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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