As winter descends upon Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, lazy, cosy afternoons and cool to cold evenings are as good excuse as any to ditch the pots and pans and, either, eat in, or take out ... pizza, preferably, delicious, nourishing Spanish inspired sourdough pizza, to be exact.
Set within the slowly gentrifying suburb of Wickham, surrounded by an industrialised field of dreams; self-storage sheds, a tyre mechanic and an auto electrician - the perfect spot, really, for a modern and minimalist wood fired pizza kitchen - Masa Madre is Newcastle's coolest little pizza joint.
Dressed in all black with few spots of red and a textual dash of white, Masa Madre, which means 'mother dough' in Spanish, is a tiny one-room kitchen with a big blue wood-fired pizza oven in the middle. Thus, space is at a premium between the fridges, benches, white tiled walls and rustic timber counter tops inside. Most people order their pies to go, while others pull up a pew at one of the few tables and chairs outside, under a blue sky by day, or bright lights by night.
You can sit on the black stools inside and watch the owners, Naomi and Steve, carefully craft flavoursome pizzas from scratch, before pushing them into a blue mosaic covered inferno, then pulling them out blistered and baked from the flames.
The menu is short and sweet. Seven pizzas with various toppings, including tasty vegetarian and vegan options, plus sides such as marinated olives, seasonal salads and wood-fired vegetables. They have dessert too – paletas, which are Mexican-style ice blocks of different flavours, including Nutella.
On a recently rare sunny Sunday afternoon, my dining associate and I met with a few friends and ate our way through Masa Madre’s tasty pizzas and sides.
After grabbing some brown paper menus, we sit outside beside potted plants at a long bench seat and a series of tables that stretch along the black painted wall underneath the awning. A few of us sit on red or black metal chairs, which suit the place’s understated Spanish vibe.
Cooking smells waft out the front door and eventually lure us inside to make an order - four pizzas and two sides between six of us. Zucchini, meatball, la picadura, and the ham and cheese special, plus marinated olives and two serves of the wood-fired veg.
The fridge is stocked with some strange soft drinks, like ‘Smoked Cola’, but it’s BYO ($2.50 pp) as well, which means you can bring a bottle of your favourite wine to share. We start with a bit of fizz, care of Usher Tinkler Wines 2016 La Volpe Prosecco, and finish with a bottle of Margan 2014 Breaking Ground Barbera to duke it out with the warm tomatoes, hot salami, and house-made meatballs.
The zucchini pizza is a fresh mix of thinly sliced strips of zucchini draped over mounds of lumpy mozzarella and feta, broken almonds, a squirt of lemon, shaved Grana Padano (Italian cheese), drizzled with chilli oil and honey. It sits well next to the ham and cheese special; more mozzarella mixed with Gruyère cheese, paper-thin jamon serrano and peppery sweet caraway seeds. Then, small balls of meat mingle with melted mozzarella and dark green basil leaves on the fillingly flavoursome meatball pizza. Lastly, the chilli fiends will adore the delicious heat of la picadura; hot salami, tomato, Grana Padano cheese and honey. Each pizza is gorgeous to look at, smell and taste. It's the sourdough bases, you see. Blistered and crispy, light, fluffy and doughy with a slightly sour tang that gives each pizza a nourishing and deceptively healthy edge.
As storm clouds gather above, thick chunks of roasted pumpkin, topped with crispy pumpkin seeds, feta and pesto are devoured between mouthfuls of piquant pizza and wine.
In Wickham, nay in Newcastle, Masa Madre's mother dough pizza is the mother lode.
- What: Masa Madre
- Where: 1/40 Railway St, Wickham
- Owner: Steve Gay and Naomi Tupper
- Drinks: Soft Drinks and BYO
- Hours: Lunch and dinner, Wed-Sun (check website for details)
- Vegetarian: Yes
- Bottom Line: $60 for two
- Wheelchair Access: Yes