|Soupy Center||Dominic Armato|
Okay, let's get this out of the way up front: This pizza is NOT undercooked.
I hope you'll forgive the curt welcome, but the opening of a new Neapolitan pizza place inevitably precipitates one of my greatest culinary pet peeves, and we can't go any further until we get it out of the way. Once the restaurant is launched, it's usually less than 24 hours before the first complaint hits that the center of the pizza is undercooked. So please allow me to assure you, this is a feature, not a bug. Traditional Neapolitan pizzas usually have a center that is... moist. Perhaps wet. Downright soupy, even. It's supposed to be that way, and devotees of the style dig it.
You don't have to! There's always room for personal preference. And personally, I adore the soupy center. I was a little taken aback the first time I had a pizza of this nature in Italy, but I quickly grew to love the fact that a Neapolitan pizza is like a continuum of textures, from the charred and bubbly mesosphere to the bready stratosphere to the soft and tender troposphere right down to the hot, molten core, each section interacting with the toppings in a different way. Uniformity can be boring. This is pizza evolution at work.
Which isn't to say that I put forth Neapolitan pizza as the pinnacle of pizza technology, the Olympian ideal, the One True Pie. I merely think it important to recognize and respect it for what it is. See, when it comes to pizza styles, I like to think of myself as a religious pluralist. Folks from Italy, New York, Chicago and New Haven (Californians seem to recognize they won't be winning this fight) can duke it out, each declaring their style the purest of form and flavor, but they're all wrong. I say there are many paths, each of which can lead one to crusty nirvana in its own beautifully nuanced way. And yet, particularly when dealing with a food as historically significant as Neapolitan pizza, I think there's room for the dogmatic approach, which is exactly what 'Pomo provides.
|The Oven||Dominic Armato|
'Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana is the first pizzeria in the valley to attain VPN certification. VPN is shorthand for Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, and if you want to see culinary dogma at work, you need look no further. It's an Italian trade association devoted to preserving the strictest traditional interpretation of Neapolitan pizza, and their standards are, shall we say, stringent? Peeking at the basic guidelines, they don't look too onerous -- wood burning oven, all natural ingredients, hand-worked dough -- it seems like a lot of places might qualify. But when you dig a little and get into the nitty gritty, it's immediately evident that these guys aren't screwing around. Standards range from the mathematically precise ("The central part should be 0.3 cm thick, and the crust 1-2 cm thick.") to the "we know it when we see it" vague ("The pizza, at the end of the cooking process, will emanate a characteristic aroma, at once perfumed and fragrant."), and they're numerous and lengthy. Hey, they're preserving history here. Do it right or don't bother.
|Insalata Romana||Dominic Armato|
As such, it's no surprise that the VPN logo, a Pulcinella with a pizza peel standing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, is prominently featured all around the restaurant. If you've got it, you flaunt it. The room is otherwise very modern, and might have crossed the line into stark if not for an enormous sepia tone photograph of a bustling Neapolitan street that completely covers one huge wall. The menu is, predictably, focused on pizzas of which there are a score (even if the VPN only officially recognizes two), but there is a smattering of antipasti, panini, insalate, dolci and a tiny section reserved for one Neapolitan specialty that I'll get to in a moment. The only savory item I sampled other than the pizza was their Insalata Romana, essentially a Caesar (dig the name, but it was invented in Mexico, amici) which is perfectly well done if not especially notable. The main event, however, is something that demands attention.
|Bufala D.O.P.||Dominic Armato|
I first tried their Bufala D.O.P., precisely because it's as traditional as they come. The dough's hand-pulled, it's sparingly dressed with only San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo milk mozzarella from Naples, olive oil and fresh basil, and into the oven it goes for all of 90 seconds or so (hey, the oven's pushing 1000°). What comes out isn't the most glimmering example of a Neapolitan pizza I've had, but it's a solid addition to the ranks. Neapolitan pizza is a minimal foodstuff, and it lives or dies on the technical mastery of the bread, and the quality of the toppings. The former could use a little work. There's good flavor here, but a little more blister and char around the edges is called for, I think. Every oven, particularly one built by hand in Naples and shipped overseas, has its own character and can take time to master, which may be the case here. The toppings, however, were impeccable, and obviously a point of pride. The bottom of the menu has a section that states the provenance of their primary ingredients. They're of excellent quality, and while I've heard a couple of reports from folks I trust of pizzas that fell a little flat (consistency issues early on, perhaps?), mine popped. Some rather public comments were recently made regarding tomatoes that are "fresh from the can," but a pizza like this demonstrates that anybody who takes a shot at high-quality canned tomatoes does so from a place of ignorance.
|Pizza Mastunicola||Dominic Armato|
Less successful for me was the Don Alfonso which, with the addition of salami, sausage and roasted bell peppers, was starting to get a little unwieldy. This is a form that tends to strain under the weight of too many toppings, and even if it hadn't quite tipped the scales, this one was well on it way. Though I didn't try, I wonder if some other offerings on the menu that appear to be even busier may go careening over the edge. Going in the other direction was another I rather enjoyed, the Matsunicola, which is brushed with strutto (pork lard!) before being hit with a dash of garlic, Pecorino Romano, fresh basil and sea salt. With no tomato and only a dash of hard cheese, it puts even more focus on the crust, but the minimal toppings pack a whallop, bringing a great salty pungency to a very respectable piece of bread. Plus, y'know... pork fat.
|Pizza Fritta||Dominic Armato|
One thing that caught my eye on the first pass and drove me to do a little research before a second visit was the section of the menu labeled "Pizza Fritta," or fried pizza. I confess to having been completely unfamiliar with it before a few weeks ago, but it turns out that pizza fritta is a Neapolitan pizza variant, wherein the toppings are encased both top and bottom in the bread, sealed around the edges, and deep-fried. Naturally, I had to give that a try on the second pass, and I selected the Vesuvio, which added a little provola and salami to the basic tomato and mozzarella. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no frame of reference here, but while I'm sure I'll be trying pizza fritta again, it probably won't be at 'Pomo. It's respectable enough, I suppose, but it lacks any significant fried character other a more pronounced oily flavor, and isn't at all the crispy, hot, melty thing I imagine it could be. From what I understand it's rather popular in Naples, so I have to believe there's more to it than this.
It's now been over a year since we've had our fix, so my ladylove pounced on the tiramisu for dessert. Carminantonio needn't fear this competition (especially since they're 2000 miles away), but it's positioned in the right place, a firm and creamy slice of dessert rather than soupy pastry in a cup. Actually, a little more moisture would have helped, I think, but it was still respectable if unremarkable. The pizza is what you're here for. And speaking of that pizza, I have to say I'm pleased. There's definitely room to improve, which I hope they'll continue to do. But particularly when (at least to my knowledge) there aren't any other local offerings that wouldn't give the VPN inspectors the vapors, 'Pomo's pizza will definitely scratch the itch for somebody who craves or wishes to learn about this particular little subset of pizza cookery. Of course, they had me with the soupy center.
|'Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana|
|6166 N. Scottsdale Road|
|Scottsdale, AZ 85253|
|Sun - Thu||11:00 AM - 9:00 PM|
|Fri - Sat||11:00 AM - 10:00 PM|