Hot from the oven

Connie and Gary Millar make delicious pizza from a ton of bricks

My husband and I don’t necessarily agree on everything. For instance, he thinks the greatest movie filmed is “Smoky and the Bandit.” I don’t. He doesn’t think a woman needs a new purse every six months. I do. The one thing we both agree on is that the pizza at Wild Mountain Rose Bakery in Townsend is the best pizza we have ever tasted.

Connie and Gary Millar, owners of Wild Mountain Rose Bakery, say the key to their pizza is found in the beginnings, and they use only the finest ingredients. They use whole grains, whole milk cheeses and, whenever possible, local and organic, preservative-free ingredients.

It also helps that the pizzas and fresh breads at Wild Mountain Rose Bakery are baked in a traditional wood-fired brick oven.

“When people find out we have a wood oven, especially if they’ve seen one before, they have to come check us out,” said Gary Millar.

The traditional wood-fired oven is six-feet deep and four-feet wide and is a conversation piece in its own right. It was handmade with Tennessee clay bricks that were originally used in a pre-Civil War Masonic hall. The wooden timbers framing the oven came from a house in Laurel Valley that was being remodeled, and the marble for the hearth came from the library in Knoxville.

Gary Millar built the oven from plans he found on the Internet and with the help of his son, Jon, and friend, Steve Murphy. During the yearlong project, Connie Millar used that time to research and test recipes.

“I burned out my home oven,” Connie Millar said. She said she spent a year trying different pizza crusts and, in order to test them at home, she had to use her oven on the highest temperature setting.

“I wanted to use a crust that has a little more body to it.”

Like a lot of the fresh breads Connie Millar bakes, the pizza crust recipe uses triple milled flour, which provides a rustic flavor. Millar explained that the rustic or country bread is also known as “peasant bread.” The bread got its name when the peasants took grain to mill. They came home with a variety grain since the miller gave them the leftovers, usually were a mixture of corn meal, rye flour and whole wheat flour.

Baking the fresh loaves is a three- and sometimes four-day process, said Connie Millar. Every bread loaf starts from a pre-ferment and sits for 12 to 24 hours. Then she mixes the actual bread dough and, after it has risen, she shapes it into loaves. The loaves then go into the proofer for 12 to 16 hours. Then the bread is baked in the wood-fired oven for 20 to 30 minutes at approximately 400 to 450 degrees. Millard can bake 42 loaves at one time in the massive oven.

The pizzas cook at 600 degrees for about ten minutes.

“I’m a pizza lover, and this is far and above the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life,” said Kathy Lowery, a regular Wild Mountain Rose Bakery customer.

Many customers who pick up their pizza can’t resist taking home a homemade sweet treat as well, like a brownie, cookie or muffin.

Millar, who was born in Blount County and raised in a suburb of Detroit, moved back to Blount in 1992 with her husband. They own a cabin rental business and Connie was one of the owners and operators of Sister Cats restaurant in Townsend until she sold her part of the business.

Wild Mountain Rose Bakery is located at 929 Cavern Road and is out-of-the-way but easy to find. Follow the signs to Tuckaleechee Caverns and go one-quarter mile past the caverns. Look on the left at Wild Mountain Rose Log Cabin and the take-out only pizza is within sight. The Bakery is open from noon to 8 p.m.

Pizza is only sold on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They take pizza orders from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on those days and calling to pre-order is wise. Their phone number is 865-448-6895.

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