« Easy as ABC | Main | Return to Alinea »

August 13, 2010


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 OvenDominic 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 RomanaDominic 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 MastunicolaDominic 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 FrittaDominic 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.

TiramisuDominic Armato

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
The Borgata
6166 N. Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85253
Sun - Thu11:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Fri - Sat11:00 AM - 10:00 PM


I ate at New Jersey Pizza in Flagstaff just last night and had an experience remarkably similar to what you're describing. Very soupy center, subtle flavor to the bread, good toppings (although with a greater emphasis on local over "shipped from Italy!"), simply not blackened enough. The gold standard for me is Pizzeria Bianco - Chris (and now his protege[s]) know how to work that oven to get things to the perfect charred crispiness.

Oh and by the way before you write off California completely (although they're not competing with the style-related hot air-laden hyperbole coming from Jersey or Chicago), you may want to eat at Mozza in LA. I haven't, yet, but I've heard lots of good things.


Haven't yet been to Bianco, but I'm leery of suggesting that a Neapolitan need be heavily blackened. The ones I had in Naples weren't overly so. More than 'Pomo, but certainly not the fiery char that you get at a lot of places.

And as for California, I was referring to the regional style, not any restaurants that might happen to be located there :-)

Oh to have to endure living in a city where they say the neapolitan pizzas are undercooked. Dom, you need to come up here. It's like the Punch empire is opening a new store every month and nobody complains—certainly not in print—that the pizzas are undercooked.

Minneapolis is a VPN haven, baby. You live in barbaric places, sir.

Are you sure, Jon? :-)

"We both stared at each other for a moment when he picked up a piece and everything slid off, and the crust near the center flopped down and dripped onto the plate, like the melting witch of the west. It was actually pretty gross."

"This speediness is somewhat sullied by the fact that their pizzas are generally a little runny in the middle...like it's a little undercooked, which also makes it almost a fork-necessary meal. "

Those would be Yelp comments from just *one* of the Punch locations in Minneapolis... the only one I checked :-)

Don't feel bad. It was the same in Chicago. It's universal. Well... probably not in Naples.

Damn you, internet!

That person does not represent us! Probably a transplant from Chicago. I'm assuming a WhiteSox fan. They're ALWAYS trying to ruin things for Minneapolis.


Two different people, actually. And I didn't look at the other locations.

(I'll stop rubbing it in now :-)

Californians recognize there doesn't have to be a fight, it's perfectly acceptable to enjoy all regional pizza styles.
I have eaten at Mozza and the pizza is very good but there are plenty of interesting pizzerias around CA.

You brought back very pleasant memories of Neapolitan pizzas - a must every time I have been there. The best pizza I have ever eaten in my life was from a little hole in the wall just outside Vatican city. The crust and bread were like air and the toppings and sauces were amazing. There were six of us and we overordered but ate every piece. The owner asked if we wanted to eat there and when we said yes, his staff brought out a table and chairs from a storeroom behind the counter and set them up on the sidewalk. Sadly, I compare every pizza I eat to those and all fall woefully short. I'm also a huge fan of the hot pepper olive oil at French pizza restaurants. Sigh.

CA is the pizza melting pot. We don't have a style.. just a little bit of everyone elses and that's fine with me.

the food on these pictures looks so amazing :)

The comments to this entry are closed.