If you have been reading our blog, you know that we rejoice in the opportunity to indulge in Neapolitan pizza (start here if you don’t know what that is). From coast to coast, we’ve sampled hundreds of pies ranging from near-perfect to better-left-uneaten. Why Neapolitan pizza? For starters, Neapolitan is the essence of pizza. The simplest and truest ingredients shine through, all in perfect harmony of flavor and texture. But also, because Neapolitan pizza has a standard – a set of rules that define it as such, we can compare our experience from one place to the next, analyzing every nuance and appreciating every detail in the same way a sommelier would. We don’t eat out all that often, in part because we prefer farmers market fare fresh from our little kitchen, but also because we’re pretty frugal. So when we do dine out, it’s fun to be able to compare our experiences with those before it.
The rubric of grading Neapolitan pizza is not entirely subjective. In fact, the AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) has set out a number of rules that govern its distinction. The AVPN mandates everything from the type of flour, yeast, tomatoes & cheese are used to the amount of salt and water in the dough, and how it is kneaded. It determines what specific kind of clay oven may be used, including its temperature (905 degrees Fahrenheit with an oak wood fire), dome size and door height. The AVPN sets the allowable thickness of the dough (no more than 3 mm or .12” thick), decides how long the pizza must be cooked (only for 60-90 seconds), and other specifics outlined in an 11-page rulebook that ultimately defines a restaurant as being able to use the official “Neapolitan” label.
To put that into perspective, in the US, only 76 restaurants have earned this distinction. That’s not to say that every AVPN certified restaurant is any good… In fact, many of our favorites have not gone through the certification, yet adhere to many of the tenants that make this pizza style so refreshing, flavorful, and relatively healthy.
The result? A pizza that is soft, elastic, tender and fragrant — consistently. With good Neapolitan pizza, the sum is greater than its individual parts. The synergy created when all of these details are considered yields a perfectly leoparded crust, slightly crunchy on the exterior, yet fluffy, airy and slightly doughy as you bite in so it can hold its toppings without sogginess. With just a hint of crisp from it’s very short stint in the 900 degree oven, it should be foldable and pliable, with a bit of chewiness to it. The thoughtful and simple ingredients are simple and elevate one another without being overly cheesy or greasy — A perfect balance. Plus, a typical 12” Neapolitan pizza has 800 calories, just about the same as a single slice of pizza at Costco’s food court.
With all of this in mind, you can imagine how excited we are when a pizzeria hits the mark.
Pizzeria Locale certainly does. Located off of Pearl Street in Boulder, their passionate pizzaiolos produce what may arguably be one of the best Neapolitan pies in the country. Made with as many local ingredients as possible and retaining a high standard of traditional Italian items, it is certainly in the same playing field as our favorite pizza in San Francisco at Una Pizza Napoletana and miles ahead of one of our other favorites, Pizza Antico, in Atlanta.
The sous chef and pizzaiolo at Pizzeria Locale, Patrick Kerzefski, exudes passion about his craft — and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Before becoming a pizzaiolo, Patrick had worked his way up the ranks to become a skilled baker. Tattooed on his arm, the phrase, “Don’t forget the salt,” is Patrick’s maxim for always remembering that it’s the little things that matter most. (He lost his first job in a bakery because he forgot to add salt to his bread and, as a result, it never rose and his company lost the batch, a humbling story that speaks volumes about his work ethic and passion).
The pizzeria’s quest for perfection is made even more challenging by the fact that Boulder sits at 5700 feet above sea level. The altitude and changing dryness of the climate undoubtedly make producing consistently delicious dough difficult.
All obstacles aside, Pizzeria Locale manages to painstakingly craft consistently beautiful pies which all start from their slightly sourdough starter. Patrick lovingly helps make the dough the day before they remove it from their converted wine cellar, a climate-controlled dough storage feature the restaurant added to maintain consistency and offset the ravages of high altitude baking. Three to four hours prior to cooking, they remove the dough so it can achieve room temperature without getting too warm. It’s a balancing act that takes constant supervision. Every team member on staff has to work with the dough before service, tasting it before it ever meets a customer’s plate. As Patrick says, “The dough is literally ALIVE, so we treat it gently and truly hope that our care shines through when it gets to the table.”
Though Pizzeria Locale does deviate from standard Neapolitan pies using their own local flare (you will dream of their Maitaki funghi pie with taleggio for nights on end, and their signature Vongole clam & nduja sausage pie, though never something we’d try voluntarily, had to be one of the most uniquely wonderful flavor experiences we’ve had in years), the rest is about as classical as you can get. They use a traditional Stefano Ferrara pizza oven, built by hand in Naples from the clay surrounding Mt. Vesuvius, and conforming to the AVPN rules. The cost of these ovens can often exceed $20,000 (plus shipping from Italy & installation), something to consider next time you gripe about paying $15-20 for a 12” Neapolitan pizza. Unlike Anthony Mangieri at Una Pizza Napoletana, who single handedly touches each and every pizza from start to finish, Pizzeria Locale utilizes several assistants who help prepare, top, and bake each pie with bright, flavorful sauces, perfectly melted cheeses, and just the right acidity and balance. We’d be hard-pressed to say that the opposing strategies made any difference in our delight.
After our first visit, it was clear that Pizzeria Locale had something special, and while we were seated at their “pizza bar,” the chefs could tell we were on to it. The chefs clearly love what they do and their passion transcends mere pizza. We were only planning to be in the Boulder area for a few weeks at the most, but once we discovered this place, we were already planning our schedule around a revisit.
When we returned a few days later, this time with another couple in tow, Patrick & the team remembered us and not only invited our crew to a backstage restaurant tour, but also allowed us to sample some of the more obscure signature items from their menu (such as the clam & andouille pie and their focaccia). Beaming as he showed us the flip side of pizza-making from fermenting the starter, to storing the dough, and finally getting it to the oven, Patrick echoed Pizzeria Locale’s desire to take the simplest ingredients, local whenever possible, and make magic.
If Boulder is your destination (or even if it’s not), a stop at Pizzeria Locale is well worth the trip. Keep in mind, however, that this original location is not to be confused with the new Chipotle-backed fast-casual storefronts of the same name. Apparently, Chipotle saw something special here, too.