The Wheel Apizza Pub is all set to open mouths, insert beer and pizza. A lifelong dream of local restaurateur Steve Mertz (owner of Tacovore, formerly of Laughing Planet), The Wheel will offer its take on New Haven pizza along with beer brewed by a pair of local brewing veterans with a common past. With a focus on the highest quality ingredients and intentional processes, the beer and pizza are both on point.
The Wheel team presents Eugene with an elevated passion for all things fermented, in a pleasant setting. There is wood everywhere. The space was formerly the WildCraft Cider Works production facility and tasting room, but it has been opened up to feel less partitioned. The brewery and open kitchen are easily visible from many of the tables. The seating area is of a moderate size; it is neither intimate nor a zoo. A small bar at the taps near the entrance will allow any waiting patrons to pass the time beer-in-hand.
The Wheel will open to the public on Friday, 4/20 at 4:20pm, of course. Initially, it will be open 4-10pm seven days a week; lunch hours are forthcoming.
Brewer Tobias Schock, left, and GM Trevor Ross on the brew deck. Photo by Aaron Brussat.
The Beer & Vision
Brewer Tobias Schock is at the helm, so to speak, of the 7-barrel Practical Fusion system. For him, brewing at The Wheel is an opportunity to nurture his brewing philosophy, which involves less selling and more making. “Talking with Trevor [Ross, General Manager], after leaving our breweries, we didn’t want to be involved in the game, in the hustle. We wanted to be brewers in our community, for our community. We’re not trying to take over the world, or compete against other good local breweries for tap handles. Great food, great drinks, and an awesome place to hang out, that’s the trifecta.”
Schock used to be head brewer at Agrarian Ales. The brewery there is very labor intensive, there is no glycol system to control fermentation temperatures, and hop usage was limited (by the philosophy of all involved) to the handful of varieties grown on the farm. The Wheel’s brewery is a Tesla in comparison, and Schock has been excited to get acquainted with hop varieties he has never touched.
Most of the beer at The Wheel will be served directly from tanks, fresh and unfiltered.
He’s eight brews in. At a preview, five beers were on tap: Vanora Lager, brewed with Mecca Grade malt and Oregon hops and velvety smooth; Scando Rustic Blonde, a mellow, dry, and brighly flavored ale fermented with Kveik, a Scandinavian farmhouse-type yeast; New Hazen Pale (guess how clear it was); a roasty, very drinkable Dry Irish Stout on nitro; and the first iteration of a rotating IPA playlist. An additional hazy IPA will be on tap on or near the grand opening. Though Schock is not given to predicting the future of his brews, he’s working on more lagers and plans to have a Pilsner on tap year-round. Wood-aged and sour beers are twinkles in his eye.
The Wheel won’t be actively selling its beer around town. In fact, the brewery has a very small fleet of kegs. “We serve directly from serving tanks,” says Schock. “That’s a tool that’s not really common anymore in the industry.” That’s one less process that the beer has to go through before it’s consumed.
Trevor Ross, who began homebrewing with Schock nearly a decade ago, is a dedicated culinarian and hobbyist in all things food and drink. He left Claim 52 Brewing in April of 2016; as the founder but not majority owner, the brewery’s direction diverged from his vision. He had been moonlighting at local farms and at Agrarian with Schock, building towards something– which became his role at The Wheel. With professional experience in brewing and training in a range of humanist studies, Ross will be a bridge between the brewery, kitchen, and front-of-house staff. He embodies The Wheel’s mission and conveys that the ingredients and processes are highly intentional.
“I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent,” Ross says of joining the team. “We didn’t like being held in a headlock by craft [beer] to tell us what we should be doing. Trying to compete at a distribution level was brutal and exhausting.” Reducing the requirement of outside sales, “let us focus on ingredients and recipes. When I think about ingredients it’s closest, best; if the closest is Czech Republic, then so be it.”
Schock elaborates: “Because of margins associated with distribution, not distributing allows the brewery to use more premium ingredients. We’re doing the same thing with the ingredients in the food. What tastes great? Pecorino Romano is the shit, so we buy Pecorino Romano from Italy, but the Vanora Lager is 100% Oregon grown.”
Both Schock and Ross wear the scars and kisses of their previous brewery experiences like badges on their Carhartts. The Wheel offers them both catharsis, a place to cooperatively manifest and share their passions for sensory delight.
Hallmarks of New Haven pizza include a coal-fired oven (a remnant of the New England town’s industrial legacy) and dough made with high quality white flour, with tomato sauce spread to the very edge of the crust, which is cooked to some level of char. The Wheel makes slight divergences from this, as its oven is electric–but can still char a crust at 850F–and the dough is made from triple sifted whole wheat and uses natural leavening.
The main course at The Wheel is the result of nearly 1,000 test pizzas. “I grew up in New Haven, and pizza was my first culinary turn-on,” says Mertz. He saw that pizzerias there took a lot of pride in their product, and were very selective about their ingredients. Locals were just as opinionated. “After 5 minutes of conversation you knew what their favorite pizza place was.”
The Moby Dick pizza
Dough master Paul Adkins, a graphic designer who honed his chops in a cob oven in his backyard before dedicating his glutinous skills to The Wheel, has been designing his ideal pie since he left his hometown of Kent, Ohio. “I was 15 years old and I didn’t want to live in Kent for the rest of my life, but I loved the pizza there. I started thinking I should learn how to make the best pizza so I can take it wherever I go.” He utilizes a long fermentation on the dough, which in combination with the natural leavening gives it a bright and flavorful character. The pizza, though hearty, doesn’t sit like a lump in your stomach; it is more digestible. Adkins attributes this to the fermentation. “We’re hoping to turn on some people who may be sensitive to gluten and help them realize that it’s not necessarily the gluten, it’s the way it’s fermented.”
The Wheel’s founder Steve Mertz, right, demonstrates proper slice delivery technique
The Wheel also offers house-fermented veggie flights
The Moby Dick pizza
Brewer Tobias Schock offers a sample of his Dry Irish Stout on nitro
The ingredients and toppings for the pizza are as local as possible, quality permitting. The New Haven-ness became more conceptual the more chef Pierce Kieffer and the team tweaked the infrastructure of their pies, negotiating among themselves about different wheat, tomato, and cheese varieties; real life pizza nerdiness. Some of the toppings offered indicate subtle hat tips to New Haven and other pizzerias the team visited for research, from Portland to San Francisco to Arizona, who generously shared information with The Wheel. The Moby Dick pizza uses Oregon bay shrimp as a topping, an homage to the classic New Haven addition of clams.
“Saying pizza and beer is kind of underwhelming, until you come here,” says Ross.
The Wheel Apizza Pub
390 Lincoln St., Suite 101
Eugene, Oregon 97401
Brewer Tobias Schock and GM Trevor Ross are ready to unleash the feast after months of trials, tweaks, and test pints at The Wheel