Graziella Pizzeria Napoletana
By Susan Pretty
Graziella Pizzeria Napoletana on Park Avenue is open for business—from 5:30 pm until “the dough runs out.” When I ask owner Joe Lombardo about the dough, he explains that they only make enough dough to last for the evening. It’s a traditional recipe, several hundred years old, passed down through the generations. There’s no oil, sugar, egg, or fats, and the flour comes from a mill in Naples. The dough undergoes a long fermentation time, and is worth waiting for.
Graziella is named after Lombardo’s mom, and the entire restaurant seems to be built on love and family. Dad helps out in the kitchen, and beautiful photos adorn the walls from family trips to Salerno, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast. But the showstopper here, folks, is the big red wood-fired oven. This monster spent about 43 days on a ship travelling from Italy to Montreal, and Lombardo still had to endeavour to get it here. This is the only cooking equipment in the store. There’s no microwave, stove, or oven, just this bad boy. And it gets hot! Firing up to about 850-900°F, this powerhouse can completely cook a pizza on average of 90 seconds. I have to say I didn’t believe a pizza could cook in such a short period of time—until I saw it with my own eyes.
The menu features simple, classic pies with the freshest of ingredients, locally sourced whenever possible. The sauce is a secret recipe (of course), and I may never buy mozza that’s wrapped in plastic again. There’s prosciutto and mortadella, and the elusive carbonara that’s served on Sundays only. I chose the classic Margherita. If you want to know the true measure of a great pie, start with that one. Always.
Lombardo hand-tosses the dough and applies the secret sauce, a liberal amount of fior di latte (semi-soft, fresh cheese made in the style of Italian mozzarella), and basil plucked from his fresh plants. He puts the pie on the peel, which is a shovel-like tool used by bakers to slide loaves of bread, pizzas, pastries, and other baked goods in and out of the oven. Less than two minutes later, a circle of joy appears before me. The crust is puffy with random air pockets, and just tipped with black. The fior di latte is perfectly white, holding up well to the extreme heat. It is steaming hot, and I am instructed to hurry with my photos because it’s meant to be eaten ASAP. This is why Lombardo is firm on no to-go orders—it’s dine in only, because he wants his guests to have the best pizza experience possible, and you miss out if you have to put it in a cardboard box (he calls it a coffin—that’s how passionate he is about the quality!).
Noshing on my very first slice, I realize it is unlike any pizza I’ve ever tried. The ingredients are so tasty, the cheese so fresh, and the basil offers just a hint of verdant to tie it all together. I would like to point out that during my visit with Lombardo, there were people repeatedly coming to his door and asking if he was open yet. The demand is high, so get there before the dough runs out!
Graziella Pizzeria Napoletana
207 Park Ave