PIZZA PACESETTER
24 PIZZA TODAY AUGUST 1998


Ozark Mountain
MAESTRO
Customers drive over the
mountains and through the
woods to taste Tommy's Famous

STORY AND PHOTOS BY JOHN HAMAN

There are three good reasons why people come from hundreds of miles away to eat at Tommy's Famous, a modest-looking 32-seat pizzeria in Mountain view, Arkansas. In a pinch, any of the reasons will do.

The first has to do with environment: Tommy's is nestled in a quaint bed-and- breakfast town where the buildings are hewn from natural stone and locals still gather at the courthouse to play their fiddles and dulcimers.

Mountain view is a locale Arkansans love to visit for its simplicity, slow lifestyle and laid-back tourist attractions. The town of 2,500 residents is home to the Ozark Folk Center - an Arkansas state park that celebrates and demonstrates traditional ways of life in the Ozark Mountains - and minutes away

is Blanchard Springs Caverns, one of the most spectacular caves in North America.

The second enticement of Tommy's is the owner, Tom Miller, a pony-tailed Libertarian who cracks wise with customers, loves Spike Lee movies and keeps abreast of the societal issues of the day. Like many others in Mountain view, whose ranks have been swelled by transplanted artisans, peddlers and back-to-the-landers, he prefers to be known as a craftsman - a pizza craftsman who puts love into his work.

But Miller knows there's a lot more to it than love and good pepperoni. A significant factor, he admits, is his status as a town character. "I kibitz," says Miller, who serves as the waiter. "I try to come out and find something in common.

Outdoor seating
as well as indoor
dining make
Tommy's Famous
a popular
summer spot.

I'll zoom in and say some outrageous things to people, like 'Are you used to being out in public with him?' You can't get too irritated with someone who looks like me and acts the way I act I'm kind of like a jester."

Tommy's Famous is truly a family operation. Tom's oldest son, Sean, entertains customers as the dough-tossing pizzaiolo; his younger brother, Clay, helps out with the pizza making; Tom's wife, Terri, keeps the kitchen humming along by minding the ovens; and their 11 year-old daughter, Tamara, cleans tables and helps out where she can.


No Skimping Allowed

Of course, none of this stuff would matter if the food weren't fantastic, which brings us to the third enticement You get a good idea of what you're in for at Tommy's Famous when you see Sean Miller reach into the cheese bin with two hands and spread twin mountains of mozzarella on a pie-in-waiting.

"We actually have people who ask us to cutback on the cheese," says a smiling Miller. "We have almost a pound-and-a-half of cheese on our large [16-inch] pizza, and we don't use any extender."

Tommy's works with a blend of two different brands of mozzarella, Miller says - an expensive, Wisconsin-made, whole-milk Grande brand cheese to provide "flavor and goo"; and a part-skim mozzarella, carried by Little Rock distributor Alliant Foods, to give the cheese the stretchiness customers expect.

Naturally, it takes a pretty stout crust to hold up the

The Miller Family -
From left: Sean,
Tamara, Tom,
Terri and Clay -
keep Mountain
View visitors
well fed.

heaping amounts of cheese and other ingredients that Tommy's bestows on its pies. So Tommy's mixes a hefty, yeasty dough that is hand-tossed and placed on the screens at a thickness of about an eighth of an inch. The flour, a high-gluten blend sold by American Products of Dallas, Texas, leaves the texture chewy, not crunchy. When it's all said and done, the customer has eaten a memorable meal.

Miller's robust pizza sauce is made from Stanislaus fresh-packed tomato products. Most of the nonperishable ingredients, along with the bell peppers, are trucked in by Alliant Foods, but Miller buys the fresh ones from local grocery stores and, during the growing season, from local residents who grow tomatoes, hot peppers, basil, garlic and fragrant, highly sought shiitake mushrooms.

This kind of quality comes with a price.

What a perfect opportunity to chat!

"We do make people wait," Miller says. We chose the phone number 269-FAST, and that's the only thing we do that's fast. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to get a pizza here."

But, hey, what a perfect opportunity to chat!

Amazingly, the Millers have succeeded without a drop of alcohol in the store, since Stone County is "dry" as a bone. A wide selection of nonalcoholic beer, ranging from O'Doul's to "NA" versions of favorites like Guinness and Beck, is, for many, an adequate substitute. And there's something else unique about Tommy's - an aroma that stops you when you walk in the stained-glass door. If s a wonderful whiff, just one slightly out of place.

Sean Miller is the dough tosser in the family, but all the Millers are the pizza experts.

That something is barbecue: Memphis-style ribs and sandwiches, smoked in a Southern Pride SC 100 smoker that the restaurant bought about 18 months after it opened. "Barbecue's our passion," says Miller. "We're not making much money on it "

I was raised in south Memphis, downwind of Leonard's, the finest barbecue restaurant in the whole country," Miller says. "We use pork shoulders and we cook overnight. If we don't sell it, it goes in the freezer for barbecue pizza. Our sandwich slaw is one of our most highly guarded secrets."

Some visitors have testily noted the absence of salad on the menu, but Miller remains unreconstructed on the issue. "Who likes salad?" he asks. "Anybody who eats salad is trying to lose weight"

JOHN HAMAN
is a writer based
in Little Rock, AR.