Warm up with a slice of Joe

From thirty below to three hundred above: Joe’s Wood Fired Pizza

One minute you’re in Whitehorse, standing outside NVD Place (or, as it’s more commonly known, the Old Canadian Tire) and then you walk into Joe’s Wood Fired Pizza and wonder how on Earth you got to Dawson so quickly.

Joe Cooke cheerfully waves at us as we walk in as if we’re old friends. It turns out a lot of Joe’s guests are, in fact, old friends. Many of the tables seated around us were visitors from Dawson, where Joe’s Wood Fired Pizza used to be before moving to Whitehorse last year.

The space is unrecognizable for those who remember its most recent tenants, North of Ordinary. The first thing you see when you come in is the star of the whole operation. The wood fired oven reaches tall through the ceiling. More on that beauty in a minute.

Joe’s is a warm and inviting space with several romantic two-person booths and tables for up to six guests. The kitchen (including a nicely stocked bar) is open for all to see.

Visitors will be greeted by the same menu as was offered in Dawson. It was working, so Joe kept it.

On the advice of a friend, we started with the focaccia. The bread is dotted with rosemary and served with a very generous portion of baked spinach and artichoke dip. The dip is cheesy, hot and satisfying.

While my partner opted for wine, I turned to the cocktail menu. The Aperol spritz caught my eye. For the uninitiated, Aperol is an Italian aperitif with a bright orange colour and a bitter herbal rhubarb flavour that is reminiscent of citrus. Prosecco is added to make a fizzy Aperol spritz.

We debated the pizza menu for some time. There are some “everyday favourites” (think Hawaiian, pepperoni and plain cheese), but we were really into the traditional Italian and house specialities. We ended up ordering the Bismark, with its prosciutto and fresh cracked eggs, and Autumn Pears, featuring blue cheese sauce, pears, caramelized onion, walnuts and parmesan.

I visited Joe’s when it was in Dawson a few years ago with some Swiss travelers I’d met near Chicken, Alaska. The transition of being grubby from camping, then eating hot food you didn’t cook yourself is powerful enough that it might make anything taste incredible. But I’m happy to report that Joe’s Pizza is actually as incredible as I remembered it.

The intense wood fire heat makes the crust crispy but not overdone. This is a thin-crust pizza. The Autumn Pears in particular has a lot of flavours, but they’re strategically placed and cut finely enough that you get the right amount in every bite.

My partner and I told ourselves we were going to leave room for dessert, but we couldn’t hold back from the pizzas in front of us. We ended up quite full. Fortunately, I convinced her that readers of this column would want me to tell them about dessert, so we forged ahead.

Dessert is a wood-fired pizza with bananas and Nutella on it. We were surprised it came as a full-size pizza. I could imagine coming in just for dessert. We enjoyed a few pieces alongside an espresso and took the rest home.

Throughout the evening, Joe’s was visited by several people coming in to pick up take-out. Joe does a bit of everything. He takes care of the cocktails, waits on the tables, handles the take-out orders and even answers the phone. His staff are mostly at work making dough and working in the kitchen.

In spite of being rather busy, Joe is a friendly and social guy. He still found time to chat with folks and tell us about his hydroponic set up in the front window. It’s undergoing repairs right now, but when it’s going, he’ll be growing rows of fresh herbs in the window.

Joe also told me all about that beautiful wood-fired oven. It’s a Forno Bravo oven. His is the only place in the Yukon you can buy wood-fired pizza. This oven is bigger than the one Joe had in Dawson and it’s quite efficient. A small stack of wood at its base lasts the whole day. It’s also well insulated. The oven stays hot enough overnight that Joe comes in and bakes bread on the residual heat the next day. It takes 45 minutes for the fire to get the oven hot enough for pizza (90 minutes if they’ve been closed for a few days) and the cooking zone hits a blistering 350 to 400 degrees C.

Don’t invite your gluten-free friend—this isn’t the outing for them. There’s only one oven surface and it’s full of delicious (gluten) pizza.

My partner was wondering aloud why we hadn’t come sooner. We’ll definitely be back soon. Snow is still falling now, but I’m already looking forward to the summer to enjoy an Aperol spritz on Joe’s patio.

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