If you're at Java Cabana on Thursday evening, you might catch Nicholas Gwinn playing guitar during singer/songwriter night.
If you're at Mama Mia's Pizzeria on other nights, you might catch Gwinn tossing large circular slabs of dough into the air and catching them.
Gwinn, 24, is one of the pizza chefs at the Collierville restaurant, where they sell "New York-style" pizzas.
I was at the restaurant eating one of their delicious "Aloha Mama" pizzas -- mozzarella cheese, pineapple and Canadian bacon -- when I noticed Gwinn and his fellow chef Carlos Solano tossing dough into the air to make pizzas. Gwinn told me you have to be careful when you throw the dough in the air. If the dough gets too thin in the middle, you "might make a hole in it with your finger."
I asked Brian Lurie, Mama Mia's owner, what exactly is a "New York" pizza? "I think it's all in the dough, actually," he said. "It's the fact you're making your own dough and you're hand-rolling it and letting it rise and hand-stretching it. That's definitely a New York thing. A lot of places have dough premade, or it's preformed, or they form it in a pan or form it to a certain exact circle shape."
Making it their way results in a pizza that's "not too thick, not too thin. It's consistently thin and foldable through the middle to the edge, and you get a nice crust on the end."
They use a "really high-gluten flour" that makes the dough "real stretchable." Regular all-purpose flour doesn't achieve the same results, he said. Once the pizza dough is built up, they brush on a mixture of olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese, basil and oregano for flavor.
Toppings range from just cheese to the "Big Mama" -- extra mozzarella cheese, salami, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, meatballs, black olives, onions, green peppers and mushrooms.
You don't necessarily have to throw the dough in the air, Lurie said. "You don't have to do that to accomplish the goal. You can stretch it with your hands without letting it leave your hands."
But, he said, there are "little theatrics" connected to tossing the pizza. "It's quicker. It's spun out in a matter of seconds instead of a minute or two."
Lurie, who used to own The Tap House on Brookhaven Circle, had a wall knocked down at Mama Mia's "so you could see the pizza guys throw the dough" in the kitchen. "Kids like to look at it while you're sitting there waiting for your food."
Mama Mia's Pizzeria is at 255 New Byhalia Road, Suite 116 in Collierville; (901)-854-7770.
-- Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; firstname.lastname@example.org