the Giant and I tried this procedure at Motley Eatery and Bar a while back and it nearly broke us… So, a reasonable compromise ensues in which we order a selection of charcuterie and cheese, an extra side order of sourdough bread (which at BÆST, it should be noted, amounts to one slice) and three pizzas to share. Easy does it, after all.
Make Bread Great Again: Mirabelle’s Miraculous Sourdough
The first thing to fall victim to our greedy little hands are thick fresh thick slices of freshly-baked sourdough from BÆST’s pretty, little cousin next door, Mirabelle Bakery. And they are things of epic, rustic beauty.
We are presented with a masterpiece of baking featuring an Incredible, crunchy crust with just the right amount of charring to make it taste smoky and intense, yet not burnt – all wrapped around a soft, airy, slightly moist crumb that pulls apart easily and dissolves in the mouth in an explosion of notably sour, perfectly salted, fermented gluten happiness. The sort of bread that reminds you exactly how inferior most of the bread of today can be and just how intensely properly made bread from proper flour can taste. “The Manitoba flour really adds an accent of the own,” calls out the giant. We believe him and turn our attention towards one of my favorite obsessions: cheese!
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BÆST produces top class cheese and charcuterie
“Well, I know it’s just mozzarella,” says the Gentle Giant as we dig into the first house-made cheese of the evening, “but what a mozzarella at that,” I finish in awe. It’s soft yet with bite, slightly chewy yet creamy with a mild and distinctly fresh, milky and salty flavor… And that says a lot for mozzarella. As far cheeses go, mozzarella is probably the simplest and mildest of all. Not unsurprisingly this makes the freshness and quality of the milk used pivotal to mozzarella-making success.
In the case of this very mozzarella, the freshness and quality of the milk probably doesn’t get much better in our fair kingdom. BÆST’s mozzarella is made from raw cow’s milk from Puglisi’s own cows at Farm of Ideas, freshly milked every morning, transported to the restaurant then transformed to traditionally hand-kneaded mozzarella and served fresh the same night. The result? The freshest, most local damn cheese you’ll probably ever have – unless of course you take a crash course in milking and pick up cheese-making yourself.
Much the same praise can be sung for our second serving of cheese , BÆST Stracciatella, which perhaps somewhat to the dismay of the Gentle Giant turns out to be not a type of ice cream, but a pulled stringy, shredded milky cheese often used to stuff burrata – rich and creamy with the same distinct flavor of fresh, local, raw milk.
Having obsessed probably a little too long and a little too deeply on the subject of cheese, we turn our attention to the charcuterie, the second pride and soul of BÆST. We fight our way through cooked and smoked ham, cured and smoked prosciutto, bresaola and a spicy, cured salami in no particular order and with increasing amounts of satisfaction and awe.
Not long ago, even the greatest of food experts thought it absolutely impossible to produce quality cured charcuterie in Denmark. The climate, conditions, skills and traditions were simply not in place, they said. Yet, here we are on a sunny Danish summer evening at the heart of Nørrebro, Copenhagen, eating quality prosciutto and bresaola and salami produced on site from local organic pork which just so happens to be some of the best in the world… Unthinkable, some might say, unless they drop by and see with their own eyes the specimens hanging freely on display in the dry curing chamber near the back of the restaurant, then taste for themselves the end product.
As far as tasting goes, the cured meats served at BÆST are absolute world-class and salami, too, is out if the world… Or at the very least like something straight out of Southern Europe: Rich, fatty, full of spice and flavor, funky, moldy and fermented to perfection. But best is perhaps the cooked, smoked prosciutto which melt in our mouths in an explosion of gently smoked, pure-bred pork flavor to the tune of several “Oh my Gods” and at least one foodgasm.
In fact, even at this early stage, we all mutually agree that BÆST is well worth a visit for the quality drinks and food. This, mind you, without even having made it to the so-called main attraction: the supposed 2nd best pizza in Europe. The Gentle Giant and I also wholeheartedly that it’s time for another drink!
World class Pizza Margherita
As we sit there, sipping on our second and first round of drinks respectively, the fourth somewhat disorganized, somewhat confused and somewhat rushed waiter encountered thus far delivers what we came for: pizza!
Pizzas at BÆST are served family style: one by one, sliced to facilitate sharing, and our first order of business this evening is the simplest of pizzas to envision yet the hardest to master: Pizza Margherita!
The BÆST Margherita! Photo Credit: Martin ‘Gentle Giant’ Elkjær.
Now, I’m not afraid to state it openly: I judge a pizzeria by their Margherita pizza. That seemingly simple combination of crust, tomato, mozzarella, basil and nothing more. It’s the simplest of simple and if you can’t make a good Margherita, you can’t make good pizza. It’s that simple, I’m sorry. On the other hand, though, a proper pizza Margherita is just about the best thing in the world… And speaking of the best thing in the world, the Margherita at BÆST is the sort of thing that belongs in a museum. Or at the least on a pedestal somewhere to be referred to as a benchmark of pizza!
Starting with the crust, I’m reminded of the famous words of fellow food geek Alton Brown: “toppings do not a good pizza make!” – or paraphrasing slightly: if you don’t have good crust, you’ll never have good pizza. BÆST has good crust. Very, very good crust. We’re dealing with a sourdough-base once again, made from a combination of biodynamic Italian flour and Danish organic flour. Together they produce a base with flavor and funk that is clearly notable in the final product: yeasty, salty and sour with added tones of smoke and char brought on by a 60 second hell-ride in the 500C wood fired oven from Napoli that also leaves a distinctly charred pattern.
Like the oven from whence they came, the BÆST pizzas are clearly Neapolitan in origin and style: Thin-crusted and crispy-bottomed yet still soggy in nature with prominently risen, charred, bubbly edges. Some diners, notably those weened onto the Roman-style paper-thin, ultra-crispy crust pizzas, may object, but to me. this particular style is pizza perfection.
The toppings, too, are classic, Neapolitan-style perfection: a no fuzz sweet, slightly tangy, very lightly seasoned and absolutely wonderful flavor bomb of a tomato sauce as a base, bursting with sun-ripened tomato flavor and not much else. Add to that BÆST’s mozzarella made fresh the very same morning plus a scattering of basil leaves and you have the best and most balanced Pizza Margherita I have personally ever had the pleasure of eating. Seriously. I’m am by no means surprised that according to Big 7 Travel, the only pizza in Europe to best BÆST (pun intended) is the Margherita from L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in, you probably guessed it, Napoli.
Is the Margherita the benchmark of BÆST pizza?
So is the Margherita at BÆST really so perfect, and if so why? In a few short words: Yes, yes it is! Why? Well, if you ask me to venture a guess (and I know you didn’t), I would by no means be surprised if the humble Margherita is the pizza on which BÆST has purposefully built their concept, reputation and business. It so immaculately balanced and the ingredients complement one another as if they were tailored to perfection by a Michelin-starred chef to form the base of a business. Oh, wait. Anyway, I digress: Never in my life have I seen a greater balance of flavors in a pizza. Period. That being said, it also quickly quite appearant that the Margherita was the very best BÆST had to offer in terms of pizza.
By comparison, our next pizza featuring semi-dried tomatoes and prosciutto, while more-than-enjoyable, seemed ever so slightly off-balance with the flavor of the crust peeking through a little too prominently and the tomatoes offering not quite enough sweetness and depth to counteract the sour, charred notes of the crust. The house prosciutto, though, was as wonderful as ever and the fresh, floral bite of fresh oregano a welcome herbal punch in the palate…
Less of a welcome punch was the pancetta on our third and final pizza of the evening, a green asparagus and pancetta combo. For whatever reason, purposefully or not, the pancetta had charred from the heat of the oven, offering a strange, tough yet charcoal-like mouthfeel and a burnt overtone to the grassy notes of asparagus that didn’t sit too well on top of a base of an otherwise appealing base of house-made smoked mozzarella.
Green asparagus and charred pancetta pizza – ,my least favorite bite of the evening. Photo Credit: Martin ‘Gentle Giant’ Elkjær.
Not a distinctly horrible pizza by any stretch of the imagination, probably better than you would find in many other pizza joints, but in going from perfection to enjoyable in three pizzas, it seemed a little off. Attempts were made to understand and even explain the discrepancy, but in the end, we all unanimously agreed that our first pizza of the evening was simply the better choice on the menu, then chowed down our few remaining slices.
Wrapping it up: BÆST, in conclusion
Eating at BÆST is by no means an all-night ordeal. If you’ve been smart enough to book a table (and you should!) it’s yours for two hours. Service moves fast (and slightly disorganized) at BÆST, though, and ss little as one hour or less will probably suffice if you’re in a hurry to catch a movie at nearby Empire Bio or a beer at BRUS beer bar across the street.
In the case of our own stuffed heroes, we surrender after a 90 minute onslaught of starch, fat and meat. We kindly pass on the dessert offerings and end up with a more than reasonable total of around DKK 1000 (EUR 133) for three pizzas, charcuterie, extra bread, two types of cheese and some pickled vegetables for good measure.
“Really,” murmurs the Gentle Giant, as we move along for pastures new, “all of that… for that?” – I have no choice but to concur, and that very feeling of value for money sticks with me long into the eveinng even as we move on to Motley, another of my favorite value-for-money spots in Copenhagen, to digest the experience over some Champagne and cheese for dessert. Because, really, in a city where restaurant prices easily spin out of control, DKK 1000 for an organic, homemade, sustainable feast for three – drinks included – seems shockingly cheap.
What better way to digest a few pizzas than over a bit of cheese and champagne at one of your favorite Nørrebro haunts?
Another thing that sticks with me is how fitting of a name BÆST (Beast) seems for Puglisi’s pizza venture – for it is a bit of a strange beast: parts pizza shop, parts food lab, parts cheese shop and parts producer of some of the finest charcuterie in the land. Not quite Italian and not quite Danish, they blend Italian pizza tradition with Danish farm to table principles and a New Nordic approach to focusing on local, seasonal, organic ingredients and the results are rather wonderful.
The may produce traditional Italian-style cheeses and Southern European-inspired charcuterie using the freshest of local, Danish ingredients and pump pizzas out of a 500C wood-fired Italian oven, yet they are by no means an Italian restaurant. Take a closer look at the menu and you’ll find pizzas featuring (oftne seasonal) local ingredients such as green asparagus, new potatoes, Danish blue cheese, house-made sausage and spinach. Like Puglisi himself, it’s a weird clash of cultures that just seem to work out for the better. A strange beast but a wonderful one at that.
BÆST offers some truly memorable bites in a hip, slightly cold open space that is often noise-filled if not slightly chaotic, and they do so with passion and a mission: To make money for the Puglisi empire, obviously, but also to make local, organic, top quality food available to the masses at a price that most will be able to afford. It’s farm to table in every sense of the word at a level that you rarely see these days and at a price that is rarely seen in Hipster-town.
DKK 85 – 155 for a pizza certainly isn’t cheap, but nor is it by any means outrageously expensive. Especially not when considering the thought, dedication and preparation that goes into every single pizza or every single component thereof. Honestly, you *could* not fault BÆST for raising their prices with 10 % – you can however applaud them for not doing so
Thank you, BÆST! We shall return for the charcuterie, the cheese and the Margherita! While other pizzas of the evening showed faults and somewhat warrants some of the criticism voiced towards BÆST by my fellow foodies, the Margherita in the eyes of this food blogger fully explains why you deserve your spot amongst the best pizzas in Europe – and the world!