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Eat this City: Every Dough People

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Gio Mauro
Greg Thilmont

You won't find Gio Mauro of Old School Pizzeria, using commercial yeast in his dough. His is sourced partly from Italy. "I am obsessed with natural fermentation," he says.

Pizza is so much more than cheese and sauce slathered on bread (though that’s perfectly fine!). These pros bring distinct craft, flavors and traditions to the pie

Some American cities are known for their distinct pies, like New York City, New Haven, Chicago, and Detroit. But what about Las Vegas? It might surprise you, but we’re a hotbed of the pizza pie. Each March, the pizzeria industry flocks here for the International Pizza Expo — call it an edible equivalent of CES. More important for us, there’s a cadre of top pizza makers who ply their trade in valley eateries every day. Meet a handful of our superstar pizzaioli.

 

Chris Decker: The Experimenter

Metro Pizza NW

Earlier this summer, Metro Pizza’s Chris Decker blew up the internet with a mad-scientist creation: a giant pie with one half classic pepperoni, the other half a sealed dough chamber that steamed Chicago-style frankfurters and buns inside. A row of garlic knots made for a separating line. Once done, he cut the “steamer” side open, garnished the hot dogs with giardiniera, and piled on French fries in a tribute to National Hot Dog Day.

Decker, who hails from Binghamton in Upstate New York, oversees Metro Pizza’s location near Centennial Hills. This northwest location is something of a test kitchen, where he’s whipped up everything from Sicilian pan-style pie with roasted mushroom, garlic cream, and truffled ricotta to a New York round with yellow squash, fresh thyme, and fried egg.

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“I just want people to think about (pizza) differently,” says Decker. “I don’t want them to think it’s just tomato and cheese … it’s an edible canvas.” 6720 Sky Pointe Drive, metropizza.com

 

Giò Mauro: The Philosopher

Old School Pizzeria

The restaurant business is frequently a family affair — and sometimes the family spreads out. Giò Mauro, whose parents own Nora’s Italian Cuisine, operates Old School Pizzeria in North Las Vegas. Talking about pizza with Mauro is like stepping into a living food almanac, especially when it comes to the dough.

“I am obsessed with natural fermentation; I use zero commercial yeast in my dough. It’s all done with a mother dough,” Mauro says. His handcrafted dough rises due to heritage yeast strains from the Italian island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, as well as local single-celled micro-organisms from apricots grown in Logandale. The dough is topped with an array of combinations, including rapini, black Mediterranean olives, truffle salt-cured egg yolks, and white anchovies — a mix otherwise known as the “Hard Core.”

Mauro also specializes in delectable porchetta, a rolled roast of pork and savory spices. Served simply on bread roll, it goes perfectly with the housemade lemonade infused with grilled rosemary. 2040 E. Craig Road, pizzaoldschool.com

 

Vincent Rotolo: The Visionary

Evel Pie

Pizza Maverick

Befitting a pizzeria named for Evel Knievel, Vincent Rotolo's Evel Pie offers some daredevil toppings - rattlesnake, anyone? His pizza, he says, is "a way of expressing ourselves."

Reared in the heady pizza culture of Manhattan, Vincent Rotolo specializes in the borough’s time-tested and true street tradition of big slices with a sturdy crust that folds over perfectly.

“I’ve been really been blessed with my team here at Evel Pie. They recognize how dedicated I am to making a great pizza, and it’s harder to do things right,” says Rotolo. “It’s an art form; it’s a way of expressing ourselves.”

Evel Pie celebrates the outsized life of the original daredevil, Evel Knievel. Fittingly, the menu includes a few maverick items not seen in your average pizzeria, including rattlesnake sausage and candied pork belly. So, it might seem incongruous that there’s a stunning gluten-free Sicilian pie on the menu, too. Light and airy, it garnered Rotolo second place in the gluten-free category at this year’s International Pizza Expo. Rotolo recently built a wood-burning oven in his backyard, so he even bakes pies on his days off. “I’m obsessed with pizza culture. It’s been my whole life.” 508 Fremont St., evelpie.com

 

Fabiana Bianco: The Internationalist

La Bella Napoli

If you get hungry after a session of shopping at Town Square, take the escalator up to La Bella Napoli. That’s where pizzaiola Fabiana Bianco helms the kitchen alongside husband and fellow restaurant owner Adriano. She hand-pulls dough, adds toppings, and places the fresh Neapolitan-style pies in a wood-burning oven imported from Italy. Hailing from Brazil, Bianco trained at a famed pizzeria in Naples.

“We had a lot of people in the line,” says Bianco, recalling her training where a shift could mean helping make a thousand pizzas in a day. “It was crazy.” Bianco specializes in the whimsical racettas, pies with a cheese-stuffed crust handles that make them resemble a tennis racket — thus names such as “The Wimbledon” and “Australian Open.” She also pays homage to Brazil’s foodways with coxhina, fried potato croquettes filled with chicken. 6599 S. Las Vegas Blvd. #210, labellalv.com

 

Maurizio Di Cicco: The Traditionalist

Settebello Las Vegas

For someone who grew up in Naples, it took a transoceanic move to Las Vegas for Maurizio Di Cicco to dive deep into the world of crafting pies. As pizzaiolo of Settebello Las Vegas, he’s in charge of producing pizzas that adhere to the guidelines of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, an organization that defines the ingredients for traditional Neapolitan-style pizza, such as soft white flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and buffalo-milk mozzarella cheese. But he didn’t wield the pizza paddle on his first day. He started out as a dishwasher, learning the craft between shifts. Di Cicco is known to go beyond the Neapolitan rules for daily specials, including inspired works featuring fresh peaches adorned with edible flowers, and a Halloween-themed pizza with black-tinted crust and squash. “It never ends. We learn something every day,” he says. 140 S. Green Valley Parkway, settebello.net

 

Christopher Palmeri: The Entrepreneur

Naked City Pizza

While Buffalo, New York, is revered for its spicy chicken wings, it’s also filled with mom ’n’ pop pizzerias. It’s a tradition that Christopher Palmeri brought to Las Vegas. Starting with a hot dog cart outside Dino’s Lounge in Downtown, he eventually opened full-fledged restaurants like his headquarters on Paradise Road, a block south of the Hard Rock Hotel. His specialty is the Guinea Pie, featuring meatballs, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, and white garlic sauce. It’s something he enjoyed in Buffalo, and a close friend urged him to introduce the combination to Las Vegas diners. “That was the first pizza that we put on the menu. It was cool because I was able to incorporate my grandmother’s meatballs that she used to make,” Palmeri says.

While his Sicilian-style pan pizzas have gained worldwide acclaim on shows like Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Palmeri also has a knack for creating upscale Mexican tacos. He’s also the singular engineer of the remarkable Bacon Candle — a flickering, savory votive of rendered pork fat that melts into a scrumptious dip for crostini. 4608 Paradise Road, nakedcitylv.com

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