What’s in a name?
Quite a lot, at least as far as Paisan Wheels is concerned. As the play on words suggests, the cheekily named food truck serves — you guessed it — oven-fired pizza pies from its four-wheeled rig.
“I wanted something fun,” says owner Tony Guido. “People used to call me paisan, which means friend in Italian.”
Guido is no newcomer to the Hudson Valley pizza scene. A Pine Bush resident, he’s been rolling the dough since he was 16 years old in Rockland County. After taking a job at a neighborhood pizzeria in high school, he opened his first restaurant, Pizza Express in Middletown, in 1989. Since then, he’s operated a series of pizza shops in the Valley, including Primo Pizza in Pine Bush and Blooming Grove and Guido’s in Walden.
Ten years ago, he sold his restaurant.
“I needed a change in my life,” he admits. “I was getting burned out by the rigorous hours of the restaurant.”
Although he enjoyed his time in the kitchen, the drain of the “always on” mentality required of restaurateurs left him feeling perpetually exhausted. So he took a Monday-Thursday job and adjusted to a new, slower pace of life.
But pizza kept calling.
In an attempt to keep his pie-making roots alive, he bought a trailer and began to revamp it in his garage. An arduous process, it took him five months to overhaul the rig to his specifications and craft a pizza oven by hand. At the end, however, his very own pizza truck was ready to roll.
Open for business since 2014, Paisan Wheels crisscrosses the Hudson Valley on its journey to share Guido’s love for simple, wood-fired pizza with the community. An impressive setup, it features two ovens — the stone one that Guido built and an aluminum one — and a whole lot of dough. The truck is a regular guest at winery shindigs (look for it at Palaia Winery throughout summer) and at private parties and weddings along the Hudson River.
Paisan Wheels is not the only pizza truck in the Hudson Valley; yet it stands out with incredible flavor profiles and precise cooking methods. With more than 40 years of experience under his belt, Guido has each component of a perfect pizza down to a science. He begins with the dough, the recipe for which he’s tested, tweaked, and overhauled throughout the years before returning back to basics.
“I’ve tried all different recipes throughout the years, but I always wind up coming back to the simplest ingredients,” he says. Forgoing extra spices and seasonings, he sticks to flour, salt, yeast, and olive oil, then lets it all rise for 48 hours before kneading it into shape. He works with a kitchen in his area to prep 200 to 300 balls of dough at a time during the week, so he’s ready to roll when the weekend arrives.
After the dough comes the ingredients, which he sources fresh from Hudson Valley farm stands and markets, such as the one near his home in Pine Bush. He often waits until the last minute to purchase toppings, since what he adds to his pizzas usually depends on the theme of the event or the requests of party hosts. Guido loves a good theme, which is why he always has a blast at happenings like the annual Beatles Festival at Palaia Winery in Highland Mills. In the past, he’s whipped up everything from a Sgt. Pepper pie with sausage and onions to a Strawberry Fields variety with arugula, balsamic vinaigrette, and Parmigiano Reggiano. For private parties, his funghi (mushroom in Italian) pizza with mushrooms and chives is a fan favorite, as is his pie with grapes, honey, goat cheese, bacon, and fresh rosemary. The latter is one he often breaks out at wineries, since it pairs beautifully with an assortment of vinos.
When it comes time to cook the pizza, Guido’s mastery shines. With deft hands and the quiet confidence of someone with four decades of experience, he works the dough into perfectly imperfect circles, then adds just enough sauce, mushrooms, pulled pork, or whatever else he’s picked up for the weekend onto the rounds. After that, he places the pies in one of his two wood-fired ovens, which he keeps at the sweet spot between 750- and 800-degrees Fahrenheit, for a toasty two minutes. In no time at all, they’re out of the oven with softly charred crusts, oozing cheese, and a scent so intoxicating that any attempts at resistance are automatically rendered futile.
“I’m making it the way I want it,” Guido explains of his technique. “I’m particular with pizza, so it’s what I want. That’s the way I make it for everyone.”
If his success in the Hudson Valley is any indication, then Guido’s taste bud technique is working. Between his regular festival appearances and private party gigs, he’s booked throughout the season.
But does he actually eat his pizza?
“I pretty much eat it all week,” he reveals, adding that pizza isn’t something he’ll ever tire of flavor-wise. “There’s always a box of pizza in my fridge.”
A true ‘za aficionado, Guido makes a point to order a pie wherever he travels. Whether he’s lounging in the Bahamas, digging into cheesesteaks in Philly, or visiting family in Italy, he can’t help but sample the slices in town.
“I have to try it,” he says, noting that his passion for sampling regional varieties is something of a joke with his family nowadays.
As far as the future goes, Guido is happy to keep rolling the dough in the Hudson Valley. He enjoys his part-time food truck setup, since it allows him to connect with locals and share his passion for simple, incredible pizza.
“I want to have fun with it and continue what I’m doing,” he says. “I don’t want to be a giant. I’m busy every weekend and I’m good.”
Q: Thin or thick crust?
A: Definitely thin and crispy and well done.
Q: Lots of sauce or a little sauce?
A: In the middle. I like sauce on my pizza. You have to know it’s on there.
Q: Sauce or pesto?
A: Sauce. I’m a traditionalist.
Q: Meatballs or sausage?
A: Spicy sausage.
Q: Meat or vegetables?
A: Meat. I’m not a vegetable person, unless it’s spinach.
Q: Your perfect pizza right now?
A: Fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s nice and simple and traditional.