by Ted Scheffler

Boy, oh boy, am I one happy camper. And I’ll sum up my giddiness in one word: Settebello.

Just in case your Italian isn’t up to snuff, settebello is a card—the “seven of gold”—in the Italian card game called scopa, especially popular in and around Napoli. But the settebello isn’t just any old card; it’s the most valuable card in the game of scopa. I’ve never played scopa—although I do toss a pretty mean bocce ball—but the word will forever be singed into my brain, thanks to a terrific new pizzeria in town called Settebello.

It’s not a chain or a franchise, so don’t think California Pizza Kitchen. There are only two Settebellos: the original location outside of Vegas in Henderson, Nev., and a new one in Salt Lake City, strategically positioned between Red Rock Brewing Co. and Buca di Beppo, both of which serve up righteous pizzas of their own. But there is pizza, and then there is pizza.

Settebello is the real deal. I have searched high and low for an authentic Margherita pizza in Utah and, until now, found only one really worthy of the Margherita moniker: Eric DeBonis’ tasty pie at The Paris. Oh, and the ones I make at home. But, although I use all the right ingredients, I don’t have access to an authentic Italian wood-fired brick oven to cook my pizza in—you know, the ones that approach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. My oven only goes up to 550, and that’s just not good enough.

Step into Settebello and the eye travels immediately to a long semicircular counter with stools, behind which, at eye level, is that holy brick oven. Out in back of Settebello, I noticed big chunks of wood lying near the kitchen door, all destined ultimately for the brick oven. Also behind the counter are, typically, a handful of guys preparing pizzas. But only one of them actually touches the big paddle that carries Settebello pizzas to and from the oven: Matteo Schiavone.

Schiavone, who doesn’t have a lot of English but has a winning smile that cuts across cultures and languages, is what in Italy is called a pizzaiolo, or pizza maker. Now, I know 15-year-olds at Papa Murphy’s who make pizza, but Schiavone is an artist skilled in the age-old craft of Napolitano-style pizza making. He’s been doing it for more than 20 years. That’s a lot of pizza.

The people of Napoli take their pizza very seriously—so seriously, in fact, that in 1984 the Italian government and a group of pizzaiolos created the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) to implement strict guidelines and rules concerning how pizzas should be properly made and cooked, and which ingredients may be used. (Hint: You’re not gonna find pineapple on a VPN-approved pizza.) Pizzerias certified by VPN cook their pizzas as Napolitanos have done for more than 200 years. Well, Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana in Nevada was only the 14th pizzeria in the United States to be approved and VPN-certified—quite an honor indeed. Next month, the Salt Lake City Settebello will host the president of the VPN, at which time Settebello will become the 15th American VPN-certified pizzeria, and Utah’s first.

After cooking at temperatures ranging from 800-950 degrees for under a minute, a Settebello Margherita pizza comes to your table unadorned and steaming on a warm plate. As in Italy, it’s not even cut into slices; you do the honors yourself. Cutting the pizza before bringing it to the table would, presumably, eat up valuable time. Settebello pizzas are made to be eaten immediately from the oven. They don’t travel well, so make sure your first Settebello pizza is eaten hot on the spot, as the good Lord intended pizza to be eaten.

The Paris’ aforementioned pizza notwithstanding, I’ve never understood why a decent Margherita pizza is so hard to come by. They are incredibly simple to make. Here is everything you need: Flour, tomatoes, cheese, olive oil and basil. The basil, it goes without saying, must be fresh, and the flour has to be “00” flour imported from Italy. Pizzerias in Napoli use flour from one of the oldest mills in Italy, Molino Caputo, and so does Settebello. One of the things that makes me crazy about ordering Margherita pizzas in the United States is that nine out of 10 are topped with fresh, sliced, usually not-quite-ripe tomatoes. I have never seen fresh tomato on a pizza in Italy. In Napoli, and at Settebello, a thin layer of crushed San Marzano tomatoes straight from the can are employed. They use the same brand I buy at Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli: Strianese. Atop the sauce go a few slices—not a lot—of fresh mozzarella cheese (fior di latte) and a sparse sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. A few chiffonades of fresh basil are strewn about, the pizza is placed into that molto-hot oven, and in less than a minute, magnificence emerges.

There’s other stuff at Settebello: wine, beer, a great arugula salad, a killer calzone, etc. But who cares? Because you’ll find your way to Settebello for one reason and one reason only: To bless yourself with what might just possibly be the best pizza you will ever eat. Settebello is indeed the trump card.

260 S. 200 West
Lunch & Dinner Mon-Sat