A Tree-umphant Return


John Gilbreth had a very definite idea of what he didn’t want to name his pizza restaurant. Friends kept suggesting “Johnny G’s,” but Gilbreth felt “that sounded like an old-fashioned Italian place with red-and-white checked tablecloths.”

He wound up choosing Pizza Tree for his restaurant’s name.

“It was really just a mistake,” he says, laughing. “I was talking with somebody about the garden we were growing and they asked if I’d planted any pizza trees, like they were seedlings or something. I thought that was a kind of funny idea and the name ended up on my shortlist.” He felt it was a name he could “grow into,” he says.

The unconventional name fits well with the unconventional pies Pizza Tree prepares. Sure, you can build your own pizza at Pizza Tree using traditional toppings such as green pepper and pepperoni, but you can also choose from some of Pizza Tree’s more imaginative creations. These include “Ranch Hands” — made with pizza sauce, white cheddar, butter-poached onions, ground sirloin, peppered bacon and a sprinkle of Lawry’s seasoned salt — and “Banh Mi” — made with olive oil, pizza cheese, Srirracha-glazed pork belly, house-made Kimchi, chile aioli and fresh cilantro.

Pizza Tree offers six different slice options daily, four “standards” and two switch-ups. The standards are cheese, secret margherita, pepperoni and sausage, featuring house-made Italian sausage. The two switch-ups are likely to be combinations you’ve never imagined. Gilbreth says his creations are often inspired by what’s in season and ingredient availability. He added that sometimes it’s simply a matter of “Hey, that’d be neat on a pizza.”

There’s nothing Gilbreth wouldn’t consider putting on a pizza. He’d even be game for liver, he says. “It would be delicious with what we’d do with it.”

One pizza that’s proven elusive so far is a mac-and-cheese pie. The starch is what’s stopping him, Gilbreth says. “It ends up being a mouth full of flour before you know it.” But he refuses to let the problematic pie defeat him. Mac-and-cheese lovers, stay tuned.

Pizza Tree devotees who frequented the restaurant at its previous location inside Mojo’s will be happy to hear that Gilbreth is planning to bring back a past favorite, the “Cuban,” made with mojo sauce, Canadian bacon, provel cheese, garlic dill pickles, fried pork tenderloin and rum mustard.

Since opening at 909 Cherry St. in late October, Gilbreth says his biggest challenge has been getting all the preparatory work done in the mornings before the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. He credits his staff with the  ability to be ready, noting that they’re an energized and enthusiastic bunch. Working the ovens “is a real sticky wicket and not for the fainthearted or slow-moving,” Gilbreth says with a laugh.

Pizza Tree enjoys a brisk lunchtime business, and gets pretty busy during dinner and late night hours as well. Gilbreth has had a fair amount of delivery business, and he expects that to pick up as colder weather arrives.

Soon Pizza Tree will be branching out into catering. Pizza Tree T-shirts and custom pizza boxes are also in the works.

Closing the original location at Mojo’s was “a very hard decision,” Gilbreth says, “but ultimately the right choice by far.” Judging by the response to his new location, it looks as though Columbia agrees.