When you open the sturdy, flat box from Merrick’s Pizza and steam from a hot, freshly made pie gently rises to meet you, there is happiness.
The crust is crisp like the edges of the cupped pepperoni, and the cheese is a perfect melt. The experience seems somewhat familiar if you’re a longtime Miamian.
At Merrick’s Pizza on Le Jeune Road in Coral Gables, you’ll find Thomas Logan, 30, hand tossing each pie. But before he opened his shop eight months ago, he worked seven years at the now-closed Miami’s Best Pizza, a favorite spot in the Gables for 45 years.
When Logan took the Best Pizza job, it was only to pay his semesters at Florida International University where he was studying hospitality management. He grew up in Chicago but fell in love with the Gables, making pizza and with the community of pie makers. So he stayed. It wasn’t the plan at all, he said.
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“Whenever I talk about The Best I call it ‘My baby blue.’ It comes from that song by Badfinger,” he said. “It always felt appropriate given that it conveyed my love for the place and how hard it was to see it go. The night we closed The Best I played it on the stereo.”
He worked until the last day and made the last pie for a guy named Henry. He said he told Henry, “You’re blessed and you’re cursed because that’s the last one.”
Logan then decided to open his own place.
Merrick’s Pizza is a 12-seat shop that some will remember as the first location for Whisk Gourmet. You can eat in, pick up or have your pies delivered. It feels like a small Chicago pizza place. There’s brick on the walls. The lighting is low.
You can talk with Logan’s mom, Beatriz Orozco, at the counter while you wait and watch shows on the giant TV. Beatriz never loses her cool. She takes orders and runs the front. If you order a few times she calls you by name. She’s also chief cheese sampler.
Logan takes pride in the fresh ingredients he uses and in his pizza dough that takes almost two days to proof or rise. He uses the 45-year-old Hobart mixer that he bought from Miami’s Best and his Fish Oven from Illinois, with its four tiers.
“The rotating oven gives you the most-even cook because it has revolving heat and the air is circulating. You get a crispier crust, a crunchier crust,” he said.
Logan makes a customer favorite called Tommy’s Special with sliced meatballs, red onions, crushed red pepper flakes, goat cheese, broccoli and cremini mushrooms. He’ll make it without meatballs for vegetarians.
Other pies include Den Vegetariske with spinach, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, green peppers, mushrooms and onions, and Der Deutsche with chicken breast, Gorgonzola, cherry peppers, red onions, broccoli and mushrooms.
Logan makes a pie with a nod to his Greek heritage that includes lamb, kalamata olives, red onions, feta, tzatziki sauce base and peperoncino.
“I make my own tzatziki. It’s the key component in my Greek pizza,” he said. “The idea for the Greek pizza came from years of working the Greek Festival at St. Sophia’s Orthodox Church in the Roads. I would take those weekends off from The Best and work the grill there every February. Whenever I’d put together a Gyro, I’d think to myself ‘Man, this would be great on a pizza.’”
He makes Meat Explosion and Six Cheese Madness along with The Samoan, The Cajun and The Cuban. Yes, there are pickles on the pizza. And Logan has worked his magic on garlic rolls à la Miami’s Best.
He said the idea for the name “Merrick’s Pizza” came the day he first saw the lease.
“I stood out in front of the shop looking down Le Jeune and saw the ‘Shops at Merrick Park’ sign across the street. It just made perfect sense. I also felt that the name would match the European influence of the decor inside given that George Merrick kept trying to bring in Euro style to the Gables back in the day. German bars and pubs heavily influenced the look of my place,” he said.
“I loved the darker and cozy approach to those places that reminded me of the old pizza joints of the ‘80s like Lou Malnati’s on Cicero back in Chi-Town. The front of my menu reads ‘Von uns zu Ihnen’ which means ‘From us to you’ in German.”
When Logan was planning his shop, he offered Marc Lomonosoff a job. The two met at The Best where Lomonosoff had been a driver. Instead they became business partners.
“When I found my lease I offered Marc a job as a driver but Marc proposed we team up instead as investors and split the costs, which was ironic because I was looking for a partner anyway in an effort to not completely deplete my savings,” Logan said. He said they created the shop independently without banks or loans.
Another longtime friend is Rick Hoover, who shares Logan’s love of French movies. Hoover worked at Miami’s Best for about 41 years where he developed vinaigrette that Logan now uses for his salads.
“Tom works hard. He comes by with a pizza and we talk,” said Hoover, who is now retired.
The size of Logan’s shop keeps him from selling beer and wine, but he makes up for it with his specialty non-alcoholic drinks.
“I only serve glass-bottled soda made with real sugar because again it reminds me of how great soda pops were back when I was a kid,” Logan said. “I go outta my way to carry all the rare ones that we still bottle here in the states like Cheerwine from the Carolinas, Virgil’s Micro-brewed Cream Soda from Pennsylvania and my personal favorite Dublin Dr Pepper made with real cane sugar from Texas.”
Merrick’s Pizza also does catering and is a vendor for University of Miami. Logan has six delivery people, including poet Edgar Lima, who likes to work Saturdays for the tips. “Saturday is the best,” Lima said.
“That’s the Edgar Show,” Logan said.
Logan said he likes to support his peers. And he said he loves it when his customers are happy.
“One thing I learned from The Best is they never skimped,” Logan said. “They kept it good, and for me that’s my mantra.”
For more information
▪ What: Merrick’s Pizza (dine in, delivery, take out)
▪ Where: 4702 S. Le Jeune Rd., Coral Gables
▪ Hours: Noon to midnight, seven days a week
▪ Prices: $2.99 - $28.99 (Discounts for Coral Gables employees and students at University of Miami and Coral Gables High School.)
▪ Orders and information: 786-953-5693 or http://merrickspizza.com