Monday, April 1, 2013

Pizzeria Santa Lucia brings a slice of Naples to Arkansas

Posted By on Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 10:23 AM

Chorizo, arugula, cherry tomato
  • Chorizo, arugula, cherry tomato

If the ever-expanding food truck movement over the past few years has taught us one thing, it's that often, food from a mobile kitchen can be as good—or sometimes better—than anything offered by a brick and mortar restaurant. Our small but indefatigable fleet of food trucks and carts in central Arkansas is no exception. You'll find some of the most talented chefs, inventive menus, and skilled artisans cramped within the confines of a rolling restaurant. Indeed, some trucks will offer dishes unlike anything you'll find elsewhere in central Arkansas. It's this ingenuity that often attracts diners to food trucks, and keeps patrons lining up outside their order windows. One of Little Rock's freshest faces in the mobile dining scene is hoping to continue our tradition of eating excellence, and they're doing it through one of America's most beloved dishes, pizza. However, the folks behind Pizzeria Santa Lucia would not be content with throwing together a few half-hearted, grease-soaked, pedestrian pies. Instead, they are bringing to Little Rock something yet to be offered by any other pizzeria in this town, sharing their passion by spreading the gospel of authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Sausage, purple potato
  • Sausage, purple potato
Recently, on a cold, wet, stormy night, Santa Lucia was camped out on Kavanaugh Blvd. slinging pizzas for a charity event. Their large, dome-shaped wood-fired oven sat on a trailer was parked on a street corner, while pizzas were assembled under a number of tents, overhangs, and tarps. The weather had deterred most prospective diners, but I was fortunate to spend a little time getting to know the brains and brawn behind this operation…and of course, I sampled some of their fine product.

Pizzeria Santa Lucia’s head pizzaiolo, Georges Launet is a Little Rock native who has been floating around the restaurant business for fifteen years. After cooking for a number of quality restaurants around town, he describes his latest venture with the fine foods catering company, Palette, to be the most influential and inspiring of his career. Here he met Jeremy and Jacquelyn Pittman, and the two chef/owners took Launet under their culinary wings. As Launet began to develop aspirations of his own, he was reminded of time spent in France with his father, where he would be introduced to Neapolitan pizza for the first time. Launet fell in love with the art of creating authentic Neapolitan pies, claiming that after sampling them, he “would never be the same again.” Drawing upon his experiences in Europe, and after cutting his teeth in the kitchens at Palette Catering, Launet was determined to bring authentic Neapolitan pizza to Little Rock, the first of its kind, something unlike any other pie in central Arkansas.

IMG_3349.JPG
Neapolitan pizza adheres to strict guidelines in terms of preparation, ingredients, and cooking, but the folks at Santa Lucia are committed to doing things correctly. Neapolitan pizza is cooked in a 100% wood-fired oven—an oven Santa Lucia had imported from Italy—at no less than 900 degrees F. This sweltering temperature allows the pies to cook quickly, usually around 90 seconds—the fast cooking time causes the crust to crisp up quickly, imparting numerous charred and blackened “blisters” from the kiss of flame, but keeping the interior of the crust soft and chewy. The bright, fragrant sauce is simply created from crushed San Marzano tomatoes, the flour is a Caputo "00" milled in Italy. Toppings are light, few, and not heavily applied (of interest, Santa Lucia will be getting a specially prepared pepperoni and other meats from the folks at H.A.M.); mozzarella is only loosely scattered about, not stacked to three inches thick. Authentic Neapolitan pizza is an art that’s buried in tradition, but Launet in convinced that “in some cases tradition is something that is so, because it is truly right.”

If you’re anxious to get your slice of Naples from the wonderful folks operating Pizzeria Santa Lucia, you’ll need to keep track of their whereabouts via their Facebook page. They’re hoping to set up shop at a number of monthly events around town—First Thursdays in Hillcrest, Bernice Garden’s Food Truck events, and Third Thursdays in The Heights being just a few. Their reception among Little Rock diners has been exceptional, in fact they sold out of pies within two hours at their SoMa debut recently. Neapolitan pizza is not for everyone, there’s bound to be some who can’t get over the sparseness of cheese and toppings, the blackened bits of crust, the soft, saggy center of the crust. But this is to be expected; there are numerous schools of thought on what makes the ideal pie, and pizza remains one of the most polarizing foods in existence. Personally, I’d put Neapolitan pie at the pinnacle of pizza existence. I believe you will not find a more pure pizza specimen on this planet. I’m enthusiastic about the arrival of Pizzeria Santa Lucia to Arkansas, and I look forward to what these folks have up on the drawing board.

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