Rizzuto’s Italian Kitchen opened in Stamford this past November as the fourth location in Bill Rizzuto's casual Italian dining concept. With restaurants already in Bethel, Westport and West Hartford, tireless and engaging owner Bill Rizzuto chose the Stamford spot (near the Greenwich border) embracing the open space with tri-level dining, a formidable bar and a central beamy oven. Interested to see how they adapted to their Stamford address and eager to try our hand at making our own pizza, we dropped by for a behind-the-scenes look at their kitchen, the new gas-powered pizza oven and what objects of our affection that oven could create for us hungry souls.
First, let's cut to the chase. There are three things you should try at Rizzuto's before anything else: the antipasti, the meatballs and any of their pizzas.
A plate of antipasti is the simple yet all-important kick-off to any Italian meal and at Rizzuto’s they have made this tradition their own. For our plate, we opted for a selection cured meats and cheeses, farrow salad, marinated artichokes, eggplant caponata, hummus, olives and roasted long hot Italian peppers artfully arranged along a cutting board. Eaten in the bar and paired with a glass of wine, it may the perfect way to unwind during Happy Hour down county or to commence a family meal. Each meat and cheese selected for this course was terrific, but the stand-out was a house-made ricotta with chestnut honey. Warning: you will fight over this cheese.
With antipasti dwindling, pizza will beckon. Made in a gas (gasp!) powered oven, Rizzuto’s eschewed their wood-fired ovens for a gas Mugnaini model for this location only. With a health department requirement deterring the use of their usual wood-burning model, they discovered the gas-powered Mugnaini. As it turns out, there is a method to this unconventional madness. No wood means considerably less dust, a cleaner burn which is better for environment, and pizzas that are much more evenly cooked. In other words, Rizzuto’s stumbled upon a clean, manageable and consistent way to make their Neapolitan-style pizzas without seeming to sacrifice flavor.
Executive Chef Tony Camilleri indulged our interest in the process, and we swung around the counter and donned aprons to get closer to the action. Sidling alongside the oven radiating some serious BTU's, we attempted to stretch our own dough. You won't see any dough throwing or spinning here. Hand-stretching it to window pane-like thinness yields the signature thin and crisp Rizzuto's pizza. My attempt to stretch yielded a perfectly imperfect specimen that was immediately relegated to the reject bin, also known as the trash can.
Camilleri gave us the run-down on the rest of the pizza-making process which is kept rigidly consistent across all four Rizzuto’s locations. All dough begins with the Neapolitan standard 00 flour imported from Italy, and is treated to a 24 hour fermentation. The three ingredient uncooked sauce is made from Stanislaw peeled plum tomatoes, hand-crushed from California, plus some salt and oil. The mozzarella is also house-made. These rigorously simple methods yield a consistently thin and chewy pizza redolent of Neapolitan style but distinctly Rizzuto's.
With dough stretched and pizza made, we barely saved room for meatballs. If you're not as lucky as us, order them to go and enjoy them later. Meatballs are something every cook seems to have in their repertoire, a signature or family recipe closely guarded. It is one that I've been trying to perfect in my own kitchen for years, playing with different blends of ground meats and cooking methods. At Rizzuto's, the meatballs are delicately moist and served lightly bathed in marinara with smudges of house-made mozzarella. It's a perfect specimen. As for the actual Rizzuto's recipe, assuming there was a complicated method to these show-stoppers I dug a little bit. According to Bill they are "a family recipe and 100 percent beef. The key is to not over mix the mixture - it keeps the meatballs light, soft and scrumptious."
Like everything that works about Rizzuto's its about simple things done well—a perfectly crafted antipasti plate, a simply adorned Neapolitan-style pizza, and a family meatball recipe passed down for generations.
Rizzuto's is located at 1980 West Main Street, Stamford, CT 06902. Tel 203.324.5900. Open 7 Days for lunch from 11:30 am to 4 pm; Dinner: Mon/Tues 4 to 9:30 pm, Wed/Thurs 4 to 10 pm, Fri/Sat 4 to 11 pm, Sunday 4 to 9 pm. www.rizzutos.com/stamford/