It has been suggested to Engjell Vrapi that life in the kitchen of his Isaacs Avenue pizzeria would be slightly simpler if he purchased his cheese already in shredded form.
That, however, would alter the not-so-secret component to creating the signature pies at Best Pizza Ever, he said.
“Freshness is key,” Vrapi said from a dining room seat at 1619 Isaacs Ave.
So, despite the urging even of distributors, he shreds cheese from a block. This tradition is part of a greater approach to the great care taken with the details. Even down to boxing the pizzas for delivery or takeout. There must not be any sign of an oily fingerprint on the box, he said.
There have been no shortcuts on the journey to Isaacs Avenue.
Six months ago, what is now known as Best Pizza Ever opened its doors at the landing point of their world tour.
The story in a nutshell: Engvell, born in Albania but raised in Rome, Italy, met his wife Kaleigh, a Montana native studying abroad in Rome during college, at a restaurant where he worked. They married in 2005 and had three children before moving to the U.S., where they opened a restaurant together in Bigfork, Mont.
Six years later and in an effort to dedicate themselves to spending time with and showing the world to their children, they sold everything, bought an RV and began a yearlong trek of the country. They home-schooled their oldest two kids while balancing sightseeing, adventure and exploring.
Then they took their expeditions to an international level to Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. Their story is detailed on The Lonely Planet. The travels combined their love of food and drink, too, allowing for internships and eating experiences that continued an exploration of dishes, ingredients and culinary creativity.
And when it was over, they came to Walla Walla to plant new roots.
Here, Kaleigh works in the wine industry as director of hospitality for Valdemar Estates, while Engjell (pronounced like “Angel”) runs the pizzeria.
First introduced as Flour + Water, the name was changed because another business already had rights to the original. Thus, “Best Pizza Ever,” which had already been the name of one of the pizzas, also became the name of the business.
“Obviously we’re not everyone’s favorite pizza,” Vrapi said. “But we try to perfect it.”
The actual “Best Pizza Ever” pizza is made with a white sauce — a gorgonzola base and cheese, topped with roasted red peppers, pepperoni, onions and garlic. It’s not an original recipe. It’s the creation of a couple who frequented the Montana pizzeria during their summer residency there years ago, Vrapi said.
One day, their pizza was slightly overcooked. As a new one was made, the original was placed in the back for staff to eat. Stunned by the flavor combination, they declared it the “best pizza ever.”
The recipe garnered two second-place awards at the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas in 2011. Thus it was added to the menu as a signature pizza.
In Walla Walla, customers have been equally drawn to the lemon pizza. That combination has the cheese blend, feta and pesto as a sauce with grape tomatoes, red onions and — after coming out of the oven — lemon slices and balsamic reduction.
“People are open to trying new things here,” Vrapi marveled.
The tiramisu has also been popular.
Trained in culinary arts in Vermont, Vrapi said his passion is pizza.
“Even if you make 100 a day, you have to make each one like you would make it for someone having it for the first time,” he said.