Pie in the sky: Contemporary pizza restaurants
Wolfgang Puck put arugula on pizza and brought it to Disney World some 25 years ago. Now another generation is reinventing the humble pie, and like most of today’s menus, the ideas are as old as they are new. Pizza fits today’s post-recession restauranting because it is casual, affordable, utensil- free and goes as well with craft beer as with a pitcher of Bud.
More important for chefs and diners, pizzas are hand-made and can be exceptionally artisanal, from scorched crust to inventive toppings.
It started with the bread revolution and young bakers inspired by old peasant style. Pane Rustica bakery opened in Tampa more than a decade ago without pizza on the menu, then added it after the owners took a trip to Napa and discovered great chefs and shops serving pizza. Creating their own relied on great baking. “The foundation of pizza is the crust,” says owner Kevin Kruszewski. Good crust requires more than a roaring fire — wood, coal or gas — in a brick or stone oven. It takes patience to ferment the dough and let it rise — a two-day process at Pane Rustica — plus adding prosciutto, figs and eggs sunny-side up.
Those kinds of fancy toppings are also a big part of contemporary pizza — fixings that may be just as hand-made as the dough and as piggy as sausage and pepperoni, but with artisan credentials — from Parma to in-house.
Proof Pizza and Pasta, Miami
In midtown, Proof is New World slick in polished wood and chrome and Old World in crust and flavor. Chefs Justin Flit and Matt DePante went to French Culinary Institute in New York and worked at the most expensive restaurants there and in Miami, but their own place does charred Neapolitan pizza in a 900-degree wood oven.
The salumi pie gets spiked with chili oil, the true “meat-eater’s” has oxtail and black garlic, and the vegetable pie has eggplant, pesto and African peppers.
Bar Tulia, Naples
Chef Vincenzo Betulia, who brought rustic Italian to the glitter of Fifth Avenue, has now given it a lustier Italian gastropub next door with small plates and piattini of fried rabbit wings, deviled farm eggs and roasted pork shoulder sliders and, of course, pizza.
But not just margherita. The pizzas he makes at Bar Tulia with chef Frank Pullara can be topped with local arugula, house ricotta, kale, fennel pollen, pork shoulder and sage or even spread with nduja, the spicy soft salami from Calabria.
Wolfie’s PizzaMia, Orlando
White Wolf Cafe & Bar is a hot spot in the Ivanhoe antiques strip for brunch and super burgers. It had already added lobster biqsue and grilled shrimp to 8 ounces of beef for a surf and turf. What could they do with pizza?
Make it green, local and cured in-house a couple of doors away at Wolfie’s. On pizza, there’s house sausage, Prosciutto di Wolf, its own bresaola, plus heirloom tomatoes, fennel, apple and béchamel if you want. Look for Mangalitsa pork, Zellwood corn, Florida fish and salumi platters.
Noble Crust, St. Petersburg
John Mays and T.J. Thielbar opened the first Bonefish but parted from the corporation and after a non-competitive hiatus came back to the business in love with the latest styles, especially the handmade, unique and local.
Like the pizza in its namesake, especially one that has a creamy clam sauce, topped with Cedar Key clams, cherry peppers and chewy bacon chunks. The menu and culinary theme is fusion of their own invention, “seasonal Italian with Southern soul,” which means you can also get pizza with sausage and collards or arugula and country ham. Order sides of gnocchi or grits or get a taste of both worlds, in pimento cheese arancini with pepper jelly, sweet potato ravioli or minestrone with ham hock and hominy.
After finding their site, the two built the furniture for the industrial design — long wood tables, a concrete bar and more. They determined to make the food from scratch too.
Another Bonefish exile, Tim Curci, one of the founders, has stepped back further from chain restauranting. He and his wife, Jen, have set up a small shop to make ravioli and lasagna and a market garden in north Tampa, selling their produce and product to Noble Crust and eventually their own farm-to-table restaurant.