43 N. Village Ave.
SERVICE: Attentive to fawning
AMBIENCE: The Neapolitan-style pizzas and pastas are delicious and ambitious at this unassuming neighborhood spot.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch and dinner, noon to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday; wheelchair accessible, online ordering, delivery and takeout, street parking.
On a stretch thick with restaurants and bars, Vulcano 081 opened in May and has been turning out pizza so impressive that its Margherita has landed as No. 4 on Newsday’s Top 10 list.
The name of the restaurant is inspired by the area code for Naples and the guys running the restaurant are as Italian as their imported vulcano-shaped oven. Co-owner Michael DeSena says his family is from Naples, illuminated by personal photos, maps around the restaurant and his tales of frequent visits. His partner — who is also the chef — Michael Vigliotti, is a skilled practitioner of wood-fired New York Neapolitan-style pizza.
With a leopard spot char and an exceptionally light crust, Vigliotti’s pizzas are dressed with pedigreed ingredients that display bold contrasts, such as sweet caramelized onions and chilies or honey paired with pickled peppers. His style is influenced by an early employer, Paul Giannone of Paulie Gee’s, who opened his wildly popular Greenpoint pizzeria in 2010 and has rolled out satellites around the country since. Vigliotti perfected his pizza-making as a chef at Red Tomato in East Norwich and a partner in the now-closed Doppio Artisan Bistro in the West Village.
This attention to detail when it comes to pizza is bringing in fans, though $12 bottomless brunch drinks and dollar beer days help. (That last one is every Thursday for Narragansett brews at the bar.) As for the food, diners visit for the signature Vulcano pizza with the bold juxtaposition of savory salami, pickled jalapeño and the sweetness of honey drizzled on top as well as the pillowy house-made cavatelli with sausage, ricotta and broccoli rabe served with a first-course arugula salad and a side meatball.
DeSena may have grown up on Long Island, but he points to Italy as home, he explains, dressed in a suit for every service. His formality stands out in the rustic room framed by reclaimed barnwood, alit with Edison bulb pendants. Up the stairs on a platform framed by a counter, the gold-tiled vulcano oven steals attention.
DeSena is a pusher in the charming way an Italian grandmother might be, but not so much that every order is an upsell. “You have to have the burrata,” he says one day at lunch, as I consider it. Its signature pouch filled with milky and buttery stracciatella corners a plate decorated with pureed butternut squash and sprinkled with toasted seeds. Served without bread, it seems incomplete.
A cousin to arancini, suppli is on the dot, filled with risotto, pork and pomodoro, perfectly seasoned. Portuguese octopus served with white bean puree, potatoes and salami is a dish made for the wood-fired oven. The texture is great on the short ribs, but slicked with too-sweet balsamic, served in a moat of runny polenta.
The side salad and meatballs are just right. Well-dressed baby arugula shows a light touch in the kitchen. Meatballs are Vigliotti’s mother’s recipe, made with veal, pork and beef, baked in the wood-fired oven and topped with Sunday gravy. Both of these are served as a small first course. Larger portions are listed on the menu among salads and appetizers.
As far as mains, there’s a dedicated pasta person making it by hand with a gnocchi paddle. Pappardelle is nice, though it can be overpowered by truffle cream. Try the cavatelli, soft like gnocchi, accented with broccoli rabe and sausage dolloped with ricotta. It’s a sleeper hit.
More than 80 percent of diners order pizzas, says Vigliotti, like that signature Vulcano. The speck pizza is a display of contrasts with salty cured ham, mozzarella, fontina and honey. The meatball pie, once a special, with tomato, mozzarella, baby meatball and ricotta, has become a permanent fixture on the menu that’s sure to please a meat-eater. Purists should stick with the Newsday-rated Margherita that shows off skill in its simplicity. Even if Neapolitan-style pizza isn’t your passion, the fine pies at Vulcano 081 will make you appreciate that it’s theirs.