Arkansas angler and fishing expert Billy Murray shares his extensive knowledge of the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas
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 better — than anything offered by a brick and mortar restaurant. The small but indefatigable fleet of food trucks and carts in Central Arkansas is no exception. Indeed, some trucks offer dishes unlike anything you'll find elsewhere in Central Arkansas. One of Little Rock's freshest faces in the mobile dining scene is serving 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're sharing their passion and commitment to quality by spreading the gospel of authentic Neapolitan pizza.
Pizzeria Santa Lucia's head pizzaiolo, Georges Launet, is a Little Rock native who has been floating around the restaurant business for 15 years. From his experiences in Europe, Launet had fallen in love with the art of Neapolitan pizza, something he was determined to bring back home to Arkansas. After cooking for a number of quality restaurants around town, he joined the folks at the fine foods catering company, Palette. With assistance from the two chef/owners of Palette, Jeremy and Jacquelyn Pittman, Launet's pizza pipe dreams began to take shape.
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 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 simple fragrant sauce is created from crushed San Marzano tomatoes, the flour is a Caputo "00" milled in Italy. Toppings are light, few, and not heavily applied; 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 will tell you "in some cases tradition is something that is so, because it is truly right."
We first sampled Santa Lucia's version of the margherita ($8), the great equalizer among Neapolitan pie. It's a pizza that's topped so simply, it may often be overlooked for flashier, more complex pies. However, this combination — mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil — is a proven classic for its ability to perfectly meld these three flavors, each one enhancing and improving the others. The basil, while not used in excess, provides an aromatic note to the sweet, tangy tomato sauce. The soft cheese deteriorates into small white pools after its time in the fiery oven, becoming light, gooey, and bubbling hot. The fresh mozzarella, the simple sauce of crushed tomatoes, the sprigs of basil — they're all relatively mild flavors, but they go extremely well together. They're also the perfect addition to the masterfully crafted crust. It's the crust, perhaps more than anything else, that sets Neapolitan pies apart, and Santa Lucia's version is as fine as any we've tasted. The thin, crispy crust is flavorful enough on its own that you won't be throwing away any leftover untopped end pieces. Though at about 10 inches, the pies will probably not last long enough for leftovers.
For a slightly spicier pie, the pepperoni ($10) is a fantastic option. This bright red, air-dried sausage is lightly smoky, fine-grained, and soft. After a trip through the oven, the pepperoni slices gently curl up around the edges, forming small, bowl shaped discs with lightly blackened edges at various points. The pepperoni adds a bolder, richer flavor to the overall profile of the pie, and the added salty grease doesn't overwhelm beautifully crafted pie beneath.
Lastly, we sampled one of the "specials" of the day, a white pie (sans tomato sauce) with mozzarella, chorizo, arugula and cherry tomatoes ($12). In this case the pie is first baked with only the cheese and sausage atop, pulled from the oven, topped with the greens and tomato, and finally sprinkled with a few gratings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. We were smitten by the combination of peppery arugula and creamy mozzarella, paired with the spicy, richness of the chorizo. The combination of raw and cooked ingredients, the mix of hot and cool temperatures, was inspired.
Neapolitan pizza is probably 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. But Santa Lucia's devotion to reproducing the authentic flavors of Naples is something to be admired — and besides that, its pizza tastes great.
Pizzeria Santa Lucia
The folks behind Pizzeria Santa Lucia are operating out of a mobile pizza oven, imported from Italy, and churning out some really fine pies all over Little Rock. They're on the smaller side and not topped to excess, but they're refreshing and quite flavorful. Everything's fired to order, so allow some time for your pie to be completed, especially on a busy night. Stand back and watch the pizzaioli at work — it's a beautiful thing to behold; they're artists in their own right. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates and locations.
Typically 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Credit cards accepted.