Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
When asked about transitioning from the finance world to the restaurant industry, Steven Dilley humbly explained, "I'm passionate about what I'm doing, so I feel I can make at least something passable." Lifelong food lover casts aside desk job to open a restaurant? The story may be increasingly commonplace these days, but it rarely fails to inspire. No less so in the case of the half Italian, half Taiwanese chef, who returned to Austin after a decade on Wall Street to embrace his passion for cooking. Three years later, and his dream has finally been realized, in the form of Bufalina, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria.
The classic Neapolitan style held a special place in Dilley's heart, so the self-described purist headed to Naples to learn his craft. After stepping foot into well-established pizzerias, he was shocked to see unconventional toppings here and there, ranging from seafood to (gasp) hot dogs.
He translated his revelations into Bufilina's compact menu, which currently includes 4 starters and 5 pizzas. While there aren't any hot dogs, Dilley stays open minded, explaining, "I don't see why we shouldn't come up with combinations as long as they're tasty. I'll also find it boring to work in a place that's static." With the exception of his classic Marinara and Margherita pies, his menu changes seasonally.
Apart from the flour, tomatoes, and olive oil, the chef sources his ingredients domestically. He gets his cured meats from Iowa's La Quercia, sausage from their East Austin neighbor, Salt & Time, and produce from nearby Animal Farm and Boggy Creek Farm. When it comes to mozzarella, Dilley opts to make it fresh, in-house.
Six beer taps feature Austin beers, supplementing a wine list described as "global, whatever is delicious and refreshing, not too big or oaky, but something that works in 100 degree weather and you can drink a few glasses of."
As the first Neapolitan-style pizzeria to hit East Austin, Bufalina is bound be critically sized up by enthusiasts of Backspace and Pieous. A few weeks into their soft opening, Dilley reported that "the reception has been overwhelming. None of us knew what to expect—we were quiet going into it in terms of marketing so to have this kind of response has been great." On the Wednesday that I was there, there was a wait by 6:30 p.m., so plan to arrive early!
See a selection of items from Bufalina's menu in the slideshow.