This week’s Utah Bites restaurant review is a bit slimmer than most – without as many pretty pictures. That’s because I’m writing about takeout from a terrific pizzeria as opposed to a full-service restaurant dining experience with appetizers, entrees, desserts, wine list, etc. But although the review might be shorter, rest assured that this place is absolutely packed with flavor.
My favorite new East Coast-style pizza joint is Villaggio Pizzeria on State Street in South Salt Lake. This, my friends, is the real deal. That’s in part because owner Ricci Rondinelli was raised in New York City, in an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx. Indeed, he says that Villaggio features “a blend of recipes from Naples and Calabria via the Bronx.”
Any discussion of New York City-style pizza is certain to raise hackles and cause debate among pizza aficionados. As someone who lived in NYC for 13 years, I have eaten hundreds of pizzas and probably thousands of slices in NYC – from John’s, Arturo’s, and Grimaldi’s coal oven pizzas, and the original Ray’s with it’s gloppy layers of mozzarella, to gourmet wood-fired artisan pies at places like Zero Otto Nove, and by-the-slice pizza on just about any corner of NYC. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a standard NYC-style pizza. I guess when I think of NYC street by-the-slice pizza, I think of pizza that looks and tastes like Sal & Carmine’s (see photo above). Villaggio Pizzeria does not serve that … not exactly, anyway.
When I order pizza at Villaggio Pizzeria, I am reminded a bit more of the pizzas I’ve enjoyed in New Jersey than those in NYC. The crust is a tad thicker and the toppings a little more robust than the aforementioned Sal & Carmine’s type pizza. That said, a Villaggio pizza is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, anywhere.
One reason for that – in addition to the basics of a really well-made crust – is the high quality of toppings used at Villaggio. Kudos to owner Ricci Rondinelli for spending a little extra in food costs to top his pizzas with mozzarella from Wisconsin’s Grande Cheese Company (yes, Wisconsin makes more than just cheddar). In my opinion, Grande is the best mozzarella in America, aside from fresh buffalo mozzarella which it isn’t. It’s perfect for East Coast style pizza with a tad sharper flavor than the bland mozz most pizza joints use. In addition – and again, more costly – Villaggio favors Boar’s Head products which are superior to most deli meats. All this means that a Villaggio pizza is going to cost more than many places, but is worth every penny. Whole pizzas range from $15.50 for a 14-inch “Small” cheese pizza to $31 for a “Large” 18-inch “Bronx Bomber” Meat Lovers Delight loaded with sauce, mozzarella, meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, onions and peppers. By-the-slice pizza is $3 for a jumbo cheese slice and $4 for sausage or pepperoni.
My favorite pizzas at Villaggio Pizzeria are the meatball and sausage pizzas. And, that’s because in addition to the already excellent pizza base with delicious homemade tomato sauce, the meatballs are also made from scratch in-house, and are generously applied. Villaggio is not a place to skimp on pizza toppings.
Pizza purists, however, may prefer the more straightforward cheese pizza, which really showcases the excellent tomato sauce and aforementioned Grande cheese. Other pizza options include “Botanical Gardens” – a veggie pie, “Pizza Bianca” with white sauce, a Margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella and, oddly, kalamata olives, “Coney Island” Hawaiian pie, “Nonna’s” eggplant parm pie, and many others, including Sicilian-style pizzas and slices.
In addition to pizzas, Villaggio also makes some of the best subs I’ve eaten in Utah. I love both the meatball sub with homemade meatballs made from pork, beef and veal, and served on homemade ciabatta rolls, as well as the eggplant parmesan sub. But my fave is the chicken parmesan sub ($8.50), which is thick and meaty boneless chicken breast, coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried before serving with homemade tomato sauce and gooey mozzarella on that stellar ciabatta. I estimate that the sub weighs about two pounds and I can only eat half of one at a single sitting.
But there’s more good news. Villaggio Pizzeria also makes outstanding handmade calzones. If you’re not familiar, a calzone is essentially an inside-out pizza: pizza dough stuffed with a choice of ricotta & mozzarella ($7.75), pepperoni or sausage ($8.75), or meatball or chicken ($11.50). I really enjoyed the sausage calzone with marinara sauce, mozzarella/ricotta and the crispy crust topped with sesame seeds.
Villagio Pizzeria is offering summer lunch specials of a cheese slice and 20-ounce drink for $4.00 or two cheese slices and a 20-ounce drink for $6.50, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. Most of my most memorable pizza moments have occurred in pizzerias on the East Coast. But now, with Villaggio Pizzeria in town, perfect pizza memories are being made right here in SLC.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at 4:00 A.M.” — Charles Pierce
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.