Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Delectable DeLuca's in Hot Springs.

Love Neapolitan-style pizza? Hot Springs is home to a new pizzeria where the thin-crust pies are the star, and each one comes topped with local produce and sauces. Let's check out DeLuca's.

Napoletano Pizza. What is it? We know it as Neapolitan pizza, and it’s sold by a growing number of pizzerias around Arkansas (including Za Za Salad and Pizza Company, Santa Lucia and Bruno’s Little Italy). The pies themselves are made from a hand-thrown dough, thin in the center, baked in a high-heat woodfired oven. They are as different from American-style pizzas as crepes are from pancakes.

In Hot Springs, a new Napoletano pizzeria has been created by Anthony Valinoti, a pizzaioli (pizza maker) determined to source local ingredients for a superior product. Valinoti is using a single pizza oven and a limited
number of doughs to create fresh, creative pies each weekend at a Park Avenue station. Indeed, when you approach DeLuca’s, it actually says on the side of the building, “Brooklyn Bridge, Hot Springs Station.” Valinoti is a Brooklyn native himself, and when he comes to
visit your table, you may or may not have a hard time understanding him.

He’s taken on a pretty crazy scheme, bringing high-end pizza to a town long known for bringing cheap and reasonably priced eats to its blend of natives, snowbirds, retirees and tourists. Despite more recent food additions such as Taco Mama, CafĂ© 1217, Superior Bathhouse and Rolando’s Restaurante, the city’s longtime establishments tend to be on the family-owned, longtime-arkansas side.

But so far, it’s working. With fans such as Chef Matt Bell of South on Main, Chef Diane Bratton of Taco Mama and a legion of food writers and bloggers, DeLuca’s Pizzeria is already gaining renown.

We dropped in on a Saturday evening to find a packed house. The wait was substantial, but it was quite evident why – the patrons were not rushed, nor was the food. While we were waiting, one of the waitstaff came up and let us know that due to the heavy volume throughout the day, there were just three pizza doughs left. After speaking with us and the rest of our party, she turned off the OPEN light. Looked like we were to be the final customers of the evening.

Once we were offered a seat, we dove through the menu and looked for items to share. Grav and our friend Jamie chose to split a Gorgonzola salad, while Hunter and I decided to divide a Caprese. The salads are oversized and meant for sharing.

The Gorgonzola salad was fresh cheese over fresh field greens, very fragrant and quite… well, fresh. The Caprese was another surprise to us. The locally sourced Buffalo mozzarella was creamy, but the tomatoes… I could go on and on about the tomatoes. The selection included fat Beefsteaks,
thick-sliced heritage pinks and strongly flavored cherry tomatoes, all on top of a vinaigrette on a slab of slate. It was served with parmesan “crackers” that Hunter adored.

We had plenty of time to sit and chat over our beverages (which for us meant canned sodas and iced tea) while we waited for our pizza. The reason for that wait? Valinoti’s single pizza oven. Some might consider that a ridiculous challenge, but as he mentioned when he stood over our table, it means he has to concentrate on perfection.


Our pizza finally arrived. There were many different pies on that menu, but the one that spoke to all of us was the Sarah Meadows. The base for all of DeLuca’s pizzas is the traditional Margherita with fresh basil and a three-cheese blend containing both fresh and aged mozzarella and parmesana-reggiano. The Sarah Meadows is an all-vegetable and fungi pizza, with thin sliced shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, Green Goddess pesto and these incredibly tiny tomatoes that are smaller than blueberries. Those little tomatoes go off like rockets in your mouth, though, and they are stupendous, sweet and salty with a pop when you bite down. Because it’s Neapolitan, and because of the molten and wet items on this pie, it’s one you really have to eat with a fork, at least at first.

All pies are served above the table for groups – either on what appears to be a small overturned wire wastebasket or an equally empty and overturned tomato sauce can. The pizzas just come in the one size and they are tasty. They cost a bit more than you might expect, at $20 for a Margherita and then more for the specialties and for extra toppings. But those toppings include handmade sausages and pepperonis and smoked meats, so what the heck, why not? McClard’s barbecue beef is even an option as a topping.

DeLuca’s also makes its own cannoli, a sign of good Italian-style restauranting. They are gorgeous. Next time I’ll try one.

You’ll find DeLuca’s Pizzeria at 407 Park Avenue in Hot Springs. It’s only open Thursday through Sunday evenings. Reservations are a good idea. Call (501) 609-9002. Check out the restaurant’s Facebook page for more information.

DeLuca's Pizzeria Napoletana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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