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.
Chefs enjoy when their food's the primary topic of discussion, but at Pizzeria Vetri, it's the oven that captures the conversation. Six feet across and four-plus tons on the scale, the Renato Riccio-made beast is definitely a looker, but it's the peculiar schematics—dual facing mouths, with counter on one end and kitchen on the other—that allows peel wielders to shout orders into the oven and have them float out the other side. Calling up a Caesar or checking in on a calzone? Need a status update on the al taglio pie crisping away on a sheet pan? For best results, yell directly into the fire.
Of course, it's what comes out, not what goes in, that interests cornicione crushers the most.
Opened early this month by Marc Vetri, who just celebrated the 15th anniversary of his first Philly restaurant, Pizzeria Vetri's located within dough-tossing distance of the Barnes Foundation, a major attraction for art obsessives. "We've always wanted to do it, but it was a matter of finding the right space," says Vetri, responsible for introducing many Philadelphians to higher-end pizza via the menu at his award-winning Osteria. While Vetri's Spruce Street jewel is a tough table, the pizzeria is walk-in only, accommodating the residents of the high-rise it occupies and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Local pizza options have expanded tremendously in the past few years, and Vetri feels there still is room for this type of place—small (1,400 square feet, 25-ish seats), with a tight menu focusing on proper wood-burning Neapolitan style. "It's evolved like anything evolves, and I think it's awesome," he says of the citywide scene.
True to Naples tradition, PV's base dough comprises nothing more than high-gluten bread flour, yeast, water, and salt, rolled out to accommodate classics like Margheritas and marinaras. More distinctive picks include a Quattro Formaggi (gorgonzola, mozzarella, smoked provolone, fontina), the cheese provided by local mongers Di Bruno's; and the Tonno, with Sicilian tuna as the primary protein along with mozz, sauce, and peperoncino.
The same dough's manipulated slightly for the rectangular al taglio option. The style, a nod to Roman master Gabriele Bonci's by-the-slice innovations, rotates toppings daily, sometimes mid-dinner shift. Vetri's Renato is half wood-burning and half gas, allowing the kitchen to bake off both styles simultaneously—around 800 degrees for round pies and 550 for al taglio.
The most talked-about non-pizza item at Pizzeria Vetri still involves the requisite ingredients. The Rotolo, another move inspired by Bonci, is what might happen if a pizza freak was given control of a Cinnabon franchise—a thick wrap of dough is layered with housemade mortadella and ricotta, rolled, baked, then drizzled with pistachio pesto—a popular Osteria pizza setup turned twisty. They're also messing around with a sweet rotolo filled with Nutella, a move we assume will come packaged with its fair share of oven yelling.