A Tale of Two Pizzas

Armando’s pie defines perfection, while Prato’s creation doesn’t come close to it.

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

Margherita pizza on a menu doesn’t refer to a tequila drink, but a proud creation from Naples. Concocted in 1889 to honor the queen of Italy, this simple and exacting dish is the epitome of the pizzaiolo’s art. If you can’t make this pie, you shouldn’t make pizza at all.

Tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. That’s all, and that’s how it’s made at Armando’s in Winter Park. The owner of Trattoria Toscana on Park Avenue, Armando Martorelli has transformed the former Hot Olives in Hannibal Square into a comfortable spot with white walls and soft lighting, and featuring a blazing hot pizza oven measured at 1,000 degrees.

Here, thick shreds of mozzarella are strewn over hand-stretched dough and a simple coating of crushed plum tomatoes, then laid with whole fresh basil leaves just before hitting the oven. One to two minutes and a drizzle of olive oil later, the thin pie is out, with a charred, puffy edge and the scent and sight of hot cheese imploring you to pick up a slice and jam it into your mouth, scalded tonsils be damned. The dough itself has an earthy, yeasty taste, the charred cornicione (the puffy edge we usually call the crust) so flavorful that it’s practically another meal.

It’s as if the word “pizza” were put in a space and four walls erected around it. Pies from Armando’s are as good as—or possibly better than—those I’ve had on the streets of Naples. But it’s not the only new oven in Winter Park.

Prato (pronounced PRAH-to, a city in Tuscany) resides on Park Avenue, the latest creation of the people behind Luma just down the street. It’s been beautifully designed as a loftlike space, with exposed brick walls, ceiling-high glass doors and a magnificent living wall of ferns and exotic plants. If only the pizza were so magnificent.
I am a fan of Luma chef Brandon McGlamery’s skills at layering flavors and the stories he tells on the plate. Several dishes at Prato are variations of those I’ve enjoyed at Luma, and I’m sure they are every bit as good. But we’re talking pizza, and I was dismayed by what came out of their Neapolitan-built, wood-fired oven.

Prato’s margherita is made with fior di latte cheese (a form of cow’s milk mozzarella), tomato puree and cut pieces of basil. The pizza I had on two occasions was stiff and chewy as cardboard, the very thin coating of cheese practically evaporated and the sauce overpoweringly sweet. No airiness in the crust, no hint of flavor in the dough, no indication that a respectful pizza maker was anywhere near this pie.

Perhaps any pizza from a wood-fired oven is better than something delivered in 30 minutes or less. But not when you can make the comparison between something just called pizza, and something that magnificently is.

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