Eat & Drink

Ten Neapolitan pizzerias feeding Kansas City’s hunger for a modern spin

The margherita at Providence Pizzeria Co.
The margherita at Providence Pizzeria Co. Special to The Star

The pizza landscape is changing.

It used to be when you talked pizza in the United States, the discussion focused on the toppings, not the crust.

With deference to New York, Sicilian, Chicago, St. Louis and every hybrid style in between, we have noticed pizza style in Kansas City is shifting in favor of the Neapolitan crust.

From the fast-casual Pizzeria Locale in Waldo to “Neoprairie” Limestone Pizza in Lawrence to Providence Pizzeria Co. in Grandview, the centuries-old Neapolitan crust is upping the ante.

Sorry, Pizza Hut: Slipping in a processed cheese stick as needed incentive to finish eating the crust is not part of that mindset. Neapolitan crust is soft and pliable yet sturdy. The edges are bubbled to lightly charred or blistered after a few minutes in a very hot (ranging from 600 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit) wood-burning oven.

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The cheese is most often fresh white mozzarella, sometimes fresh ricotta. The ingredients tend to be artisan and fresh, distributed more sparsely across the surface area.

Purists will argue the only true Neapolitan pizzas are marinara, lightly kissed with a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, or the margherita topped with fresh mozzarella. We are not opposed to a tangle of arugula, a few perfect figs with goat cheese, exotic mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, chorizo or speck (similar to prosciutto).

We recently fanned out across the metro to sample and come up with a list of our 10 favorites.

Pizzeria Locale

505 W. 75th St.

816-523-1161

pizzerialocale.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

If Pizzeria Locale’s fast-casual, assembly-line format for making Neapolitan-style pizzas seems familiar, it’s because the concept is indeed from Chipotle, the titan of fast-casual dining.

Like its parent company, Pizzeria Locale makes each order fresh from a streamlined but eclectic menu with high-quality ingredients for quick, customizable options. The pizza is built before your eyes, going from kneaded dough ball to pizza peel, and then is dressed with a variety of toppings.

The prepped pizza is then slid into the custom-made oven with a rotating base that cooks the pizzas at a raging-hot 1,000 degrees in minutes. The result is a classic Neapolitan-style pie with a trademark light, airy crust and delicious blisters and bubbles.

The menu offers 10 standard options with a light touch, straddling the balance well between topping and thin crust. Classic selections include the Bianca ($7.25), topped with sausage, broccolini and chili flakes. The Mais ($7.75) is more gourmet, with its sweet and salty mix of corn, ham and creme fraiche as a base.

Pizzeria Locale’s menu also features sides, salads, beer and wine. With even the most expensive pizza ringing in under $9, this quick-serve concept offers pizzas that are affordable and delicious.

Spin Neapolitan Pizza

Various locations

spinpizza.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Spin Neapolitan Pizza is a Kansas City-based chain that is quickly expanding into markets far beyond our borders. But as with any business, success starts at home, and Spin has been offering a good product for the last decade.

Though it has a broad menu of salads and appetizers, pizza is no doubt the focus. James Beard award-winning chef Michael Smith created the original Spin menu in 2005 and continues to consult for the fast-casual pizza chain.

Spin offers three crust options: whole-wheat, gluten-free and the classic regular crust. For the closest to a true Neapolitan, choose the classic and enjoy the bubbly brown crust with a nice, chewy bite. The pizzas are cooked in a 600-degree stone oven, topped with ingredients in unique combinations.

Whether you choose a tomato sauce or “white” Bianca base, the menu board has something for traditional tastes as well as those who want something different, from a BBQ di Pollo ($13.85) with pineapple, or a potato pizza with pancetta, peppers and goat cheese ($11.95).

If you want to think outside the box, try the Salsiccia con Mela ($12.95), a sausage, shaved apple and glazed pecan pizza. For something spicy with a taste of the sea, Spin added the chef Smith-created Shrimp Scampi pizza ($14.95) earlier this year with spinach and Calabrian chilies, a native Italian chili that adds a slight gourmet touch.

Bella Napoli

6229 Brookside Blvd.

816-444-5041

kcbellanapoli.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday

In a neighborhood of good restaurants and eager diners, there is a reason Brookside’s Bella Napoli is still serving great Neapolitan pizzas after 15 years: Tastes may change, but good pizza never goes out of style.

Whether you’re inside at the wine bar or café dining room or out on the patio sipping wine, Bella Napoli is a charming place to enjoy Naples’ most famous culinary export.

The Italian deli within influences Bella Napoli’s pizza menu, with an eye toward high-quality ingredients like speck, pancetta, smoked mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella. The crust here is thin but not soft, with a pleasant chew and a crispy bottom that offsets toppings like the luscious strips of near melting, shaved speck and peppery arugula on the Fumoso ($12).

Although none of the 15 pizza options strays too far from tradition, the attention to detail and quality ingredients shows on many of the options, like the Diavola ($10), a fiery pie of spicy salami and chili oil, or the Rapini ($12), which showcases the subtly simple combination of sausage and broccoli rabe.

Providence Pizzeria Co.

12925 U.S. 71 South, Grandview

816-965-0743

providencepizza.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday

If a stranger were to ask you where to get one of the finest Neapolitan-style pizzas in the city, your mind might not immediately race to a spot off U.S. 71 and Main Street in Grandview that once housed a Long John Silver’s.

The motto at Providence Pizzeria Co. is “no crust left behind,” and it’s one it more than lives up to. The menu is one of the more unique for local pizzerias in that it serves not one, not two, but three styles of crusts coming from multiple ovens.

New York-style slices or whole pizzas and a doughier, rectangle-shaped Sicilian version are served all day. At night, the copper wood-burning Le Panyol oven with imported French Terre Blanche stones is fired up to serve the restaurant’s outstanding take on Neapolitan pizza, which was recently featured in the trade journal “Pizza Today.”

The crust is indeed king at Providence, with an air-filled but firm crust blistered with little black bubbles and char. The seven wood-fired pizzas are available only after 5 p.m., but each one is packed with interesting flavors, like the Clam Pie ($13) with Cherrystone clams, pancetta and parsley.

Another standout is the prosciutto ($13), with paper-thin wisps of salt-cured prosciutto and arugula. The combination is found at many modern Neapolitan pizzerias, but this version is a perfect example of how simple textures and flavors can become something so much more with the right combination of crust, cheese and topping.

Providence Pizza Co. In Grandview is one of 10 Neapolitan pizzerias Chow Town critics Jill Silva and Tyler Fox found are feeding Kansas City's growing appetite for prize-winning pies.

Pizzabella

1810 Baltimore, 816-471-3300

4000 Indian Creek Parkway, Overland Park, 913-341-7700

pizzabellakc.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-close Friday; noon-close Saturday; 4-9 p.m. Sunday

The original Pizzabella opened in the Crossroads in 2007 offering fantastic pizzas fired in its twin wood-burning ovens. In 2013, a Kansas location in Mission Farms was added.

Like any Neapolitan pizzeria, the main component of the restaurant is the oven. No gas lines run into the kitchen at the Crossroads location, so everything on the menu is cooked in those two brick ovens, according to owner Hilary Glynn. What comes out is a lovely mix of pizzas and dishes like the famous caramelized Brussels sprouts or mussels, all kissed by the smoky notes and char of the fire.

Pizzabella’s menu is wide-ranging, incorporating less common fare like leeks, chorizo, cured white anchovy and radicchio with the usual suspects like sausage and mushrooms. The crust has the expected light texture, its crispy exterior drizzled with olive oil just out of the oven.

The never-ending “put an egg on it” trend lives on in the delectable egg pizza ($16), topped with pancetta, arugula and ricotta cheese with an egg that finishes on top by the heat of the fire. A favorite on the menu is the seemingly simple potato pizza ($14), with fingerling potatoes, radicchio and tangy Gorgonzola cheese, all topped by a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Blue Grotto

6324 Brookside Plaza

816-361-3473

bluegrottobrookside.com

Hours: 3-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 3-11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m Sunday

Blue Grotto has a handsome, dark-colored front bar area that opens up to a brighter two-level dining room. In between the two is the soul of this Neapolitan pizzeria: a tall stone oven burning at extremely hot temperatures to turn out the restaurant’s seven pizzas.

The open kitchen allows for pizza theater as you watch cooks tending to the wood fire and wielding long pizza peels to deposit or remove pizzas with speed and efficiency. With hot stone ovens, timing is key to get the right mix of crispy crust and perfectly melted cheese.

The crust is slightly doughier than some other Neapolitan pizzerias, with a bit of bite as your teeth sink into the sporadically bubbled crust flecked with bits of melted Parmesan cheese.

Though the pizza list may be smaller than some, it does boast some standout pairings. The prosciutto, dried fig and goat cheese with almond pizza ($15) is a nice mix of sweet, sour and salty flavors that come together with a nutty profile to make the pie more than the sum of its parts.

One of the most popular pizzas is perhaps the most peculiar: a bacon, crème fraiche, house-pickled jalapeno and avocado number ($15). The flavor comes off sweet before a hit of smoky bacon or mild jalapeno here and there, with avocado adding an interesting cooling texture to finish.

Update: The restaurant is closing Feb. 21.

Limestone Pizza Kitchen and Bar

814 Massachusetts, Lawrence

785-856-2825

limestonepizza.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Limestone chef/owner Rick Martin is going after a Kansas take on classic Neapolitan-style pizza, which is one reason many of the pizzas change with the seasons and feature ingredients from local farmers.

Fifty-four percent of the restaurant’s food and beverage purchases are locally sourced, which is not only in line with the green ethos spelled out on the website, but explains why over the summer there was a fabulous corn and cherry tomato, bacon, cheddar and parsley-topped pizza for only a few weeks.

Now that it is fall, a recent social media post announced the return of the popular Greens pizza ($12), featuring Swiss chard, Gruyere, reduced cream, sweet-and-sour gastrique and cracked pepper.

Martin is the former executive chef of Free State Brewing Co. The restaurant’s eight “Neoprairie” pizzas include a classic margherita ($10.50) as well as the local egg-topped Farmer ($13.50) with house-made bacon and greens, which is served uncut to avoid spilling the yolk, a server explains.

Most Neapolitan pizzerias use imported Italian “00” flour. Here the 12-inch crusts — prepared by former Wheatfield’s head baker Mikey Humphrey in a wood-fired American-made Le Panyol oven fueled by renewable local hedge — are made with 100 percent Kansas-grown flour. The result is a light and chewy texture with a hint of elasticity under the smoky char.

Martin City Brewing Co. Pizza + Taproom

500 E. 135th St.

816-268-2222

martincitybrewingcompany.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday

Martin City gives a brewpub spin to thin-crust pizza. The crust here is more golden blond than charred and tends to have a crunchier, cracker-type finish than many around town.

The toppings range from traditional to wholly American, but even the Italian ones tend to get a slightly thicker, punchier spin: the Martin City Margherita ($7, $11, $16) includes a finely diced bruschetta mix atop the sweet tang of red sauce and cheese.

With 17 pizzas on the menu, choices include the Aloha with pineapple, an ample supreme, a Philly cheese steak and a version based on Italian charcuterie. Pizzas come in a 6-, 12- or 16-inch crust. There’s also a gluten-free option.

The standard 6-inch personal size is perfect for sampling a range of toppings, from the alfredo-based Chicken Spanakopita ($8, $15, $19) with artichokes, spinach, feta and chunks of chicken, to the Espana ($7, $14, $18), a slightly spicy red sauce pizza with sliced Spanish hard chorizo, red onions, almonds, hot cherry peppers, pecorino and Spanish manchego.

Il Lazzarone Neapolitan Pizzeria

412 Delaware St.

816-541-3695

facebook.com/illazzaronekc

Hours: 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday

If you want something vaguely off the beaten path, try the pepperoni drizzled with honey, and you’ll see why Americans have fallen so hard for an updated take on pizza: It’s salty, sweet and tangy, on a deliciously charred carb.

Erik Borger has been fixated on pizza since he was a kid. A few years ago he opened his first pizza restaurant in St. Joseph (1628 Frederick Ave.) and earlier this year he added another location in the River Market.

The narrow pizzeria features a 7,000-pound Acunto Mario Forni oven imported from Italy. There’s actually a divot in the floor from where Borger and company dropped the massive oven during installation.

Il Lazzarone spins out a simple marinara pizza ($8.50) featuring only San Marzano tomatoes and olive oil, and a number with more upscale toppings such as Brussels sprouts ($12.50), pancetta ($12.50) or wild mushrooms ($10). The crust is more charred than many Neapolitans, something familiar to a town weaned on barbecue.

Il Lazzarone also may take the prize for those with a late-night pizza penchant. The pizzeria is open until 1:30 a.m. every day but Sunday. It also has a nice array of craft cocktails and beers.

Marco Polo’s Italian Market

1201 W. 103rd St.

816-941-6600

jaspers.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday

Jasper Mirabile bakes his pizzas in an old-school Baker’s Pride brick oven, the one from his dad’s original 1954 pizzeria.

He’s especially proud of his grandmother’s red pizza sauce, a product that is now available bottled and is out-selling his spaghetti sauces. Grandma’s recipe contains San Marzano tomatoes, caramelized onions and a hint of oregano. The only original ingredient it doesn’t have: anchovies, which back in the day stood in for the salt.

Mirabile describes his crust as neither New York or Neapolitan but “something in the middle,” because the slices are too thick to fold. But the pies are also much larger than most coming out of wood-fired ovens around town.

“Our pizza is a little softer and chewier with a nice little crisp bite on the back side,” Mirabile says, adding he prefers to eat his by the slice because the crust gets extra crispy while warming on the oven deck.

Indeed, the thinnish crust on the Around the Boot ($19.95) is loaded with the traditional toppings (pepperoni, Sicilian fennel sausage, mushrooms, black olives, green peppers, onions, Canadian bacon and anchovies) — all favorites of Mirabile’s father.

Mirabile, however, is a purist when it comes to pizza. “I’m very, very traditional. I always get mine with Italian sausage — nothing else.”

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