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Ken Tetzner, owner of Phil's Main Street Grille in Wakefield, left, his cousin, Tom Tetzner, middle, and employee Todd Sollitto show some of the pizzas cooked in the restaurant's new Wood Stone pizza oven.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Situated on Main Street in the heart of downtown Wakefield, Phil’s Main Street Grille has been an institution since the 1940s, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner both inside and outside with their rooftop deck, and since on site dining was able to resume, their backyard tent.

However, just because something has worked for so long doesn’t mean it can’t be added on and improved, as owner Ken Tetzner has made the addition of a woodstone pizza oven and barbecue smoker, both of which come with new corresponding pizza menus and barbecue offerings.

“We’re like a family restaurant so we always thought ‘how can we bring families in’ and what’s better than pizza,” Tetzner said. “Everyone loves pizza.”

The new Phil’s Pizza Parlor menu, which is offered from 11 a.m. until close, features nine pizzas and four calzones, from standards such as cheese and pepperoni to more inventive pies such as the BBQ Pulled Pork pizza, which features pulled pork cooked in the smoker, and the Breakfast pizza, which has eggs, bacon, onions, peppers and sausage gravy.

“That seems to be pretty popular with the younger crowd,” Tetzner said.

For Tetzner, just introducing pizza to the menu wasn’t enough. He wanted to make sure he put in the research, time and effort to find the best pizza oven to make the best pizzas he could.

“I kind of [sought] it out,” Tetzner said of his woodfire pizza oven, which he purchased from a company in Philadelphia he went out to visit to see for himself after doing his own research on it.

“I flew out there and met with their company and their chef, (they) took me around and showed me the equipment, I got to research it,” Tetzner said. “I really just put the time and effort in and it was a big investment, so I researched it and made sure it was the right equipment that we were looking for and I wanted to make sure of it. The best ovens put out the best product.”

The 3,500-pound oven was so large that when it was delivered to Phil’s, Tetzner had to have a garage-sized hole cut into the wall and use a crane so he could have it installed, as well as made some adjustments to the kitchen to give patrons a better view of their pizza being made.

“I opened up the back wall to the kitchen with the oven exposed and the open flame, with the guy throwing the pizza in the air, so we’re cooking the pizzas right there,” Tetzner said. “The idea obviously is to get some banter back and forth between the customers and the cook, make it a fun time.”

But just finding the best equipment wasn’t enough, as Tetzner said he also spent about a year researching and practicing to develop the perfect crust for his pies.

“We really paid attention to every detail,” Tetzner said. “We’d try a recipe, I would even do a test kitchen once we finally got the oven in. I didn’t just open right away, I was making pizzas and walking around the dining room having our regulars try the pizza and getting some feedback then going back and playing with it a little, so we had to get used to the piece of equipment and then you really need to marry the recipe of the dough with the piece of equipment and how it cooks, so it took us a little while to master that. We played around with a lot of different doughs and obviously the different scales of buying what you put in the recipe until we got just the perfect ingredients.”

So far Tetzner said the reaction from patrons to the pizza has been overwhelmingly positive, and pizzas such as their Margherita, Chicken Bacon Ranch and The White Clam, which features fresh Point Judith clams, have quickly proven popular with people of all ages.

“It’s good pizza at an affordable price as well,” Tetzner said.

As for the smoker, Tetzner said he initially got the idea to do barbecue from his backyard tent, which was installed following COVID-19 precautions to allow for more outdoor dining with inside seating still limited.

“We put the tent out back so it came to me like ‘you know, why not backyard barbecue?,’” Tetzner said. “We can smoke our own meat and also put it on the pizzas to make ours different and unique and the flavor’s there because you get a nice, smoky flavor.”

Like with his woodstone pizza oven, Tetzner also sought out a high-quality barbecue smoker, and wound up having one custom built down in Georgia, which he picked up himself and towed it back with his truck to Rhode Island.

The smoker is wood fueled, with Phil’s using a blend of three to floor distinct woods to bring out different smoky flavors for each of the meats they offer.

“The first day I did it people just kind of flocked because you could smell it all the way down Main Street when it’s smoking,” Tetzner said, adding the reception has been very positive.

The first meat they introduced was smoked pulled pork, but Tetzner has expanded into other barbecue classics such as ribs, brisket and smoked and smoked mac and cheese, with more in store.

“We’re going to be authentic, kind of make us different,” Tetzner said. “We’re going to smoke our own meats.”

While people can enjoy barbecue anywhere in the restaurant, to go or delivered via DoorDash, Tetzner likes the idea of a backyard barbecue-type feel and fun summer atmosphere offered by their back tent.

“We look at it as our backyard and Main Street’s backyard actually, so we’re thinking backyard barbecue and people can come down,” Tetzner said. “We know with this situation it’s limited to people so you can fit so many people down there and then Thursday nights we have James DeSalvo playing music. We’re trying to get some more musicians on board for Saturday nights and switch those around, so it gives people something safe. They’re outside so they can get out and do something, try to feel normal again.”

Like other restaurants, COVID-19 and resulting shutdowns have tested Phil’s and Tetzner alike, as the restaurant had to temporarily close its doors for almost two months.

“It’s a whole new world,” Tetzner said. “I’ve been in the business for 24 years and (the reopening) was like opening a brand-new restaurant.”

Luckily for Phil’s, outdoor dining has long been a key part of their business, but restrictions have kept the number of available seats down lower than usual, something which the backyard tent has been able to help alleviate. Inside, some tables have been removed and booths on the second floor have seen plastic dividers installed in between them to ensure both diner and employee safety.

“We follow the restrictions and the safety right to the queue, we don’t mess around,” Tetzner said. “We wanted to make sure that we were keeping people safe, but it’s kind of that these are the times and you just roll with it. We stay positive and we take every day, focus and keep people safe and just roll with the business.”

Phil’s Main Street Grille is located at 323 Main Street Wakefield and is open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with live music outside at the tent on Thursday nights from 6 p.m. until closing. For more information on Phil’s, visit their website, philsgrille.square.site or call them at (401) 783-4073.

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