Bufalina Wood Fired Pizza in Guilford is one of this shoreline town’s most charming and delicious destinations. Open since September 2011, Bufalina has earned a reputation for rustic, seasonally-driven, and Neapolitan-inspired pizzas.
“We wanted to recreate the feeling that you are in our kitchen and we are cooking for you,” said Melissa Pellegrino, chef and co-owner of Bufalina alongside her husband, chef Matt Scialabba.
Bufalina’s spare yet homey 300 square feet creates a cozy sense that you are indeed a guest in their home and at their hearth. This sense of warmth is not only imparted by the scale of the space, but also by the charm of the owners, experienced bakers who have spent time cooking throughout Italy and have written cookbooks chronicling their agriturismo-centric travels.
Their philosophy begins and ends with simple and fresh quality ingredients filtered through a lens of their passion for Italy and love of wood-fired baking. Bufalina's menu changes four times a year with weekly specials. Ingredients are sourced specifically, with local farms and cheesemakers making up the majority of their sources, and regional as well as Italian artisanal purveyors extending their reach beyond the state, for special ingredients such as Buffalo mozzarella from Campagna.
This simplicity and specificity translates into a singular pizza beginning with one of the most memorable crusts, perhaps the most important element for any great pizza. The Bufalina crust is notable in its rustic and uneven shape, with a lightly blistered exterior and a chewy interior. The deceptively simple recipe is trademark Neapolitan in its ingredient list: 00 caputo flour, yeast, salt and water. The lofted crust, known by Matt and Melssia as “the Bufalina poof” is the sought-after characteristic of a cold and slow 24-hour fermentation of its dough.
Cheeses are both local and imported, and are all shredded by hand. Bufalina’s favored blend of cheese is a combination of fresh mozzarella and scamorza – the latter is an aged and flavorful mozzarella that imparts a greater depth of flavor than simply layering fresh mozzarella. This blend graces their Margherita pizza, a combination of mozzarella, scamorza, and San Marzano tomato sauce (uncooked tomatoes that are passed through a food mill with a dash of salt), and finished with fresh basil.
From this traditional Neapolitan foundation, the remaining nine pies during any given season gain momentum with various fresh ingredients and a studied balance of flavors. The Quattro Formaggi, a four-cheese pizza with salame piccante is quite possibly the best pepperoni pizza I have ever eaten. However, to call it just a pepperoni pie would be an injustice to the ingredients and execution. The layered complexity of the complementary cheeses, including a rioutous gorgonzola dolce, is matched with an outstanding salame piccante. The salame is a lightly spiced cacciatorini al diavolo sourced from Salumeria Biellese that imparts a gentle amount of heat to the sweet and savory layers of cheeses.
Another winter menu favorite is the Patate, a root-vegetable laden pie that will instantly transport you to a chilly autumn day in Piedmont. Thin layers of roasted red bliss potatoes, braised leeks, bacon, taleggio cheese and thyme make this pie a rustic and homey respite, finished with a double layer of smoke from the bacon and the blistered crust of the wood-fired oven.
Pies with this much soul derive from a special connection. Owners/bakers/chefs Melissa and Matt grew up in Guilford, and were childhood acquaintances before their paths converged again in Italy. Melissa was attending culinary school in Florence while Matt was in Rome apprenticing with an antique furniture restoration when they reconnected through a mutual friend. When they returned to the United States, they were a couple and together, they enrolled in the Institute for Culinary Education. Drawn to baking, they worked at Sullivan Street Bakery and Blue Ribbon Baking, respectively, galvanizing an interest in wood-fired baking.
“We weren’t quite finished with Italy,” explains Matt. Following their time in New York, they returned to Italy and immersed themselves in the work exchange programs of the Italian Agritourismo system, spending time working and cooking at farms, choosing those that focused on wood-fired cooking.
Two cookbooks and countless hours logged in farm kitchens later, the couple settled back in Connecticut with a desire to open their own restaurant centered around wood-fired oven baking. Eventually a small space in Guilford on the Post Road became available, and following several weeks of renovations, Bufalina was soon born.
The restuarant is divided by a deep L-shaped marble counter surrounded by nine bright red chairs. Chestnut floorboards from the original structure’s attic have been refashioned into beams for the bar’s façade. Behind the counter, a double soapstone sink and a tiny prep counter lead to Bufalina’s fiery focal point, a de Fiori wood-burning oven.
Inspired by the time the couple spent on an Italian water buffalo farm, Melissa and Matt named their restaurant after the animal that produces the incredibly rich and fatty, and highly coveted mozzarella that is all but impossible to reproduce outside of the Campania region of Italy. Rustic, mindful of tradition, yet present and aware of its home, Bufalina is very much like the inimitable mozzarella produced by its namesake.
Bufalina is open Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 to 9 pm. A new spring menu has just been released. Reservations are encouraged as most weekends are booked. Specials are announced online. For more information, visit www.bufalinact.com.