Peter Lutz (shown here) ordered Pizzeria Bruno's wood-fired oven direct from Naples. (Photo by Candice Woo)
Peter Lutz, owner of Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano, is quick to not disparage any of the other pizzas in town. They are good in their own ways, from New York- to Chicago-style, but they're variations on a theme. Pizza from Naples is the original melody from which they all derive. Neapolitan-style pizza is such serious business that there are associations, in Italy and the U.S. dedicated to educating and certifying pizzaiolo (pizza makers) and their restaurants under what are known as Verace Pizza Napoletana, or VPN, guidelines. Lutz is VPN-certified, though, really, he's been training for it all his life.
Although Lutz spent most of the last decade as a banker (in his words, “working at a real job”), he's always orbited around pizzas, first making them in his father's backyard wood-fired oven and then spending his formative years working in various pizza shops. While working his corporate job, he'd still come home and cook pizzas for fun. The natural yeast culture that's the foundation for Pizzeria Bruno's dough is his personal starter, one that he's been feeding continuously for six years (since a natural yeast starter is a living organism, it needs to be “fed” with flour and water at least once a week to keep it viable).
Open since October, the restaurant is a family-run affair. Lutz's co-owners are his parents, who can often be found helping out in the kitchen or doing odd jobs, while his brother is an occasional waiter. Though not Italian by heritage, Peter is Italian by proxy—his wife's family is from Naples, and it's her great-grandfather, Bruno, after whom the restaurant is named.
Already, much of the expat Italian community has embraced Pizzeria Bruno, recognizing the deliberate care with which Lutz chooses his ingredients. His bright-tasting sauce includes only three things: San Marzano tomatoes, salt and Sicilian oregano. The dough starts with Caputo flour, the Italian brand synonymous with Neapolitan pizza. Italian extra-virgin olive oil can often sit for years before it reaches the U.S., so Peter opted to source from a small producer in Northern California, though he gets his buffalo mozzarella airmailed from Naples twice a week. His greens and fresh tomatoes come from Specialty Produce, and the fine fennel sausage that tops the Salsicce and Campania pizzas is from local artisan Knight Salumi Co.
With my pizza, I most prefer the Czechvar, a clean-tasting, crisp lager that's better than most American macros. But wine with pizza is classic, and Pizzeria Bruno has a nice selection from small Italian vintners. At happy hour, which ends at 7 p.m., beer and wine are $3 and $4, respectively, and a smaller-sized pizza is only $5. The restaurant's also open for lunch, Thursdays through Saturdays.
The centerpiece of Pizzeria Bruno is a custom-built wood-fired oven direct from Naples—the only operational one of its kind, locally. Fueled by hardwood, the interior of the oven gets up to a scorching 900 degrees, flames glowing upon its brick hearth. Once inside, a pizza cooks in less than two minutes. Growing up, I was the kid with the discarded crusts on her plate because they were either too doughy or hard and puck-like. At Pizzeria Bruno, I can hardly wait to bite my way up to the crust. Pocked with Pizza Napoletana's signature marks of char and blister from the oven's heat, the crust, at its best, is ethereally light and a little chewy, with airy pockets and lovely crisp edges. The inner circle of the pizza stays a bit wet—true to form. This is a pizza meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. If the pizza seems unwieldy, just do as Lutz and I do and flip the tip of each slice back on itself, fold lengthwise and enjoy.
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