Quick! Before the dough runs out, get down to La Strada Café and Pizzeria
in Matunuck. That can easily happen with all the locals stopping in regularly for La
Strada’s specialty pizzas. They are positively addictive. When asked what hours
they are open, the staffers always say, “Until we run out of dough.”
Pizza is all you get at La Strada. It’s the only food offered on the restaurant’s
printed menu. The blackboard might list a couple of salads, and sometimes that
ubiquitous Italian dessert tiramisu is available. But most customers aren’t there
to eat healthy or to satisfy their sweet tooth. They are hooked on the pizza and
in need of a fix.
This is a humble, no-frills restaurant with a smattering of tables and chairs inside
and a counter where customers line up to place their orders. Large picture
windows offer views of the outdoor pizza oven and the sunset. Most folks prefer
to eat outside where the mismatched outdoor furniture and picnic tables are in high demand. That’s where the show takes place: the making of the pizzas in a copper-clad wood-fired oven. The large, dome-shaped oven is positioned on a trailer rig so it can be hauled away every night and stored in a local garage for safekeeping. La Strada, which is Italian for “the road,” started out last year as a mobile pizza business for catered parties and corporate events. Their new brickand- mortar location in Matunuck offers fans some hope that La Strada may remain open year round.
The co-owners are an interesting pair. Nick Schneider comes from pizza royalty (his father used to own Fellini’s in Providence). He divides his time between Matunuck and New York City, where he is a firefighter. Jenny Olbrich is a serious athlete, specializing in rowing and biking. They are both committed to “keeping it local” by using ingredients including Narragansett Creamery cheeses and fresh produce from Carpenter’s Farm.
Their wood-fired oven can only accommodate 12-inch pizzas, so 18-inch versions are made inside the restaurant in gas ovens. We were a gang of 10 people, from tots to senior citizens, and we tried and liked both types. Most of us felt the wood-fired pizzas, with their smoky flavor and slightly charred crust, were superior. With the wood burning at 800+ degrees,
the pizzas cook in a minute and a half. It’s fun to watch the youthful kitchen crew tossing pizza dough into the air to stretch it into shape, and then slide the pies in and out of the oven on large pizza peels. Three-year-old Michael was fascinated with the process.
Our many pizzas started landing on our long table, with the Carpenter up first. Named after the nearby Carpenter’s Farm, this pizza was topped with that farm’s beef sausage, spinach, mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce and caramelized Vidalia onions. Lots of good stuff was going on here – the sausage was flavorful, and the onions were sweet. Whenever I see San Marzano tomatoes on a menu, I know that someone in the kitchen really knows what they’re doing. Most chefs will say that San Marzano are the best tomatoes in the world.
Ben, who can be a grumpy teenager at times, was so impressed with this particular pizza that he stopped texting. Now that speaks volumes. Next, we had probably the most radical pizza on the menu: the Notorious F.I.G. A classic study of less being more, this pizza was dotted with slices of Italian soppressata, Black Mission figs, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, with a sprinkling of coarse black pepper. This was my favorite, with its salty and sweet flavors and
soft and then chewy textures.
The older Michael at our table (father to the tot named Michael) liked the woodfired fig pizza the most, but he noted that every pizza we sampled was good and that their common denominator was the delicious tomato sauce, which is also available for sale. He had high praise for the quirky staff and the ambiance of this seaside pizza shack with its open doors
and windows that allowed an ocean breeze to keep us cool.
Michael’s wife, Karen, liked that La Strada was so kid friendly. It was easy for her to watch her younger children playing outside while we waited for our food to arrive. She preferred the pizza from the gas oven, admitting that she liked “boring” pizza. She too loved the sauce
and the “super nice” staff who made her feel welcome without being invasive. Next time, she said, we should sit outside later in the evening so we can enjoy the atmosphere.
Of course, Brian the traditionalist had to have his Pepperoni pizza, a simple pie topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and thinly sliced pepperoni. The Margherita is pizza at its most basic level, and many experts say this classic pie has no rivals. A peasant pie in Italy, it was created in honor of that nation’s 19th-century queen Margherita, who adored the simple combination of vineripe tomatoes, fresh shredded mozzarella cheese, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and fine olive oil, all on a puffy, golden brown crust. With a garnish of fresh basil, this pizza offers the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag.
The 12-inch wood-fired pizzas cost between $12 and $16. The 18-inch pizzas baked in the gas oven are priced between $14 and $20. La Strada was recently granted a license to sell beer and wine, which allowed me to sip on a crisp Pinot Grigio in between bites of pizza. Everyone else at our table ordered Cokes, which are in glass bottles at La Strada. Wines are
served in clear plastic cups. Plain white paper plates are passed out when the pizzas arrive at a table. It may be a nofrills restaurant, but it’s a dining experience unlike any other.
Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.