“Is that Neapolitan pizza – in Worcester?” I asked a friend via Instagram when I saw a telltale blistered pie pop up in his feed.
“You’re missing out by living in CT!” he responded.”
“Dude, we own Neapolitan style here in Connecticut,” I retorted.
I fully subscribe to Sam Sifton’s “pizza cognition theory,” where the former New York Times food critic believes that a child’s first slice forever ingrains the image of pizza in that person’s adult mind.
For this girl, born and raised in Worcester, my “first pizza” is what the pros apparently call “New England/Greek style” - a perfectly spherical shape; thick, bready outer crust and a crispy, brittle undercarriage achieved by baking the pie in a pan drizzled with oil or butter. (As you can see, I spend a lot of time on Slice.) That’s all I knew during my first 24 years of life.
But now I’ve now spent nearly eight years living, studying and working in Connecticut, home to world-class Neapolitan pizza as interpreted by New Haven. Nutmeggers take their pizza very seriously. What was once foreign to me now makes me very proud.
My friend informed me that the pie he was enjoying was courtesy of a brand-new Neapolitan pizzeria on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, Volturno. And in a follow-up post on his website, Worcester Scene, he shared that Volturno was officially certified by a governing body in Naples. Interest, piqued. That same week, we sent our new MassLive Worcester reporter to check it out.
Here’s what I learned, while editing the piece fighting through crushing hunger pangs: Owner Greg Califano fell in love with real Neapolitan pizza while traveling through Italy on his honeymoon. Instead of just pining for the pizza once he was back stateside, he decided to ask pizzamakers in Naples how he could learn to create them himself. They pointed him toward the American branch of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), which trains and certifies pizzerias in the art of making authentic Neapolitan pies.
Certification by the governing body requires incredible dedication to ingredients, tools and techniques: specific types of flour, tomatoes, oil, cheese, as well as approved equipment. At Volturno, the pies are fired in a wood-burning oven at 850 to 900 degrees for less than three minutes.
This weekend, I finally got up to Wootown to check it out for myself. The space on Shrewsbury Street – a former car dealership, believe it or not – is clean, modern and filled with an abundance of natural light, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. And it has its own lot, which is a godsend, as anyone who’s ever tried to find street parking on Shrewsbury can attest to.
The menu is separated into “stuzzichini” (little bites,) bruschetta, pasta, salad, pizzas and entrees. A handy glossary of Italian culinary terms sits at each table for customers’ benefit:
The flavors are light and delicate. The crust is infinitely softier and chewier than you’d get from a Greek pie, or even a crispier coal-fired New Haven apizza – if you like your pies with some crunch, you may be disappointed. But Volturno’s pies keep with tradition, as they’ve been certified to do. This Slice guide to Neapolitan pizza is a good reference.
“Why can’t they just make it crisper?” you ask. A Neapolitan would counter with, “Why can’t you just eat it as is?” (And that would be the polite response.)
Volturno seems to be doing brisk business – we got one of the last two-tops available at 6 p.m. and by the time we left at 7:15, there was a significant crowd waiting in the lobby. It’s proof of the city’s noteworthy culinary evolution over the past decade, a shift that has welcomed top-notch tapas, Afghani cuisine, a craft pub that’s made Draft Magazine’s America’s 100 Best Beer Bars list three years running, and so much more.
Worcester was ready for Volturno, it seems. And I can now admit freely that my adopted state doesn’t have the monopoly on serious pizza.
Volturno Pizza is at 72 Shrewsbury Street in Worcester. 508-756-8658, volturnopizza.com.