Sky Full of Bacon

Pizzeria Buffa

Pizzeria Serio, a new Neapolitan-style pizza place on Belmont promising “serious brick-oven pizza,” has a promising look, brick walls, a dark wood bar (not licensed yet), fire glowing in the back and flatscreen glowing in the front. Promise starts being dashed, though, the moment you look at the short menu and its list of pizza choices. How can you claim with a straight face to be seriously devoted to authentic Neapolitan styles of pizza-making when your only toppings are the exact same ones that would have been offered at Fat Joe’s Pizza & Subs in Spearfish, South Dakota in 1967?

Enjoy your pizza with such typical fruits of the Italian countryside as presliced foodservice mushrooms, rubber-tire black olives and styrofoam-crunchy green pepper slices! Close your eyes and catch a hint of the Naples waterfront as you order a meat lover’s special consisting of pepperoni, Canadian bacon and sausage! That’s less old country than Old Country Buffet.

It’s not that every woodburning pizza place needs to break new ground in exotic ingredients. But Pizzeria Serio’s location is within a circle bounded by Spacca Napoli, Frasca and Sapore de Napoli, all of which make at least creditable brick oven pizza in a variety of styles. Frasca’s pretty much a sports bar dressed up as an Italian restaurant, and you can get a plain old pepperoni pizza there, but they also do white pizzas with rosemary and pistachios and so on; they are aware that such things exist and adroitly balance their menu between foodie and conventional tastes. Pizzeria Serio seems not to know that such things are possible on a pizza— let alone that they exist all around it, serving the same neighbors whose willingness to order such things has been amply demonstrated for a good five years now.

And because the frame of reference is so American, the pizzas come out in an unmistakably American style that wrecks the balance of the Neapolitan pie.  The crust really is pretty decent, clearly made with 00-style flour for that chewy-airy effect. I could wish that it had been cooked harder, or higher, or whatever it would take to produce some bits of char, which to me is the point of Neapolitan pizza, but then I’m a char-head and if that’s not what you’re aiming for, fine. But then every pie, even the margherita which is otherwise the one authentic-seeming item, is covered with easily twice as much acidic tomato sauce as a Neapolitan pie would have, a blast of harsh tomatoeyness that tips the balance of taste away from Naples and toward Little Caesar’s.  (Technically, it’s apparently supposed to be a “New York-Neapolitan hybrid,” which I can only take to mean, “we know we’re putting too much tomato sauce on for a Neapolitan pie.”)

At that, though, the pizzas were far better than the salad my wife ordered, which was the one thing that really lived up to the name of opera serio by being tragic. If you’re going to serve salad out of the same box of Earthbound Farms baby lettuce that all your customers buy at Whole Foods two blocks away, you ought to know what they know by now, which is that the dark purple lettuce with the ruffled edges wilts and turns black first, when the rest of the box looks fine. Pieces of this sodden black seaweed were all over the healthier greens in this salad, making it a nasty eating experience even if it hadn’t had all the other signs of indifferent salad making (too-large chunks of too-hot onion and a mound of eraser-rubber foodservice mushrooms tossed in a harsh vinaigrette). It’s the sort of wan contemporary salad that makes you appreciate the indestructability of the old Italian-American restaurant salad, crisp white iceberg and oil and vinegar adjusted by the patron, with a basket of crackers and breadsticks to nosh on if all else failed.

What’s unfortunate is that Pizzeria Serio has the equipment in place to do so much better, so why it should be aiming so squarely at a somewhat humdrum conventional American style topped with firmly mediocre Sysco truck ingredients is a mystery. Again, set aside a place aiming for true artisanship, like Spacca Napoli, and look at a place like Frasca, which is run by a restaurant group with various bars in their portfolio. One of their pizzas, the Capone, is like the platonic ideal of a Pizza Hut supreme, the ingredients are merely sausage and onion and tomato sauce and cheese, and yet the sausage is bright with fennel and the sauce is well-seasoned and for what it is, it sparkles. Nobody’s going to name Frasca one of the best Italian restaurants in town, but it understands the scene it competes on and makes a respectable, contemporary showing with flavorful, well-crafted food. Nothing at Pizzeria Serio reached even that mid-tier level of bright flavors or quality. If they’re going to make it in an area with this kind of competition, they need to get serious about what they put on that crust.

Pizzeria Serio
1708 W. Belmont

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7 Responses to “Pizzeria Buffa”

  1. Dan Says:

    This is unfortunate because I had been keeping an eye on this space for a long time and had somewhat high hopes for the place. What you say about Fresca is spot-on, too. Its food’s modest success isn’t setting the bar so high as to be unattainable. Given that it’s a short walk between Frasca and Serio, I know which direction to head. (Well, really to Sapore di Napoli.)

  2. Kenny Z Says:

    I love the Capone at Frasca, and always order it without the tomato sauce. The sausage is really terrific.

  3. Michael Gebert Says:

    You’re missing out on the Pizza Hut supreme part!

  4. Scott Says:

    Being the owner and Chef of Pizzeria Serio I feel I have to respond to this not so flattering review of my restaurant. First off, let’s clear a few things up. Buffa’s whole review is based on the misconception that I’m a Neapolian pizzeria. I’ve never marketed my pizza as being Neapolitan nor am I trying to compete in that space. My goal is to offer great thin crust pizza using traditional toppings that most of us grew up eating. My pizza is what you’ll find in NY, where the crust has the DNA of Neapolitan both in ingrediants and techniques used in the dough making process. In regards to Buffa’s statements regarding my Mushrooms, I can ASSURE you they are NOT canned and/or rubbery. I use only FRESH whole mushrooms cut inhouse. The same goes for my Bell Peppers and Onions. It’s really a shame that Buffa makes these and other HUGE FALSE assumptions and bases his entire review on them before talking to me about what’s going on at Serio.

  5. Michael Gebert Says:

    Well, unfortunately then they’re flat-tasting sliced-in-house vegetables. My review is not based on the assumption that things were made a certain way, but on the fact that they just didn’t have a lot of flavor. I think the crust is nice, and if other people like the New York-style toppings, fine, but they just didn’t do anything for me.

  6. Scott Says:

    With all due respect..a whole white mushroom is a whole white mushroom. The same goes for a red onion and green pepper. The pepperoni is high quality Margherita brand, Italian sausage is from local purveyor Anichini Brothers which is, in my opinion, the best and I tried several local purveyors, and the Sopressata is imported from Italy from another local well known purveyor. I’m sorry you didn’t like my pizza, but I feel I’m making a high quality product with great taste and fresh ingrediants. For anyone giving my pizza a try, if you don’t like it, ask for me and I won’t make you pay for it.

  7. Pete Tsa Says:

    hmmm…reading your review leads me to believe the pizza is neopolitan style. reading the serio website leads me to believe serio is in the neopolitan style. reading the press that pre-empted the serio opening led me to believe that it is NY Style. Maybe this is more of a branding/identity issue? Something that can be tweaked if need be.