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There are lots of rules for those who create true Neapolitan pizzas: The crust can contain only flour, yeast, salt and water; the sauce must be created using San Marzano tomatoes; only certain types of mozzarella are allowed. It's a purist's pizza, just as the majority of craft beers being created today adhere to the ancient laws of brewing.
Today we count three Neapolitan pizzerias among our favorite restaurants: ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co. and Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom locally and DeLuca's Pizzeria in Hot Springs. We just tried a fourth Neapolitan spot — The Pizzeria, which, judging by the size of crowds, has been all the rage since opening Dec. 2 near the intersection of Kavanaugh Boulevard and Cantrell Road.
"Reopening" is really more like it, as The Pizzeria migrated — very slowly — from just down the street at Terry's Finer Foods. Before that, it operated as Pizzeria Santa Lucia, a renowned food truck.
Three cocktails, one appetizer, one pizza and two desserts into our Pizzeria experience, it did not yet rival the other three. We had a pleasant experience, appreciated our waiter's kind demeanor, appreciated the dedication to craft cocktails as well as authentic pizza and found the vibe of the place fun and cool.
But we had quibbles: The "cheese dip" appetizer ($15) featured a thin round of Camembert, fired off in the pizza oven. It was perfectly gooey, and melting softened the pretty-ripe whang the room-temp cheese can have. But it was served with the most pedestrian of baguette rounds, only slightly toasted white bread. The shame is that the best baguette in the state is just around the curve at Boulevard Bread. And this ate like an $8 to $10 appetizer, not $15.
The pizzas were small, 10 inches, 11 inches tops — cut into six slices. (That's a critical bit of information to know before ordering, especially if you have a crowd of hungry diners. We didn't.) They were priced about like the larger versions (13 inches or so) at the local competitors. We opted for the supreme ($16), which featured high-quality house-made Italian sausage, high-grade pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and a gooey blanket of mozzarella. The quick cook in the very hot oven — a Mario Acunto wood model, imported from Italy — crisped up the crust's outer reaches, but the center was still pretty soft, leaving the slices limp at their tips. Note: Math isn't usually a factor in dining reviews, but considering the price, realize that while the number 10 is 77 percent of 13, a 10-inch pizza offers only 59 percent as much pizza as a 13-inch pie. (Pi x R2, you know.)
We appreciated the owner's dedication to making a variety of desserts, but our coconut cream pie ($5) was tasteless; the only coconut flavor we could discern came from what was toasted and sprinkled on top. The light filling could have used a coconut dose, too, or at least a larger one. The "pecan ball" ($9) sounded good in its description — "a ball of ice cream, covered with pecans and then a layer of chocolate sauce." But in its execution, the huge ball of ice cream — probably four scoops worth of Haagen Dazs vanilla — overwhelmed the other flavors.
We also appreciated the dedication to craft cocktails — with 17 choices priced between $9 and $15 — but our Moro Martini ($12) came without the advertised sugar rim. The Perfect Margarita ($12) was more than a bit tart for our taste.
As earlier noted, we enjoyed the atmosphere at The Pizzeria. Dark blue walls are offset by a blond-wood ceiling, and the to-the-ceiling shelving evokes the space's history as a grocery store. The brick oven and pizza prep area are surrounded with a bar and stools so you can dine or wait on a table or a to-go order. The actual bar area has a silent big-screen TV if you want to keep up with the game. A dropped ceiling and bar stool benches, yes, actual bar-height benches that seat two, are an interesting feature of the bar. They look substantial and comfy. The bar stools and booth seats are upholstered in blue striped mattress-ticking style fabric that, along with the blue-and-white striped cloth napkins, helps soften the slight industrial vibe of the place.
An overflow and semi-private dining area is in the back, and behind it is a mini arcade to entertain the kids. Overall, the space is warm and welcoming.
4910 Kavanaugh Blvd.
The restaurant can seat only about 40, plus about 10 more at the bar. So if you want to get in and get out in a reasonable amount of time, we suggest being there as soon after 5 p.m. as you can. We were the first diners in at 5:05 p.m. on a recent Sunday, but by 6:30 p.m. there were about 10 folks waiting for a table.
5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Full bar, credit cards accepted.