Music and pizza are intrinsically linked.
Music and pizza are intrinsically linked.
Here in Columbus, a handful of local pizza shops double as concert venues, including Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Donatos Basement, a music space located in the subterranean level of one of the Columbus chain’s campus-area locations. Additionally, Mikey’s Late Night Slice has adopted live music as an essential aspect of its business plan, opening locations in the Park Street complex, which serves Park Street Saloon and Park Street Patio, and in the midst of the sprawling LC Pavilion complex.
The combination also surfaces in less obvious ways, with music inspiring creative pies at Yellow Brick Pizza like the Wu-Pie, a 36-topping behemoth the Olde Towne East shop offered for a limited time earlier this year.
Taking all this into account, it’s fitting the Pizza Underground — a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band that counts “Home Alone” alum Macaulay Culkin among its ranks — would include Columbus on its current tour. The band stops at Skully’s Music-Diner for a concert on Monday, Dec. 1.
Pizza Underground, which was unavailable for an interview, clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and its assortment of pizza-themed VU covers (“Pizza Morning,” “I’m Waiting for the Delivery Man,” etc.) tend to be every bit as cheesy as the sliced foodstuff from which it takes inspiration. Indeed, much of the attention the group has received to this point has centered on Culkin’s involvement, and the response from curiosity-seeking audiences has been a mixed bag, at best. One BandCamp review of the group’s 2013 demo simply reads “I bought this on accident,” and in May the musicians were booed off the stage 15 minutes into their set as part of the Dot to Dot Festival in Nottingham, England.
Inspired by the band’s coal-fired catalog, we reached out to a pair of local pizza mavens — Mikey Sorboro of Late Night Slice and Bobby Silver of Yellow Brick Pizza — to chat music, pizza, and the points where the two intersect. In addition, Sorboro, Late Night’s founder and Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Creative Officer Jason Biundo, cooked up a spicy, one-off pie riffing on Red Hot Chili Peppers, a cheesy, fiery slice of goodness slathered in homemade chili and liberally sprinkled with fresh-sliced ghost chilies.
“We had some hot peppers left over from the last [specialty] pizza we did (the available-once-a-year Fiery Death), and said, ‘Let’s make an outrageous pizza,’” said Sorboro, perched on a stool in his Late Night-adjacent Short North bar Oddfellows. “It gets us to stretch our legs. Sometimes you can get too focused on what you’re doing, and forget to involve imagination in it. It was cool to actually think outside the pizza box a little bit.”
At least a portion of Late Night Slice’s success can be attributed to its music-centric business plan, which has helped it evolve into the city’s go-to concert snack, feeding crowds at venues as far-flung as LC Pavilion, Park St. Saloon and the Newport.
“It was an intentional direction, and there was a good amount of luck as well,” Soboro said. “We partnered with Woodlands Tavern first back in 2010 … and we had been talking with PromoWest for probably two years before they called up and they offered us the Newport, which led to [the five-year contract with] LC outdoor. Everyone involved with Late Night is a huge music buff, and it’s been amazing exposure.”
To prove this point, Sorboro noted They Might Be Giants once posted a picture of the Late Night Slice box on its official Facebook page, and he showed off recent cell phone pictures of singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson receiving a delivery of Late Night Slice onstage at the LC.
While music has helped inform Late Night Slice’s business plan, the form bleeds into countless aspects of Yellow Brick Pizza, surfacing in everything from its artwork (chalk drawings depicting musicians as far-flung as Billy Ocean and Robert Plant) to its menu, which includes a pizza named for Elliott Smith, and has featured specialty pies named for everyone from the Wu-Tang Clan (the aforementioned Wu-Pie, a collaboration with Kraft House No. 5 chef Marcus Meacham) to Led Zeppelin (the Robert Eggplant).
“Music somehow finds its way into everything we do,” said Yellow Brick co-owner Bobby Silver, seated at the shop’s bar during a late-November interview. “I love talking about hip-hop and pizza, because with hip-hop you can sample from any kind of music and still make an amazing piece of music. Pizza is the same. You can sample from any cuisine out there.”
Both Silver and business partner Faith Pierce are musicians — Silver for one, has shared the stage with everyone from death metal bands to rappers, serving as touring bassist for a year alongside Columbus MC Blueprint — and the same creativity and collaborative spirit continues to fuel their joint venture.
“Pizza is band food; it’s buddy food,” Silver said. “Both have cultural significance, but we still try to keep it light and not terribly pretentious.”
Photo by Will Schilling