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Pizza Producers Bring Artisan Pies to Newton

Max Candidus of Max & Leo's Pizza talks about how their restaurant is filling a gap in the Newton pizza scene and what we can look forward to next November.

If the names over the door at look familiar, you are probably a fan of Mel Brooks’ classic movie and hit Broadway musical The Producers

But the similarity between those lead characters and twin brothers Maxamillian and Pantaleon Candidus ends there: unlike the men in the movie, these brothers are fully committed to the success of their two-week-old business and have no intention of blowing up their building.

In fact, Max says that they might want to expand in the future – if things continue to go well.

“I want about 340 square feet of the space next door,” Max says, speaking about the fact that their current location is built mostly for take-out. “But I can’t take the whole thing. It’d be $25 per pizza then, and I just don’t want to do that to people.”

For now, the Candidus brothers are very happy to be filling a gap in their hometown-dining scene. The lifelong Newton residents have been pizza fans since their days at .

Max acknowledges that there are a lot of local pizza places here but notes that there are “Greek pizza and pizza places that have been around a long time, but there hasn’t been any artisan pizza until now, nothing with these flavor combinations.”

If you’re wondering what exactly defines artisan pizza, one look at the menu for Max & Leo’s should answer your question.

While they do have the usual pepperoni, and veggie pizzas (although even the latter has a twist: fresh baby spinach and added ricotta cheese), most of their pies draw from a far greater flavor palate than a typical red-sauce pizza joint does. The L’Umina is brushed with white olive oil and has sliced pears, caramelized onions, basil, ricotta cheese and fresh prosciutto and is finished with a drizzle of organic honey. The Il Mexjicano has a traditional tomato sauce base (but made from scratch with superior San Marzano tomatoes) and adds fajita chicken, peppers and onions, pineapple salsa, cilantro, lime as well as smoked mozzarella and fontina cheeses.

But the foundation of Max & Leo’s pizzas, literally and figuratively, is their crust. And to make a good crust, you need a special oven.

“We went with coal because it burns hot and dry,” explains Max. “Every year eight or nine of the top ten [pizzas] are coal. So that’s why we went with coal. It makes a nice crispy crust, it’s what pizza in America is.”

The oven, which has now been reproduced in their Washington Street restaurant, originally lived on a catering truck that the Candidus brothers have retired for the time being while they focus on their restaurant.

In order to learn the pizza business (both Max and Leo started out as professional dirt bike racers and continue to be top-placing competitors, in spite of injuries), they read as many blogs about pizza making as they could. And they used their nearly two-year-long catering stint as a training ground for opening the restaurant.

“We had some failures,” Max admits. “It’s much easier to do in front of a passing audience than open the doors and get some bad reviews. So we figured we’d build the trailer, get the product down pat and then show it to the public.”

Although they've had a few mishaps, the brothers learned their craft well enough to impress owner Geoff Janowski. When they were designing Max & Leo’s menu, they approached him about having a pizza that used Blue Ribbon’s renowned pulled pork. Janowski tried a sample of the proposed pie and “he liked it enough to let us actually put the name ‘Blue Ribbon BBQ’ on the pizza,” says Max with pride.

The crafting of their pizzas isn’t the only artisan project about which Max and Leo are proud. They actually conceived of and built almost everything in their tiny storefront themselves. They fashioned the shelving from pipe and wood, built all of the sturdy three-legged tables by hand, and designed the bar that is constructed from reclaimed skipped oak and spruce. They even found an old barn door to be repurposed as an entrance to the restrooms.

Going forward, the brothers are looking to starting delivery service either at the end of this year or the very beginning of 2012. They will again be catering parties and events in April of 2012 (keep an eye out for the oven-loaded truck) and Max even has an idea for what pizza to feature this time next year.

“I tried one that had a pumpkin puree base,” Max says. “Baby spinach, a mix of mozzarella and gorgonzola, and then chorizo on top of it. I missed the window now, but that will be next year’s pre-Thanksgiving pizza”

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