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John Pennington hasn't skipped any steps during his fourteen years in the restaurant industry. Starting as a dishwasher, he worked his way up to become the executive chef and co-owner of his own restaurant. Winflo Osteria, tucked away in Austin's charming Clarksville neighborhood, is a collaboration between Pennington, his wife, brother-in-law, and a longtime friend. The restaurant occupies an impeccably restored bright green bungalow, just west of downtown. In addition to the dining room and bar, there's an expansive patio shaded by a stately old oak tree.
Pennington's kitchen produces Neapolitan-style pizzas and Italian meat and pasta dishes "based around something you would find in a house in Italy—dishes you would find in a home." A selection of antipasti, soups, salads, and an Italian-focused wine list complete the menu.
But the massive wood-burning Forno Bravo oven is the heart of the kitchen. The selection of eight pizzas is decidedly traditional; for a ninth option, Imaginazione, the chef will pick the ingredients for you, should your own imagination fail you. Pennington developed the recipes together with his wife, Megan Dickson, with whom he previously operated a pie shop in South Austin.
There's a Margherita ($13), as well as more unique offerings like the Prosciutto ($16), with additional toppings of with arugula and caramelized onions. They make a classic Neapolitan-style dough, with a 24 hour rise. Like most other pizzerias (and barbecue pits) in Central Texas, the Winflo oven burns oak. Pennington appreciates it for the smokey flavor that "has a hint of barbecue but isn't overwhelming." The oven gets as hot as 900 degrees, so his pizzas cook in just about ninety seconds.
Now, Winflo Osteria is striving to become the first Neapolitan-certified, or VPN, restaurant in Austin. It's a distinction determined by Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, based on criteria like the use of a wood-burning oven, handmade mozzarella, "00" flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and hand-kneaded pizza dough.
Why the focus on pizza? "It's a passion of mine. I love its simplicity" says Pennington. He also relishes the tactile aspect of working with dough. "I love creating something with my hands," he says.