** THIS RESTAURANT IS PERMANENTLY CLOSED **
A gracious restaurant that also is a gallery for local artists and a Sunday-night venue for jazz musicians, Pizzeria Lauretano cooks its pies in a dome-top, wood-fired oven that proprietor Michael Lauretano obtained from Naples.
Good as the pizza that comes from this oven is, I rarely start a meal without tucking into a walnut cranberry salad. There is nothing particularly exotic about it – the walnut-cranberry combo has become commonplace on menus – but this salad is inspired. Its ingredients include crisp romaine and tender red lettuce, a few hoops of ultra-thin-sliced red onion, plenty of dried cranberries, and a generous spill of crumbled gorgonzola cheese. It is dressed with a little olive oil and enough lemon juice to make every bite citrus-bright. The dissimilar sweetness of the cranberries and onion are a fascinating duet, as is the richness of the cheese poised against the tang of lemon. And the one element that puts the whole package into the stratosphere is a scattering of meaty halved toasted walnuts. The depth of their earthy crunch is beguiling contrast to the way the fresh romaine breaks with slight tooth pressure. It all adds up to a fabulous medley of taste and texture … and fine prelude to one of Lauretano’s expertly-made brick-oven pizzas.
The single-size, single (large) serving pizzas are elegant and refined, and yet every bit as soulful as those from Connecticut’s funkier famous places. They are very thin-crusted, teetering seductively at the point between crunch and chew. The dough puffs up along the edge so there may be a few spots that taste (quite deliciously) of carbon; but the whole thing is insinuated with fire because just before the pizza is ready to be pulled off the oven’s floor, the pizzaiolo slides his peel underneath and holds it directly over the smoldering wood pile for a few moments, giving it a smoky perfume. I love the plain garlic pizza – a less-is-more gilded flatbread; heaven for crust-lovers – as well as the mighty sausage and broccoli rabe white pizza; there are tradition-minded margheritas and puttanescas as well as occasional specials that include a flank steak pizza with chimichurri sauce and a multi-vegetable garden pizza during the fall harvest.