Thursday, January 1, 2015

Review: DiMeo’s Pizzaiuoli Napulitani, Wilmington DE

Among Philadelphia's growing number of authentic Neapolitan pizza restaurants, Pizzeria DiMeo's enjoys a solid reputation for its Andorra location. Insiders know, also, that the father and son owners (Pino and Antino DiMeo) have opened another Philly-region location in Wayne - Arde Osteria & Pizzeria

This DiMeo team has yet another venue, in nearby Wilmington DE with DiMeo’s Pizzaiuoli Napulitani. Given the great reputation of the Andorra DiMeo's, we headed for this Delaware location after a visit to the nearby Winterthur Museum and Gardens.

The modern storefront, on busy Market Street, led us into a long and narrow space, with the kitchen and pizza counter separating a small front dining area from a larger seating space in the rear. I had anticipated a more cozy or rustic space, but this looked like only a mildly upscale version of the typical strip mall pizza joint. Another surprising aspect - for a pizzeria calling itself Neapolitan - is that pizza is sold by the slice. The pies on display looked little different than those of the typical suburban slice shop.

I took some encouragement from the menu, where the pizzas are divided into "Le Pizze Napoletane" and "Le Pizze Americane." Perhaps, I thought, the counter stuff is just a compromise for patrons interested in a cheap and fast slice, and the "real" Neapolitan stuff can be made to order from the menu?

The Neapolitan pie menu offered some intriguing options. We choose a full-size pie and we were able to do half-and-half of two different offerings. We chose the Napoletana (san marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di parma, arugula, shaved parmigiano reggiano) and the Fica (fig spread, mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di parma, arugula, truffle oil).

Although I usually disdain the greasy garlic knots offered at strip mall slice joints, the small "Rotolini" swirls at the counter here looked especially appealing, and they were offered as pepperoni rolls or broccoli rolls. We ordered a mix of those for an appetizer, and they were superb. 

Rotolini close-up
They seemed to made from pizza dough, rolled with cheese and pepperoni or broccoli, and baked to a brilliant golden brown with crisply charred bottoms. Served with a nice cup of marinara sauce for dipping, each bite offered an external crunch with an inner tender dough bite with the added flavors of cheese, pepperoni, or broccoli. These were terrific, but we managed to stop after sharing three of them.

Our pizza arrived soon after. Despite the significant differences of the two halves of our pie - tomatoes and shaved parm on one half versus fig spread and truffle oil on the other half - the shared toppings of arugula and prosciutto made it tough to visually distinguish the two sides of the pie. 

This pizza, although beautiful to the eye, was clearly not a Neapolitan pie. Its size alone - somewhere in the 16" - 18" diameter range - disqualified it. The overall shape of the crust was more akin to that of a New York style pizza, with a thin crust and a thicker cornicione, but not the fat puffy handle of a Neapolitan pie. However, although the crust was sturdy enough to support the toppings, it was a bit softer and more pliant than other top-end thin crust pies. In look and in texture, it was mostly a New York style pizza.

I began with a slice of the Fica. Unlike the bold flavor combinations I've had elsewhere with similar toppings (such as the fig jam, onion, and Gorgonzola pizza at Jules Thin Crust), the fig spread here served to provide a hint of sweetness that played very well with the savory prosciutto. I loved this slice, but I confess that I ate it so fast that I did not notice if the truffle oil was a distinct factor. The prosciutto was wonderfully flavored, but it was cut a little too thickly and applied in large slices. For toppings that you cannot bite through, I prefer them to be cut into smaller, bite-size portions - but this is a minor quibble.

On a related note, I love arugula and the flavor that this spicy green lends to pizza, but it usually floats on top (and falls off inelegantly) while eating. I'd improve that here (and everywhere that arugula is offered as a topping) by chopping it a bit and adding some oil to help it adhere to the pizza. Again, a minor quibble.

I enjoyed the Fica, but the Napoletana side was even better. The piquancy of the San Marzano tomatoes and the shaved parmigiana gave this slice a rich depth of flavor. Still, for both sides of this pizza, the crust was the most interesting element. It can best be described as a hybrid. My sense is that it is crafted much as a Neapolitan dough would be, but something changes when it is made into a full "American" sized pizza. It had all the flavor of a Neapolitan crust, but none of the puffiness, little of the softness, and none of the typical leopard-spot char. But it had a bit of crispness, a lot of pliancy, and it served perfectly as a base for the high-end toppings.

This pizza is tough to categorize, but more than any other style, it seems to be New York pizza and a very good rendition. It does seem to be altered to serve to customers who are not ready to take the leap from a slice joint to authentic Neapolitan pizza. We had terrific service, there is wine and beer on the menu, and street parking was not too difficult. Clearly not Neapolitan pizza, but excellent pie nonetheless. 

We had a few slices leftover, and I reheated them a few nights later. I ate another slice of the Fica pie, and it was wonderful. The re-heat is not always a fair test of how good the pizza was coming out of the oven, but here the flavors (and texture) were still in A+ mode. This pizza looks conventional, but it's great stuff.

DiMeo's Pizzaiuoli Napulitani on Urbanspoon

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