The first time I went looking for the Gypsy Poet Studio, I wasn’t sure that I’d actually found it. At the location where Google Maps had sent me, there was a fenced-in patio with string lights and picnic tables, but no sign to speak of. Was I at the correct address? I wondered. “This has to be the place,” I thought.
It’s tucked inconspicuously between two other buildings on a quiet stretch of Austin Street in Midtown, and you could drive by the Gypsy Poet Studio daily and not know that it was there. Initially, the lack of signage had to do with budgeting constraints. Husband-and-wife team Vanessa Fernandez, 35, and Cesar Izaguirre, 39, newlyweds from Venezuela who had self-funded the restaurant with cousins in Miami, wanted to spend conservatively.
“We had a certain amount of investment and the sign was expensive, so we thought we’d put it off for a couple of months and use the funds for other things,” Fernandez says.
But then something magical happened. Thanks to word of mouth, the 2,300-square-foot space that they’d built with their own hands quickly garnered a small cult following, with no sign in sight. Three years after opening, the Gypsy Poet Studio still doesn’t have a sign, and it won’t be getting one. “We decided that word of mouth is the best propaganda,” Fernandez says.
During the pandemic, their customer base blossomed as word spread about the fantastic pizza prepared by this young Venezuelan couple whose kitchen team, led by Fernandez, was entirely female. Their tiny Midtown location is now a destination spot, attracting guests from all over the Houston metropolitan area, who drive in from Katy or The Woodlands just for the experience.
“Pizza — it’s like a universal language,” Izaguirre says. “It connects people.”
When pandemic restrictions eased, the couple reinstituted their popular Rehearsal Sessions, a weekly jam session where they’d host local musicians — artists like Johandy Ureña of Crank Up the Silence or Cuban jazz artist Rolando Benitez — who would, in turn, invite their friends. From providing a gallery for local artists to display their work to hosting poetry-reading nights and open mic nights, the Gypsy Poet Studio is also cultivating the local community.
Which brings us to the idea of the gypsy poet. “The gypsy poet is a very unique way to see life,” Izaguirre says. “The poet is the meaning for all the art that we have here. The word 'poet' describes the concept that we want to show. … It is art in different expressions.”
Fernandez’s own form of artistic expression? You can find it in her crust and her ongoing quest to make it lighter, crispier, and more delectable. A professional baker with a degree from IEPAN, the international school of baking in Caracas, Venezuela, she developed her crust recipe with French baguettes in mind. “The flavor and texture evoke feelings of nostalgia from when I was a young girl eating bread with my French grandmother,” she says.
There are eight custom-created pizzas on the menu, each served with fresh basil, freshly shaved parmesan, and chili flakes on the side, so that you can customize the pizza to your liking. The 14-inch pies have thin crusts — not as thin as Neapolitan-style pizza and not quite as thick as New York brick-oven pizza — and are easily among the best pizzas in Houston.
“My crust is light, airy, crispy, and soft inside, with beautiful caramelized bubbles on the crust,” she says. “I use a slow fermentation process for buttery flavor but also for easy digestion. We don’t use any oils, so the crust remains rustic on the outside.”
In other words, the crust is amazing.
Here’s what to order:
Pepperoni Madness: This is the pizza that I crave and come back to every time. In fact, it’s hard for me to even contemplate ordering anything else because it’s that good. Topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and extra large rounds of pepperoni that are baked until just-crisp at the edges, the pizza is then drizzled with Mike’s Hot Honey from Brooklyn for a sweet and spicy kick.
The Fancy Backpacker: The name of this pizza is autobiographical in nature. Right after they married, Fernandez and Izaguirre spent three years backpacking around the world. This pizza represents their journey. Topped with tomato sauce, fior di latte (whole cow’s milk mozzarella), prosciutto di Parma, mozzarella, truffle oil, and arugula, it’s so well-constructed that it is always one of the two best-selling pies.
The Secret Menu: This is a secret, off-menu item for regulars in the know. You won’t find it on the menu, but ask for it, and you will get the Cappellone pizza, which is a tomato sauce-based pizza topped with fior di latte, portobello mushroom caps, shallots, and Italian sausage as a base. “Secret” ingredients are then added — pepperoni, arugula, goat cheese, and truffle oil — resulting in a veritable explosion of flavors and textures. Says Izaguirre: “We came up with this because this is how we would eat it at home.”
The Gypsy Poet Studio, 2404 Austin St, Midtown, (281) 888-8663, thegypsypoet.us