There’s an over-the-top truffle pizza, an amatriciana pizza and a new-school Mexican pizza at Pizzana, the Brentwood restaurant from Candace and Charles Nelson of the Sprinkles cupcake empire. While this of-the-moment “neo-Neapolitan” spot is making unorthodox pizzas that might seem calibrated for the mashup-loving Instagram set, the pies come with a side of old-school dedication to slow food.
Consider the Pignatiello, a pizza topped with Sunday gravy. Short ribs are slow-cooked for 12 hours to create this pizza, which also features cream made with a 30-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. The San Marzano DOP tomatoes in the sauce, grown exclusively for Pizzana, hail from the Neapolitan countryside.
“Sunday gravy is actually a sweet memory of my childhood,” says Daniele Uditi, Pizzana’s Naples-born master pizzaiolo. “On Sundays in Naples, we used to have these big pots of meat. My mom used to cook it in a ceramic pot, overnight in a wood-burning oven. She would put a lot of Parmesan on top.”
At Pizzana, Uditi is braising meat overnight, too. He then lets the gravy rest for six hours before shredding the short ribs and spreading the meat and sauce on a pizza with fresh basil and his Parmigiano cream.
Uditi’s dough takes even longer. The chef comes from a family of bread makers, so he decided to create pizza dough based on one of their 90-year-old bread recipes. Pizzana’s dough, made from organic Italian flour, is fermented for 48 hours (much longer than traditional Neapolitan-pizza dough) and crafted by hand.
“We don’t have machines,” Uditi says. “We have a baker who comes in at 3 a.m. to mix the dough.”
The resulting dough is airy and lighter than typical Neapolitan crusts. Uditi serves his pizzas atop a metal tray he invented that resembles a grate; the holes prevent pizza from getting soggy.
At other restaurants, Neapolitan-style pizza is served on ceramic plates. “To me, that’s a huge mistake. That doesn’t let the pizza steam. It gets wet,” Uditi says.
His seriousness is also evident in Pizzana’s Messicana pizza, which resembles a good street taco more than it does the messy Mexican pizzas you might have tried at certain fast-food chains. Uditi’s wife is Mexican.
“We went to Guadalajara where she’s from and ate a chorizo taco from a stand,” he says. “That was her favorite taco. When I told her it was going to be a pizza, she looked at me like, ‘You’re crazy.’”
But Uditi created a winner with house-made chorizo, cilantro-lime crema, sweet chili, jalapeño and queso fresco.
Uditi likes to riff on classic dishes, but he thinks deeply about balance. He uses imported fior di latte mozzarella because it’s more flavorful and fattier than the twice-pasteurized cheese in the United States. But even though amatriciana is his favorite dish, he substituted fried prosciutto for the guanciale that’s traditionally used. Putting fatty guanciale in a sauce served on a pizza also featuring fior di latte and shaved Parmigiano just seemed like it would be too much.
“The fried prosciutto gives you the crispy part and the saltiness you need,” Uditi says, truly putting the “neo” in “neo-Neopolitan.”