JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
Remember when one of the knocks on the New Orleans food scene was that you couldn’t find a decent pizza? Those days are long gone. Excellent pizza joints around town offer versions of everything from cracker-thin New York to Chicago Deep-Dish.
Here is a look at some new places serving up Neapolitan – the style of pizza that has seen the biggest boom in the past year.
Wonderful things are happening in a former Popeyes in Harahan, where chef and New Orleans native Adam Superneau opened Oak Oven with his business partners back in February. Considering they bring a farm-to-table ethos in the ’burbs – much of their produce is grown on-site – and deftly balance it with a menu that’s both intelligent and accessible is quite a feat.
Much of that is a reflection of Superneau, who originally embarked on a career in finance before he fell in love with cooking after working at Vincent’s post-Katrina. But it was his Sicilian roots and time spent at cooking school in Italy that propelled him to work at Domenica, and later, to open Oak Oven.
Superneau’s pizzas get baked in a Mugnaini oven with a stone deck fired exclusively with oak. His have a thinner, crisper crust then some other Neapolitan-style pies around town and feature less char and more generous toppings. He also cooks at a slightly lower temperature, usually around 730 to 770 degrees instead of the more than 800 that’s typical of the style. “When I worked in Colorno, Italy, the best pizza there didn’t have a lot of char on it,” Superneau says. “Char was just not my experience of what Neapolitan pizza is about.”
The Lamb Meatball pizza uses lamb sourced from Two-Run Farms. The Salsiccia pizza is complex, with spicy and salty toppings including fennel sausage, capers and olives. But when Superneau sits down to eat, he likes the Margherita with its fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive oil. “If it was me, I’d eat a margherita pizza every day. Simplest is still the best as far as I’m concerned,” Superneau says.
On St. Charles Avenue near Lee Circle, chef and owner Bogdan Mocanu turns out excellent Neapolitan pizza at Dolce Vita Pizzeria. Originally from Romania, Mocanu grew up with much of his food cooked over wood fire rather than gas. The heart of his kitchen, a beautiful domed Stefano Ferrara pizza oven, is the product of over 100 years of craftsmanship and a point of pride for Mocanu. “You can get a lot of ovens that are imported from Italy, but that doesn’t make them special necessarily,” he says, “Stefano’s ovens have a lot of knowledge behind them. It takes skill and craftsmanship to work this station as the pizzas cook so quickly.”
Mocanu uses oak for its high heat and adds pecan wood for aroma. Simpler pizzas like the Margherita are a preferred way to let the crust take center stage, but there are plenty of other choices for diners who like to load on the toppings. Carnivores will like his Milano, with capicola, prosciutto, sopressata and pancetta, while the Florence offers an array of roasted vegetables.
Mocanu also recently expanded the menu to include sandwiches served on wood-fired focaccia bread he bakes in the oven.
These include caprese, eggplant parmesan and meatball. Going into fall, he plans to add fresh homemade pasta. Dolce Vita also offers catering and online ordering and while the Neapolitan pizzas are best enjoyed hot out of the oven on-site, take-out and delivery service is available.
One commonality that Superneau and Mocanu share is that both chefs spent time with chef Alon Shaya at Domenica. Shaya, in turn, recently opened Pizza Domenica Uptown on Magazine Street.
The idea for a pizza-centric spinoff of his award-winning Domenica came early on. “About a year after we opened Domenica I started talking about how I’d love to open a neighborhood place,” Shaya says. “A lot of our guests at Domenica live Uptown and pizza just seemed like the natural way to grow.”
Though it shares a name, Pizza Domenica operates independent of Domenica in the Roosevelt hotel. The heart of its operation is his oven. Imported from Modena, Italy, it boasts a 1-ton rotating stone deck that makes it well suited to produce artisan pizzas at high volume. Shaya fires his with pecan wood.
The crusts of the pizzas here tend to be complex and blistered, a landscape of soft dough interspersed with airy bubbles of char and a fairly crisp bottom. As behooves a Neapolitan-style pizza, the pies (like the others covered in this column) are personal-sized at around 12 inches. Garnishes here are applied with a lighter hand to let the crust take a central role. Again, the Margherita with its tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella makes for a good starting point. There are also creative meatless choices such as the Roasted Carrot with goat cheese, red onion, beets, hazelnuts and Brussels sprouts. “But my favorite is the Pizza Enzo,” Shaya says. “I love the salt-cured anchovies.”
At Ancora on Freret Street, owner Jeff Talbot has been turning out its own Neapolitan pizzas since 2011. Talbot adheres strictly to DOC pizza rules, which determine almost all aspects of the pizza’s creation from crust to size to composition of styles. For pizza lovers seeking the most honest expression of true Neapolitan pies, this is the place to visit. Save room for the excellent market salads and cured meat plates.
4508 Freret St.
Dolce Vita Pizzeria
1205 St, Charles Ave.
6625 Jefferson Highway
4933 Magazine St.