Summer at the seashore isn't just about clam shacks, and certainly not in Matunuck ever since La Strada opened last year. It's not a restaurant or even a full-blown café as it co-bills itself now that it's serving beer and wine. No, it's "just" a pizzeria. Yeah, in the sense that Manitas de Plata is just a guitar player.
Among its admirers is our friend Judy, who was visiting the area on vacation. "I'm from New York," she declared, "and this is the best pizza I've ever had in my life."
I grew up in northeast New Jersey surrounded by brick oven pizzerias, so I also got to know the New York-style real thing. Believe me, La Strada's is the real thing.
They accomplish the gustatory trifecta of winning pizzas: a tangy red sauce, a crust that's tasty by itself, and toppings with personality.
There are two ovens: an outdoor wood-fired contraption with a polished copper dome for 12-inch pizzas, and a larger conventional gas model inside for 18-inchers. There are several café tables outside at which to munch and watch the process. When we were there, a young woman was skillfully spinning dough to the proper diameter before sliding it, appetizingly topped, on top of hot bricks only inches from red coals and flaming oak.
The owners are a couple from New York City who started out in 2010 catering throughout the Northeast and then, when the praise got sufficiently encouraging, settled here and opened these doors. Nick Schneider, who works off-season as a Brooklyn firefighter, apparently got his high standards from his father, who used to own Fellini's in Providence. Jenny Olbrich is a graphic artist. Demonstrating pure hearts, they make it a policy to buy local, getting fresh produce from such places as One Love Farm and Schartner Farms, and meats from nearby when they can. Cheeses are from Narragansett Creamery, and their website notes that "this year we are going to dabble in making our own."
Outside, on the table holding shakers of red pepper flakes and Parmesan, dog biscuits are free for the taking and below are water bowls for parched pooches. There are interesting drink options. The shandy had Newport Storm blueberry draft with lemon San Pellegrino ($5); the Jenn Rickey was Merlot and lemonade ($6/$17). For teetotalers, choices include iced teas, Mexican Coke (stop — you're not 12), and Jarritos sodas.
On a long chalkboard above the serving counter are opportunities not on the paper menu. If all you want is a slice, you can have plain cheese ($2.25), pepperoni ($2.50), or the day's special ($3.25). House salads are $5, and that day an arugula salad with figs was $6.25.
Johnnie started off slowly, with a cold slice of that special, which held arugula and halved cherry tomatoes, among other ingredients. Pleasant introduction.
Yes, they offer that pizzeria mainstay, the Margherita, with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, the tomato sauce nothing less than sweet-tart San Marzano tomatoes. You may embellish with everything from fresh garlic slices, pepperoni, and caramelized Vidalia onions for $2 per topping, or add $3 premium items such as prosciutto and sopressata, sun-dried tomato pesto, and Black Mission figs.