There's a pizza war brewing in Greenwich. There are so many pizzerias in town, you wonder about the carbon footprint of all those San Marzano tomatoes leaving the volcanic soil of Campania for the rocky terrain of Greenwich. And all that extra virgin olive oil (okay, the mozzarella needs only to be trucked up from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx). We’ve gone from the small-town pizza parlor to the chain take-outs, and then, rolling in on the perpetual tide of our favorite Italian pie, the artisanal pizzeria. It was bound to happen.
Back in the old days, everyone in central Greenwich flocked to Da Vinci’s for pizza. In Old Greenwich it was (and still is) 's Pizza while over in Byram and Glenville, has been a long-time favorite. Then all of a sudden, every Tony and Joe who opened a restaurant in the area installed gas-fired pizza ovens. Hostaria in Port Chester brought over this short Neapolitan pizzaolio to air spin dough into giant round parchment-colored discs that looked like thin alien ships. on the Ave slipped a pizza oven into a kitchen the size of a closet. met you coming and going from the train. opened with a showstopper oven and another little Italian, but cuter, pushing the dough into a proper circle. attracts celebrities, Tarry Lodge is owned by celebrities and packs in movie fans.
Now along comes Ré Napoli -- a 1,700 square-foot casual (very casual) black-and-white tiled eatery right out of the crazy, crowded byways of Naples. It’s a utilitarian space where the kitchen is longer than the dining area with a glass case as the demarcation zone. Inside the case, samples of the pizza menu are displayed so you have a good idea of what you will be getting when you order. Beyond that, in more prominence, is a oak and elm wood-burning oven fired to 900 degrees. You feel the heat before you spy the blistering red logs inside. Steps away are two other ovens, steel ones set at cooler temps like 650 degrees, for other kinds of dough.
Nearby are hip-high canisters like stubby trash cans in which sticky, gooey dough is churning itself into a fermented, yeasty glob that threatens to boil over the rim in a kind of horror scene on the big screen for a teen-screaming, terrified audience. A mother dough, aka starter, is treated with all due motherly respect. There are inches-high wooden boxes and proofing cabinets where orbs of dough are rising and fermenting. There are also barrels of aged flour. I’ve never thought about how old my bag of flour is, but apparently youth is a significant criteria for a proper slice of the Margherita. Ré Napoli is so hi tech and so precision calibrated you’d think the owner is vying for an Olympic gold. And you would be right.
Steve Cioffi and Bruno diFabio are the owners/chefs. Steve is the quiet one, the listener, and Bruno is the Food Network star, the one who won the top award in an international pizza contest not so long ago, the one who cofounded a school for pizza, the one who brings an almost fanatical erudition and technique to his passion for pizza, the one with seven pizzerias clamoring for adulation.
If you thought that pizza is basically a breadlike dough simply topped with tomato sauce and some melted cheese, Bruno will quickly dissuade you of that notion, well, maybe it would take an hour of pizza making 101. He can discourse at length about the Romana ($36–$38), the Napoletana ($16–$19), the New York ($17–$20). He waxes euphoric about Caputo 00 and 5 Stagioni flours, about plum tomatoes destemmed and seeded, sausage meat that is “pinched” out of its casings onto the dough, flour with a high protein index, the “poolish” method of dough making. You have to know when to use fior di latte mozzarella or burrata, and that dried Sicilian oregano is the herb of choice.
OMG, all I wanted was a pizza tonight.
Then I read the menu: 12 Napoletanas evenly divided between tomato-based (I liked the New Yorker with meatballs and pepperoni tamed by ricotta) and white pies (a favorite is the Calabrese with sausage and caramelized onions); 3 family-size 24-inch Romanas with three choices, each graduating across the rectangle from sumptuous (think olives, creamy ricotta) to savory (think salami, prosciutto) to sweet (nutella, banana, fig preserve, caramelized onion); and New York with its popular sauce topped with at least six variations. Or I could make up my own with any of a slew of toppings.
Margherita scores every time. The edge of the dough is puffed and beautifully blistered, with bits of charred flesh. It’s thin and light; the mozzarella is also thin, not the cardboard slabs of mass-produced cheese; and the sauce is perfectly nuanced between sweet and savory. I also tried the Tony G Romana where the dough is thick like the Sicilian versions of old but Ré Napoli’s blows it out of the water: Its pizza is pillowy and doesn’t sit in your stomach like a lump of clay. It is a lot of bread however, like a princely focaccia.
A salad is almost de rigueur with pizza and while I usually whip up a bowl at home when I order take-out, I decided to try something different. The arugula with slivery, glistening anchovies is admirable but the lemony fennel crowned with avocado, red onion and cherry tomatoes was pitch-perfect. It was sassy enough to stand up to big brother pizza, offering crunch and creaminess in one bite.
There’s so much to try at this small eatery with big ambitions — pastas, for example, and its Chicago Italian Beef on baguette. I tried the one (there are four choices) with a whisper of mozzarella and a fiery giardiniera. Be forewarned that if you order this hero “soaked,” it is so wet in beef jus you’ll need a towel to dry off. Unfortunately, Ré Napoli doesn’t have a liquor license, so tote your own beer or wine if you plan on dining in. Artisanal pizza has arrived full-speed ahead in town and you should jump aboard for a wonderful experience.
Ré Napoli is truly a king of pizza.
ReNapoli Pizzeria & Chicago Italian Beef
216 Sound Beach Ave. (across from firehouse)
Old Greenwich, CT 06870
Lunch and Dinner
Eat in or take out, 7 days a week.
Delivery to most of Greenwich and parts of Stamford.