Date: December 30, 2019 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Rett Peek | Styling: Stephanie Maxwell Newton |
Fresh, seasonal ingredients and innovative methods are the recipe for success at Bentonville’s Oven & Tap
Bowls of fresh arugula, artichokes, olives, and torn mozzarella line the bar of the open kitchen at Oven & Tap. Owners Luke Wetzel and Mollie Mullis alternate chopping herbs and tossing discs of dough, each adding a drizzle of oil here and a handful of sliced peppers there before sliding finished pies in the nearby oven for a couple of minutes. The whole process, start to finish, takes five or so minutes. “Our food is very simple, delicious, and straightforward—there’s nothing extraneous,” Luke says. “We serve a very honest product.”
Before moving to Bentonville in 2012, Luke was working at the revered Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. “That experience certainly had the biggest impact on me, as far as the idea of cooking fresh and seasonally,” he says. However, as a Little Rock native, he was also paying attention to buzz about a growing food scene closer to home. “The more my wife, Katherine, and I heard about Bentonville and thought about the town, the more it became intriguing,” he says. “I fell in love with wood-fired cooking in California, and we moved here in hopes of opening a wood-fired restaurant.”
Luke worked for several years as executive sous chef at The Hive, 21C’s highly regarded restaurant, while “dreaming and planning” his own culinary concept. There, he met and became friends with Mollie, and as his plans for Oven & Tap started to solidify, he approached her about being his partner.
Now looking to celebrate five years in May, the ethos of Oven & Tap has remained true to “honest” food that utilizes the wood-fired oven as much as possible. “We’ve become very creative with what we execute and what we can do in the oven—not just pizzas, but also apps and other entrees,” Luke says, citing examples like wood-fired edamame and rib-eye steak. “The fire forces you to think about food in a different way. It’s very romantic and also challenging.”
Here, the Oven & Tap team shares recipes for two simple, flavorful sauces similar to those used at the restaurant. “What’s pizza without a delicious sauce?” Luke asks. “These are both really simple, but well-seasoned and will complement any pizza.”
Rustic Red Sauce
Yields 2 12-inch pizzas
1 14-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
3-4 basil leaves, chopped
1-2 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
Pour tomatoes into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes into ½-inch pieces. Once the tomatoes have been crushed to desired consistency, add remaining ingredients and mix loosely. Sauce should maintain a chunky consistency.
Chef’s tip: Instead of spreading this sauce as a pizza base, loosely apply on top of other ingredients. This also makes a great dipping sauce for breadsticks.
Green Herb Sauce
Yields approximately 1 cup
1 clove garlic
½ cup olive oil
2 cups basil leaves
1 bunch Italian leaf parsley
1-2 sprigs oregano or thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Using a microplane or garlic press, grate garlic into a small bowl. Add just enough olive oil to cover the garlic, then set aside. Pick all herbs from their stems and gather into a pile on a cutting board. Finely chop herbs, then add herbs and salt to the bowl with garlic and olive oil. Whisk in remaining olive oil, using more as necessary until sauce is the consistency of pesto. Drizzle on top of pizza.
Chef’s tip: Add a good squeeze of lemon to the sauce just before topping the pizza.
Visit ovenandtap.com or follow Oven & Tap on Instagram (@ovenandtap) to get a taste for what’s new at the Bentonville eatery.