Some folks might say that Nashville is long overdue for an good authentic pizza place. This word “authentic” conjures up lots of different meanings, depending on where you’re from and what you’re used to. Case in point, I grew up in Memphis. The best and most “authentic” pizza in town was the barbeque pizza at Pete & Sam’s. It was a small Italian joint in a marginal part of town, but the memory of it is what I measure all other pizzas by. Since we probably all have our own similar measuring sticks, rather than start the pizza wars about where to get the best pizza in Nashville, we want to take a different angle.
With all the new pizza places opening up around town, we couldn’t resist sending our team out to try them. First, we drew straws to see what pizzerias deserved our attention. The following places won the draw: Bella Pizza in the Farmers Market, Caffe Nonna’s new pizza parlor adjacent to their original restaurant and Desano Pizza in the roundabout by the naked statues.
This is not a review as much as it is a guide to what to expect. Since pizza is truly a personal preference, we will attest that all of the pizza places we tried met our standards. Each offers a unique slant on a pizza, which is why we found this assignment to be so much fun.
There’s not a better new find in town than Bella Pizza. Their tag line is “Old World for the New South,” which couldn’t be a more appropriate label for owners Dave Cuomo (no relation to Mario) and his lovely wife, Emma Berkey. Not only do they know how to deliver an amazing pizza, but Ben comes by it naturally.
A third generation Italian with roots in New Haven and Hartford, Ben brings traditional Neapolitan-style pizza to Tennessee. His stint cooking at the Patterson House gave him the chops he needed to maneuver in a small space, answering the call of hungry diners. As fresh as it gets, Bella’s dough is made daily, as is their mozzarella.
One advantage of being housed in the Farmers Market is the accessibility Bella has to fresh, local and seasonal produce with toppings such as broccoli rabe, watermelon radish and a huge surprise, Smiley’s ham.
For all of you who have grabbed a hunk of Smiley’s ham to cook your collard greens in, you’ll be surprised to find that Smiley’s offers some of the best prosciutto in town.
This mild and slightly salty ham makes a wonderful compliment to any fresh fruit or as a topping on a pizza. The pizzas are cooked in a clay oven, which was tiled by hand by Dave’s mom.
The vibe at Bella is low key since they are only open for lunch.
One of the best kept secrets in town is Bella’s fresh squeezed juices. On the day we went they had two flavors –lemon and orange, both of which were served with fresh herbs and a sparkling punch.
Bella is somewhat off the beaten track, but the ever-so-slight detour is completely worth your time. www.facebook.com/BellaNashville
Nonna’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar
Caffe Nonna continues to be the darling off the 1-440 inner beltway. It is quaint and charming, as it’s smaller than your typical restaurant in Nashville. The reason why Caffe Nonna offers a more intimate feel than most restaurants is because they don’t serve alcohol, meaning hard liquor. You can get a fabulous glass of wine and cold beer, but that’s about all. Tennessee’s antiquated liquor laws are the reason we don’t have more of these charming, intimate restaurants.
Just open is Caffe Nonna’s sister restaurant, Nonna’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar. This new pizzeria gives diners a open space with a full view of the kitchen and pizza oven. The night I was there it was jammed. Nonna’s serves up an interesting menu complete with starters, salads, piadinis, wood-fired pies and desserts. (If you don’t have a clue what a piadini is, it’s a wood-fired bread pressed with fillings and served with mixed greens. Yum!)
Our group ordered 3 wood fired pies — Primavera, Greek and Nonna. We threw in two starters, the wood-roasted salsa (delicious) and the Italian bacon cheese dip. Both are served with carrots and flatbread chips. Each came laden with fresh ingredients, especially the Primavera with fresh zucchini, artichoke, roasted red pepper and goat cheese. Nonna’s allows you to add any topping you wish including lots of different types of cheeses.
No doubt this quaint pizzeria is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. And, in keeping with Caffe Nonna’s commitment to finding a cure for brain cancer, a percent of all dishes is donated to the Zoe Marie Brain Tumor Research Fund. If you want to read more about this amazing fund, click here. For more information about Nonna Pizzeria, call 615.678.5232.
New to Nashville, only open since September, Desano Pizza offers a mid-town wood oven-fired pizza option that is off the rails delicious. It’s located near the roundabout (where the nekkid lady statues are) near Music Row, on 16th Avenue, basically across the street from Off Broadway Shoes. It’s a causal dining place that is brightly lit with long tables intended for sharing your meal in the company of others. So romantic and quaint? No. But when it’s Friday night and you’ve had a long week and just want some Italian soul food, this is just the ticket. What it lacks in charm and ambience, it makes up for in spades in lovingly prepared, Neapolitan artisan pizzas.
Their menu is basic, but covers what the true pizza aficionado is seeking, regardless of whether the pie is served on a fancy plate or on the tray is was baked on. Authentic ingredients of the highest quality, like San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil, make these pizzas what they are. On our visit, the Margherita and Lasagna pizzas (pictured above – with beautiful homemade ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, basil and deconstructed meatballs) were our selections, and we spied a version made with sausage and broccoli rabe we are dying to go back a try. The spinach salad was out of this world delicious, though we would have preferred a real plate or bowl to the plastic takeaway container. When we return to sample the sausage pizza, we will also order a cannoli from the dessert menu. Our friends were enjoying one nearby and we wished we hadn’t stuffed ourselves with the fabulous ‘za – there was no room left for a sweet treat after.
Desano offers a very limited wine and beer list. (Really not much of a list. House red or white or Peroni beer. Not a problem. Again, basic, when done well, is a really good thing!) We’d love a real wine glass, but the food is so good, a little plastic’s not a deal-breaker for us, especially when the service is over-the-top friendly and quick. (Our pizza was delivered to our table much quicker than most pizza places we frequent.) Oh, and you’ll be glad to know Desano encourages BYOB. Bring your favorite wine to enjoy, and share, if you like.
Interestingly, Desano Pizza has a sister store in Atlanta called Antico. Our editor there, Katherine Snell, wrote a post about this place a few months back and we’ve been green with envy. We’re thrilled to have our own now! www.desanopizza.it