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DINING OUT: Vitta Pizza crust brings authentic taste to pies

The Tomasso pizza, with prosciutto, goat cheese, crushed red pepper, garlic and arugula. Jana Hollingsworth /

When Vitta Pizza entered the Twin Ports dining scene in 2011, it was a welcome addition to the collection of Midwest, Chicago and gourmet pizzerias in the area.

Vitta Pizza is the only Neapolitan-style entry for miles. The style originated in Naples, Italy, with the Margherita and the marinara, which doesn’t have mozzarella. Neapolitan pizza is thin and small, with only a few toppings, made in a hot, hot wood-burning oven with a puffy crust that comes from specific kinds of flour and yeast. A Margherita, for example, is made with a small amount of fresh mozzarella, either from a cow or buffalo, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil. They can be a little soggy, and in Italy, they aren’t cut into slices because of it.

At Vitta Pizza, the Margherita ($7.85) keeps close to the real thing. The 9-inch pizzas are made with Italy’s canned plum San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown in the southern part of the country. The blistered crust, which has a zingy, lingering taste of crunchy salt flakes, is the best thing about the Margherita, next to the pure, clean taste of the crushed tomatoes. Pizza-makers are usually too liberal with the cheese, if the restaurant is going for authenticity. I find myself wishing for more balance between the mozzarella, the basil leaves and the sauce, the harmony just slightly off. Still, it’s a light, enjoyable rendition, and I find myself choosing it often for dinner.

The Tomasso ($11.60) with its prosciutto, goat cheese, crushed red pepper, garlic and arugula, is the sort of gourmet pizza that I would put together for myself off the menu’s long list of topping choices in a make-your-own attempt — if they hadn’t come up with it already. It’s a lot, but it’s just right: the creamy goat cheese, the salty prosciutto, the spicy red pepper and the peppery arugula, which is piled on post-oven. It’s kind of like a little flavor hurricane.

It’s nice to see ingredients like arugula, artichokes and roasted red peppers as choices. They take you off the beaten path, much like Pizza Luce and Thirsty Pagan like to do.

Owner Brad Erickson, who has several years of restaurant experience, picked Neapolitan because no one else was doing it north of the Twin Cities, he said. He likes the tradition of it: pizza made without gas or power and turned out quickly in his 700-degree Italian wood-burning oven. He uses maple, oak or hardwood. Restaurant marketing says it takes 97 seconds to cook a pizza, and it only takes a couple of seconds to burn one, Erickson said.

He uses fresh yeast for the dough, noting a lot of pizza is made with dry yeast. The crust is what tasted the most like what I had in Naples last summer when I was lucky enough to honeymoon there, and ate my weight in Margheritas. The crust is worth a trip to Vitta Pizza alone.

Because of the restaurant’s Canal Park location, wait times can be slower in the summer. It’s a counter-service operation, and there is a nice selection of wine with some Italian and local beer, and also salads. There’s outdoor seating in the front and back.

A testament to Erickson’s pizza are the Italian speakers who have been noticed sitting in the brightly colored room; he said aside from Italian tourists, there was a group from Italy testing helicopters near the Duluth International Airport for several months, and they found Vitta Pizza.

“They came in because of the Caputo,” he said, referencing the Italian flour he uses in the dough.