by Claire Cella • Photography by Melanie Grizzel
Despite what you may think, East Side Pies was not born at 1401 Rosewood Ave. in that signature building lined with beige brick, topped with corrugated tin, wallpapered with concert flyers and dripping with local love. East Side Pies is actually much older than that, and really began within the walls of Mojo’s Daily Grind—a former 24-hour coffee shop from a long-ago Austin that some of us have been here long enough to remember. It was there, in 1994, that two men met almost every day—one just beginning his job as a baker and the other just ending his nightly duty managing the Emo’s stage. It was there that these two men sat over coffee, played chess, talked philosophy, became friends, grew into family and, ultimately, started something special. These two men are Michael Freid and Noah Polk.
Over the course of their friendship, Freid and Polk discussed a void they’d noticed in Austin’s East Side—a neighborhood that, at the time, not only lacked a pizza establishment but also reliable delivery service. With the dawning of this realization, Freid and Polk, who proudly refer to themselves as “stoner pizza delivery dudes forever,” opened East Side Pies in 2006. “We were born to be pizza guys,” says Polk as he glances over at Freid. Then, without hesitation, they both burst forth almost in unison, “C’MON…we LOOK like pizza guys!” The duo has opened three successful locations to date (on Airport Boulevard and Anderson Lane, in addition to Rosewood Avenue) and has grown a loyal customer base. They’ve even been heralded as creating Austin’s very own style of pizza.
The foundation of this pizza is Freid’s thin and crispy crust, created from a dough starter that’s almost 30 years old and that’s followed Freid’s baking career from New York to Germany to Florida to Texas. Then the pies are ladled with almost anything but tomato sauce and topped with almost anything but mozzarella (although these classics are certainly offered). More likely, the day’s slices will feature a mixture of creative, daring and sometimes inconceivable flavors—such as the watermelon-cantaloupe-relish concocted this summer to counter Austin’s unquenchable heat.
Freid says this invitation for inventiveness was one of the many things that attracted him to the pizza business. “It’s one product with which the possibilities and combinations are limitless…infinite. We’ll get in a boxful of beets one week and before you know it, the staff has figured out that they can shave them real thin, infuse them with lemon and throw them on a pizza with pork!” Polk chimes in with more recent examples of staff creativity, such as jerk chicken, butternut squash and corn smoldering in a rich mole sauce; a blanket of chimichurri sprinkled with cremini mushrooms, bacon and Gorgonzola; and local peaches with pancetta nestled in clouds of ricotta. “I don’t think I’ve had a slice of plain pizza in months,” Freid adds with a laugh. “But if you talked to someone from New York, they’d say, What the %#&$ is this? Just give me a slice of cheese.”
Luckily, this isn’t New York, and Polk and Freid have found, and grown, an appreciative audience in Austin. And they’ve enjoyed getting to have their way with the copious amounts of fresh and quality ingredients available here. A visit to the shop on an average Saturday afternoon might find a pie featuring bounty that was harvested less than 24 hours ago, such as peppers from Tecolote Farm, eggplant from Springdale Farm and greens from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. They get peaches (when in season) from Lightsey Farms in Mexia; the meatballs are made from grassfed beef from Bastrop Cattle Company; and the crushed red pepper for sprinkling comes from Southern Style Spices in Manor.
Next year, East Side Pies will celebrate a momentous 10-year anniversary. Polk says he remembers being in the kitchen more than nine years ago and saying to Freid, “You’re most likely going to see my kids born.” And he was right. Since then, Polk has gotten married and has had two children, one of Freid’s children has graduated from college and family members have passed on. “Life has kept going and has never stopped,” says Polk. “And we’ve been there for each other. It’s not all pizza all the time. I knew we would experience a lot together. I knew it was long term. I knew we weren’t quitters.”
Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. “We’re both loudmouths; we both have opinions,” says Polk. “Like in anything—partnerships, relationships—it’s a tough deal. We drive each other crazy, but that’s all part of it.” While Polk and Freid may have had their squabbles, they both know that, ultimately, they’re fighting for the same goal, and in the end, they both win. And so do you, in the form of a delicious, piping-hot, edible canvas of creativity. In a box. At your door.
Find out more at eastsidepies.com or call 512-524-0933 (Rosewood Ave.), 512-454-7437 (Airport Blvd.) or 512-467-8900 (Anderson Ln.).