By Rebecca Cahilly
Some of my best memories were made over pizza. Like the night I was allowed to stay out after the junior high dance and go for a slice at Tasta Pizza. Or the months spent in Strasbourg, France, where the best treat for a penniless post-grad was tarte flambée: a wafer-thin pizza crust topped with an onion/lardon cream sauce. Or the unforgettable night my now husband took me to Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Conn., where I sat gazing at him all a-flutter over a white-clam pie.
These days it’s the memories made with our kids – Friday nights at our neighborhood Bella Sera Pizza, where owners Abbi and Jilda Bajrami greet us with hugs, double-cut slices for the kids and family updates week after week.
There are no frills at Bella Sera, it’s your standard pizza parlor with sub sandwiches, salads, wings and calzones. Mom Jilda takes the orders and runs the deliveries; pop Abbi makes each pizza by hand; and on weekends, their two daughters help out in the kitchen.
Originally from Albania, the Bajramis spent several years in Italy before moving to the States, landing in New Jersey and opening a pizzeria there. It was a tough market and competition was fierce, but a family vacation to Fort Lauderdale inspired an eventual move to Commercial Boulevard.
Their secret? “Always the best ingredients,” says Abbi, who makes every single pizza every day.
Yes the ingredients are great, but for us it’s the familial atmosphere that makes Bella Sera’s pizza the best around.
That and the stories.
Pizza has such a history that each style – nay, each slice – tells a story. Its origins have been traced to the ancient Greeks, who enjoyed herbs, olive oil and garlic atop a flatbread called plakous. When peasant families in Naples, Italy began adding tomatoes to their flatbreads, Neapolitan pizza – and the pizza we know today – was born.
Pizza purists swear by the Neapolitan-style dough of tipo (type) “00” flour – hand-stretched thin and topped with sliced San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil, then baked in an extremely hot wood-fired oven for 60-90 seconds. Italian immigrants brought family recipes here from the motherland, and the Neapolitan-style today remains touted as the most authentic of pizza.
But you no longer need to travel to Naples to enjoy authentic Neapolitan pizza; you just need to get to Delray Beach.
Nestled on busy Atlantic Avenue is Scuola Vecchia Pizza E’ Vino, a charming, brightly decorated pizzeria that feels as if you’ve stumbled into a seaside café in the old country. Owner Sharon Aloisio and her son Shaun were trained in pizza and cheese-making by world-renowned chef and Master Pizzaiuoli Roberto Caporuscio – who heads up the American chapter of the L’Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN).
As the only APN-certified pizzeria in South Florida, Scuola Vecchia (“Old School” in Italian) does everything by the book. Sharon prepares the dough for each pizza nightly, using imported Italian flour combining seven different types of wheat that, interestingly, yields a flour both low in fat and carbs. The tomatoes are from San Marzano; the prosciutto is imported from Italy and the mozzarella and burrata-style cheeses are made fresh daily from imported curds. Each pizza is cooked on volcanic stone in a bell-shaped wood-burning oven at approximately 950-1,000 degrees.
Sharon makes every dessert (we know the pizza’s good, but try to save room for the tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake, the Angioletti con Nutella, the caprese cake…); as well as the meatballs and the house-infused spicy olive oil.
“We wanted to do it right,” says Sharon, whose passion for opening a pizzeria was inspired by the authentic Italian pizzeria she and her son used to eat at years ago in Pittsburgh.
Like any perfect family recipe, the best pizzerias have their own story, too. The wood-fired thin-crust pizza at Pummarola Pastificio Pizzeria, with locations in Boca Raton and Coral Gables, is hand-made by the descendants of Rosa Donna Rummo, who carry on the tradition of their grandmother’s successful Naples-based pizza and pasta restaurant.
The duo behind Nick’s New Haven Style Pizzeria & Bar brought their childhood memories of eating “apizza” in Connecticut back to life when they opened their first location in Boca Raton. Nick’s carefully recreates the New Haven-style pizza and says their secret is the homemade sauce, a 20-year-old dough recipe, fresh ingredients and hand-built coal-fired pizza ovens.
Award-winning local chef Angelo Elia taps his Tuscan roots and traditions for the pizzas served at his Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar and Tapas restaurants; and Chef and Master Pizza Maker Louie Bossi incorporates fond memories of his early years as a cook at the local pizzeria in New York into the pizza pies at Louie Bossi’s Ristorante on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
And, while Caffé Luna Rosa in Delray Beach may be best known for its seaside location and Sunday brunch, the pizza also is worth a mention. “We use only unbleached flour, the freshest vegetables and a sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes,” Chef Ernesto DeBlasi says. “Our peppers are roasted right here in our kitchen and our pizzas are made with a blend of three freshly grated cheeses blended together.” Their breakfast pizza, made with Applewood smoked bacon, breakfast sausage and topped with two fried Eggland’s Best eggs, is a popular request.
Just as Neapolitan-style evolved into New York-style as Italian immigrants assimilated to their new life here, American-style pizza (my term) continues to evolve – as do the stories of how each style came to be. Critics may have cringed when Wolfgang Puck and Chef Ed LaDou began experimenting with gourmet and inventive pizza toppings, but the California-style trend fed into today’s trend: a demand for farm-fresh ingredients paired with a healthy selection of craft beers on tap.
At the newly opened Flash Fire Pizza, farm fresh is the focus of the toppings available with your quick-fire pizza and microbrew. Then there’s Mellow Mushroom. The concept originated in the early 1970s, as a simple organo-groovy pizza shop focused on two basic fundamentals: delicious pizza and ice-cold beer. Today Mellow Mushroom franchises continue to sprout up around the country, cultivating new fans with their vast selection of craft beers, gluten-free crusts and the essence of truffle on the Holy Shitake pie or a tender curried chicken on the Thai Dye pie. While the décor of each store is unique, the menu is consistent.
As time-honored traditions continue to blend with new trends and personal memories, so the pizza evolution continues.
“Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have a true artisan pizzeria like New York or Los Angeles,” says Marc Falsetto, co-founder of the JEY Group, owners of Himmarshee Public House, TacoCraft, Rok:Brgr and the newly opened Pizzacraft. “[Our pizza] isn’t Neapolitan, it’s not New York-style. We use Old World, old school techniques – a wood-burning Italian oven, local produce, homemade cheese, artisanal ’00’ flour…” Miami Smokers supplies the bacon, prosciutto and charcuterie here, and the focus is on high-end toppings.
“This is pizza like you’ve never seen before,” he says. “There is no pizza by the slice, there’s only one size. It’s an artisanal hybrid. It’s hipster pizza.”
Just when you think you’ve got pizza figured out, something new comes along.
Another chapter in the book. Another slice of the pie.
Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar and Tapas
4215 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-561-7300; Sawgrass Center, 5920 Coral Ridge Drive, Coral Springs, 954-344-1233; 1370 Weston Road, Weston, 954-306-0037, angeloeliapizza.com.
Bella Sera Pizza
2811 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-493-8885, bellaserapizza.com.
Caffé Luna Rosa
34 S. Ocean Road, Delray Beach,
Flash Fire Pizza
2949 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-440-2426,
Louie Bossi’s Ristorante
1032 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-356-6699, louiebossi.com.
525 N. Federal Highway #500, Fort Lauderdale, 954-712-9527; 25 SE Sixth Ave., Delray Beach, 561-330-3040; CityPlace, 700 S. Rosemary Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-653-1351, mellowmushroom.com.
Nick’s New Haven Pizzeria
2444 N. University Drive, Coral Springs, 954-800-7603; 2240 NW 19th St., Suite 904, Boca Raton, 561-368-2900, nickspizzeriabar.com.
2374 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-990-4801; 1703 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd., Hallandale Beach, 954-457-9394, piolausa.com.
330 Himmarshee St., Fort Lauderdale, pizzacraftpizzeria.com.
Pummarola Pastificio Pizzeria
Town Center at Boca Raton
6000 Glades Road, Boca Raton, 561-368-1868; 141 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 786-409-6866, pummarola.us.
Scuola Vecchia Pizza E’ Vino
522 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, 561-865-5923, scuolavecchiapizzeria.com.