Pizzeria Vetri
With this newest addition to his culinary empire, Marc Vetri proves that he still has more than a few tricks up his sleeve
by Brian Freedman

An hour into a recent meal at Pizzeria Vetri, the question occurred to me: Can Marc Vetri and his team do anything less than stellar?

I’m serious. The string of successes, from Vetri to Osteria, from Alla Spina to Amis, is little short of astounding. This gleaming new spot in the Art Museum District reminds me in many significant pizza-centric ways of Pizzeria Bianco of Scottsdale, Ariz., which is widely considered to serve up some of the best pies in the nation. In other words, Vetri’s latest is home to some of the best pizzas in our own region.

Taking its cues from the thin-crusted beauties of Naples, Italy, Pizzeria Vetri builds its excellent pizzas on a base of crust both blistered and hearty enough to withstand whatever selection of toppings you prefer, yet it’s resolutely soft enough to never call unwanted attention to itself. Vetri himself told me that, because of an extended fermentation process that the dough goes through, the result is more “layered” and “profound.” I agree heartily.

The pizzas themselves range from restrained yet expressive classics, such as the gorgeous mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive-oil simplicity of a spot-on Margherita to more extravagant preparations. A recent special pie with impeccably roasted artichokes was buttressed with a complex bass note of mozzarella and parmesan, brightened up with a hit of onion. At both ends of the spectrum, this pizzeria is a standout.

Then there are the pizzas served “al taglio”—generous rectangles inspired by the great Roman pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci, whose pizzeria Vetri cites as among his favorite in the world. A recent one sang with gorgonzola, mozzarella and speck, and was a comforting, decadent treat. Even the tonno pizza worked, though it’s a flavor profile that won’t appeal to everyone. Bringing together good Sicilian canned tuna, tomato sauce, onions, pepperoncini and mozzarella, this was the funkiest of the pies I’ve tasted, yet its balance of flavors, and of textures both meaty and soft, allowed it to remain a refined pie regardless. It begged for a hoppy beer to wash it down and, there are plenty to choose from here.

Make sure, however, to save room for the much-lauded rotolo, an exuberant coil of dough lovingly filled with ricotta, mortadella and a pistachio pesto. Each one shimmers with olive oil, and the result is an appetizer that is at once sweet, savory, hearty and altogether joyous. This, too, deserves a special brew. There are more than two dozen beers on the menu, and while the domestic craft brews are fantastic partners for the pizzas, the rotolo is the dish I’d splurge on a pricier Italian one to pair with. A bottle of Baladin and a forkful of rotolo is a guaranteed cure for the mid-winter blues.

The Caesar salad, though, was a victim of its own success. It was well made to be sure, and I loved the anchovy-dense addition of bagna cauda, but I wish there had been more of it. Such savory, decadent flavors become self-perpetuating phenomena on the plate; you always want more of them after that first bite. But that’s a good problem to have when it comes to a style of salad that is often so underwhelming elsewhere. And the wood-oven salad, with its toothsome array of root vegetables, complemented by ricotta salata and prosciutto cotto, was a lovely interlude between slices. It’s listed as an appetizer, but picking at it throughout the meal is perhaps an even better idea.

Desserts, too, demonstrate the level of intelligence that Team Vetri brings to everything it touches. Neither too precious nor too casual, they are, like the third bear’s porridge, just right. Home-made soft serve (the fiordilatte is sweet souled and addictive) and an assortment of cookies (I’m still dreaming of the pistachio gnocchi and pignoli ones) top off a meal here perfectly. And personally, after eating a little too much recently, I washed it all down with one of the excellent pre-bottled cocktails on offer. I’m a Manhattan drinker, and the Brooklyn, which adds Ramazzoti to the mix alongside vermouth, Bulleit rye and excellent maraschino from Luxardo, tamped everything down with aplomb.

The answer to the opening question, then, is a resounding “no”: Marc Vetri & Co. seems constitutionally incapable of anything less than excellence. Whether it’s the transporting glories of a special-occasion meal at Vetri, the more down-home pleasures of fried pig tails and a beer at Alla Spina, or some of the best pizza in town right on the corner of 20th and Callowhill, this is a group on a roll. And all of us, happily, are the beneficiaries.

Pizzeria Vetri
1939 Callowhill Street
pizzeriavetri.com | 215-600-2629

Photograph by Rob Hall