For Paolo Cavalli, making pizza is just continuing the work started by his great grandparents. For the rest of his family running Cavalli Pizzeria Napoletana it is also the continuation of the family work. The family is now large enough to support two locations: the original spot in Irving the more recent McKinney incarnation. They might be able to birth another at some point but that will depend on such imponderables such as span of control and birth rates. However, from the first bite you take from the pizza at Cavalli, this is not chain restaurant mentality pizza. In fact they have been so under the radar that I dare say many Dallasites are unaware that such a gem exists in the area. To partly rectify this problem they organized a press dinner.
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Cavalli claims to be the first pizzeria in Texas to be certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association (VPN), the producer association established in Napoli to prevent what they saw as the mongrelizing of the whole concept of pizza in the world. [Ed. note: They opened in Irving on January 17th, 2008 and were certified April 17th, 2008.] They wanted to declare some places above the you-like-tomatoes-on-your crust-or-pineapple-on-your-pie mentality. And, since many places use pizza as only a container, why don’t we start selling pizza in the housewares department and use extra gluten so it can be used to carry dirty washing? Why not make pizza hats to wear in the showers? The possibilities are endless and, if I am willing to risk being whacked by Paulo, not all bad.
To the VPN, pizza is a specific list of ingredients, a specific methodology, and a specific set of practices designed, solely, to produce authentic Naoli-style pizza. If anyone asks you if there is any authentic Italian in Dallas, this type of pizza would be considered authentic Italian. The crust is made with double-zero flour and no sugar, honey, or other sweeteners are added. This gives the crusty an earthy taste that cuts short before it can envelop the topping. It also means a light crust, not not just a container for toppings, but a full partner in the overall taste.
The first pizza we sampled was the classic Margherita. Cavalli uses San Marzano tomatoes. He brought out a bowl so we could each grab a clod with a fork and taste their natural sweetness. On the pie, the tomatoes mix with the buffalo mozzarella to create creaminess beyond that of cow’s milk which is scented with slivers of fresh basil. Simple ingredients on a simple crust create a complex flavors.
The next pizza was the Parma Pizza. This time the buffalo mozzarella was topped with Parma prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese which was added once it came out of the oven. These are special ingredients and it was no surprise that this pizza appeared to be the crowd favorite at our table.
The final pizza we sampled was something of a pure indulgence: S’Mores Pizza. Sweet and gooey because of the topping, this one will be a winner given Dallas’ sweet tooth. Incidentally, the competition has scoped out Cavalli and this is one recipe that has popped up elsewhere in town. So if you see it somewhere, remind them where they got it. All of these pizzas are cooked in an oven constructed and shipped from Italy that burns wood and reaches over 1000ºF (although Cavalli cooks at about 900). That’s even hotter than a July day outside in Dallas!
While pizza holds center stage at Cavalli, there is also a strong supporting cast of other dishes on the menu. Strong enough in fact that you could have a respectable meal even if you did not order pizza. We tried two soups: a refreshing cantaloupe and mint and a summer squash and corn. Both are seasonal hits and, as a self-confessed corn-a-holic, I especially recommend the latter.
The antipasto of Grilled Rosemary Fig was straight from the Roman culinary playbook. Roasting had concentrated the flavors and imparted smokiness to the fig. The accompanying Goat Cheese Crostini attenuated the fig flavors when they became too much and prevented the dish become monotonous on the palate. Overall, one of the best antipasti dishes that I have come across in town. It would be a great walk-and-eat food at a reception.
Other dishes included a light salad with nuts (Noci Insalata) and a dish that showed Cavalli’s pasta expertise, Capesante al Prosecco Pasta all’Aragosta, which combined angel hair pasta with lobster in a vodka sauce. Our Secundo of Costolette D’Agnello was a juicy lamb chop.
A word has to be said about the interesting wine selections we were served.
2010 Fontana Candida Frascati is a straightforward wine made in the hills above Rome. It had bright acidity and medium weight that made it an excellent match with the Margherita pizza. It was also served at exactly the right temperature (chilled but not icy). An indicative detail that highlights the precise care behind this casual eatery. The 2009 A Quo Montepeloso was an inky being that displayed dark fruits and complexity in the mouth and paired well with the lamb.
The Cavalli family has pizza DNA in their blood. Their restaurants have been a powerful force in Dallas dining scene. Particularly when it comes to the ever-evolving authentic pizza scene exploding all over Dallas.