Pizza Pies + Gratitude | Rafi Bildner and Hilltown Hot Pies Pop-Up | Becket, Mass
This piece was originally scheduled to run in my bi-monthly food column but timing and placement did not work out to get it live prior to Rafi’s pop-up coming to an end. I wanted to share it here as his passion and dedication and appreciation for the experience is a lot of what the Berkshires is about, when you can find the right people to support your vision. While I was unable to try his pies in person, I very much am looking forward to seeing what Rafi Bildner does next.
Where can you find a pizza with local blue cheese, peaches picked at the peak of ripeness, on a naturally leavened dough, finished with a drizzle of Italian balsamic vinegar deep in the woods of the Berkshires? For the next two weeks, The Dream Away Lodge.
Rafi Bildner’s pop-up restaurant, Hilltown Hot Pies, is based at the Dream Away Lodge in Becket now through Labor Day. Serving Neapolitan-style pizza on naturally leavened dough in his outdoor gas-powered outdoor pizza oven, Bildner is crafting mostly veggie pizza pies that highlight local ingredients and celebrate the bounty of summer produce.
Growing up in New Jersey to a family who worked in the food distribution business, Bildner grew up visiting the Berkshires with his family and after high school briefly spent time as a farmer in the region for two seasons before attending culinary school.
After later attending Yale and getting his degree in agricultural policy, he eventually returned to cooking winter and got his pizza-making chops learning from some of the best pizzamakers in the country, most recently finishing a stint at San Francisco’s PizzaHacker, a famous sourdough pizza restaurant.
The partnership with The Dream Away came together as most things do in the Berkshires: organically. While Bildner started his a short stint as a farmer right after high school, he connected with chef Amy Loveless, and she was one of his first customers using his produce from the restaurant.
Reflecting on his time as a farmer, it appears that since he left the farming life. “I’m excited that the quality of my pizzas are perhaps a little higher quality than the mediocre radishes I was selling her,” says Bildner. “As a very, very new, very shy farmer, who didn’t really know what he was doing.
Hilltown Hot Pies operates out in the elements in a Dream Away Lodge offering a supplement to their food offerings during the peak summer months Bildner offers 5-6 pies on his menu averaging between $12 and $15 per pie.
The menu changes day-to-day and is dependent on what Bildner can source from local farmers and purveyors. “Pizza is truly the most blank canvas in which you can showcase the region’s bounty,” says Bildner. “You can really paint a picture of the food landscape of a region through a pizza.”
Two Hilltown Hot Pies that have been a hit with customers are The Peachy Brother featuring local peaches, mozzarella, caramelized red onions, basil and finished with a balsamic reduction and The Garlic Goat with garlic scape pesto, chèvre, zucchini, mozzarella cheese, and pine nuts.
The inspiration for each pie is to highlight the bounty of the summer season include and have a mix of textures and flavors Bildner wants his pizzas to be a full meal for customers.
The sourdough starter that Bildner uses to make his pies has traveled with him across the country and back as well as accompanied him overseas. With each trip, it was exposed to the native cultures and bacteria is allowing it to develop a complex flavor profile. He is hesitant to call it an authentic sourdough pie, but refers to it as “naturally leavened.”
Bildner says he can’t say enough about Loveless, and Daniel Osman, owner of The Dream Away Lodge and their support of the pop-op. as well as support from the community. “I think it’s been very clear to me that folks in this area, whether it’s visitors, second home owners, regional folks or local people, are really excited when something new comes to the area,” says Bildner.
What’s next for Hilltown Hot Pies? Bildner has aspirations to at some point, open his own brick and mortar location in the Berkshires, but for now, he’s enjoying the next two weeks. “It’s all been so full circle cause I’ve been able to really connect with all these farmers that I got to know who were so supportive of me when I was farming up here before college.
To grab one of your own Hilltown Hot Pies at The Dream Away Lodge now until Labor Day week. Pizzas are first come, first serve. Reservations are not needed but know that pizzas are based on availability and when he sells out, he’s done for the day. To keep up to date with the menu, hours and news from Bildner and Hilltown Hot Pies, make sure to follow him on Instagram at @hilltownhotpies.
Hilltown Hot Pies @ The Dream Away Lodge 1342 County Road, Becket, Mass