Although Buffalo has long been known for its signature-style pizza, characterized by medium-thick dough, sweet sauce and lots of toppings, the choices in local pizza have proliferated in recent years.
The latest to hit Buffalo’s ever-growing cuisine scene: Neapolitan pizza.
To make a true Neapolitan pizza, very specific methods and ingredients are applied. Traditionally they are sparsely topped, using fresh Mozzarella di Bufala Campana and San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the rich volcanic soil near Mt. Vesuvius. Additionally, the dough is made with 00 Flour (a fine textured Italian flour), water, yeast and sea salt. It should never be larger than 11 inches in diameter and is baked in wood-fired ovens at very high heat, around 900 to 1,000 degrees, for no more than 60 to 90 seconds.
The art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ was added to the UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in 2017. To promote and protect these practices, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), an international organization, trains pizza-makers from around the world in the art of true Neapolitan pizza and its traditional methods.
Understandably, many pizza makers find this method too restrictive. To allow for more creativity and flexibility, many who specialize in Neapolitan pizzas choose not to be VPN-certified, but still adhere to the methods — although to different degrees.
Jay Langfelder, owner of Jay’s Artisan Pizzeria in Kenmore, is one of them. He began his pizza business in July 2015, making Neapolitan pies in a wood-fired oven aboard O.G. Wood Fire Food Truck. Although Langfelder is not VPN-certified, he plans to be in the near future. And he uses the traditional methods and ingredients for his Neapolitan pies: the traditional Marinara and Margherita.
Working out of a food truck presented certain limitations for Langfelder, so the self-proclaimed “pizza nerd” traded in his wheels for a real brick-and-mortar restaurant last fall. With the truck, he says, “You’re exposed to the elements and forced to make certain concession under extreme conditions.”
The restaurant has opened things up. He’s expanded from five to nine varieties, changing the menu every few weeks to incorporate seasonal ingredients.
“Simply, we can make better pizzas in a controlled environment,” said Langfelder. “Now we can do it the way I’ve wanted to all along.”
Joe Jerge, the well-regarded owner of Mulberry’s in Lackawanna, has also brought Neapolitan pizza to WNY with Sonny Red’s, which he opened in December.
“I always wanted to offer pizza at the Mulberry but never had the room,” said Jerge.
He’s trained in the method of Neapolitan pizza making and has visited the Caputo Flour Mill, whose flour is considered the gold standard of pizza making. He’s also spent time in the tomato fields and canneries of San Marzano, Italy.
The centerpiece of Sonny Red’s is “Bruno,” the wood-fired oven. Although Jerge offers other dishes, nothing but pizza ever enters the oven.
The key to a good Neapolitan pizza is simple, says Jerge: “Making sure you use good ingredients.” It’s a trend in pizza-making in general: A focus on simple, quality food that’s fresher and healthier, with a greater focus on enjoyable flavors.
“You’re eating it the way it’s been eaten for hundreds of years,” says Jerge. “It’s tomatoes, dough, a little cheese and some basil. And that’s it.”
Half of Jerge’s customers are familiar with Neapolitan pizza, while the other half are totally surprised when presented with their order. Although he is trying to expose them to toppings like sopressata and salami, he admits that he’s had to add a pepperoni pie to the menu.
Jerge says the Neapolitan is intended as food to relax and enjoy wine with, as opposed to the take-out pizza you order for convenience on a busy weeknight.
“Honestly,” says Jerge, “I was concerned that people in Buffalo would not want to get away from what they were accustomed to.” But so far the feedback has been great and he immediately began seeing repeat customers.
“I think the thing that brings people back is the crust. It’s just a different flavor...a different texture."
Know your pizza styles
Pizza has diversified in Buffalo. Here’s a guide.
Wood-fired pizza has similarities to the Neapolitan, but doesn’t comply with the strict methods of preparation and ingredients.
- Where to find it: Grange Community Kitchen (Hamburg), Elm Street Bakery (East Aurora), Rocco’s (Williamsville) and Hydraulic Hearth (Buffalo).
Chicago-style or deep-dish pizza is prepared in a deep, round, steel pan with high edges. The dough is made from wheat flour and sometimes semolina, which gives it a yellowish tone. The crust is usually two to three inches tall and although the entire pizza is very thick, the crust itself has a thin to medium thickness. Toppings are arranged in opposite order than most pizzas, starting with the cheese on the bottom to prevent it from burning.
- Where to find it: Although claims of real Chicago-style pizza in Buffalo are scarce, Pizza Plant may come closest with its stuffed pizza.
Also on the thicker side is Sicilian style pizza. It has a spongy, fluffy, thick crust and is baked in square or rectangular trays, topped with tomato sauce, a little cheese and seasoning.
- Where to find it: DiCamillo Bakery has been serving their “Scaletta” bread dough to make this thick crusted pizza for nearly 100 years. Varieties include broccoli, mozzarella, mushroom and the Roman, also referred to as the Old-Fashioned. The Roman is covered with homemade tomato sauce and Romano Pecorino cheese — no mozzarella.
New York-style pizza, also known as thin crust, originated in the early 1900s. It’s generally hand-tossed and baked in large 18-inch rounds, with a thin layer of tomato sauce and a generous amount of mozzarella and additional toppings. The thinness of the crust makes it pliable enough to be folded in half and eaten on the go.
- Where to find it: Gino and Joe’s Pizzeria, located in the lower level of the Mainplace Mall.
Buffalo-style pizza is what you’ll find most in WNY (and what you’ll rarely find anywhere else.) The dough has a medium thickness, with sauce that’s sweet and cooked down over time, then spread close to the edges. It’s garnished with various toppings, including the most popular in Buffalo: pepperoni. “Cup and char” style pepperoni is the pinnacle, with its charred-edge cup shape that holds a bit of oil.
- Where to find it: Just Pizza...or most WNY neighborhood pizza shops.
Story topics: Food + Drink