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What does it take to woo Zagat judges? Apparently it's all about the dough. At least, that's according to the executives of Michael's Pizzeria in Long Beach, Calif.

In the fall, Michael's was named Zagat's "Best Pizzeria" in the U.S. The concept was also named Los Angeles' "Best Pizzeria" for the second year.

Michael's opened about two and a half years ago and now has three locations under the leadership of CEO Michael Dene. We asked those behind the concept what made Michael's stand out enough to win over some of the toughest food critics in the industry.

Massimo Aronne, managing partner, said it's all about the dough.

"The dough is made with a special 00 flour from Naples, Italy, water and yeast, and it's mixed with what's called a 'fork technique,'" he said.

The technique uses a fork mixer that resembles hand mixing. When the dough reaches the right consistency and humidity, it's then cut into balls that are left to proof for a minimum of 24 hours before Michael's pizzaiolos take over.

"This is a necessary step for the dough to achieve elasticity and crispiness at the same time. When the ball is ready to be stretched, the pizzaiolo hand tosses the dough to a perfect 12-inch diameter," Aronne said.

Pizzas are topped with San Marzano tomato sauce that is seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and basil. Finally, the mozzarella is pulled every day in house, Aronne said.

Michael's pizzas are cooked in an 850-to-900-degree wood fired oven in 90 seconds.

"It's an art to be able to cook pizza dough in an oven with that high of temperature and flame," Aronne said. "The result is this puffy, chewy and crispy dough. This is why Michael's is appealing to the sophisticated and well-traveled reviewer."

"Honestly, it's like having pizza for the very first time," Dene said.

For the record, Michael's also offers a selection of antipasti, salads, charcuterie, cheese, sandwiches, beer and wine pairings worthy of its award-winning pizzas.

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Alicia Kelso
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with and has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.
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