I have been a part of the Lincoln Winebar from the moment the 3-ton Stefano Ferrara brick oven, all the way from Naples, Italy, was so gently moved into place three years ago. It now sits here in Mount Vernon, Iowa, a place, I imagine, it will never leave.
Fired only by wood, the oven roasts vegetables, cooks pizza, warms up the occasional midday snack and, with residual heat, bakes bread in the mornings. To me, the process is endlessly magical. Even if live music is playing, the bright flame and the subtle heat emanating from the corner is the main attraction each night, and rightfully so.
Nearly every evening I stand in between the people and the oven. The perfect spot for all parties. We stretch dough and cook pies right in the dining room, right in front of the guests. They get to witness the care and attention we put into creating their food, and we get to know our customers.
We talk local and homegrown produce, great food spots in far-away states, personal wood-fired ovens, favorite beers, and everything else. This oven we have here does what ovens in Italy did centuries ago: creates community. We have farmers who live just down the block who not only bring us wonderful produce, but often join us for dinner. I’ve said something like, “Yeah, that’s the guy that brings us the asparagus you love so much,” quite a few times.
Even though we sit in a central location fairly distant from any great food capital, I don’t see why mediocrity should take over our dinner plates. The extra effort or cost necessary to make a quality product is not even worth mentioning. Not only is the extra effort or cost oftentimes minuscule, the outcome is significantly better and, most importantly, noticed. For me, satisfaction comes with seeing processes through from the beginning to the end. It’s wonderful to put effort into something I enjoy, and to see joy experienced by those who partake makes it that much better.
Aaron Hall ’10 is a baker at the Lincoln Winebar in Mount Vernon, Iowa, where he staffs the bar’s wood-fired pizza oven.