Sourdough pizza puts Pizzata Pizzeria + Aperitivo on another level. Patrons will be able to have the first taste of Pizzata’s naturally leavened pizza dough—created by a three- to five-day fermentation process—starting with the pizzeria’s soft opening Wednesday at Piper’s Crossing, where Airport-Pulling meets Immokalee Road in North Naples.
The Southwest Florida debut for Pizzata is only the second location for the award-winning pizzeria concept, which was founded in October 2020 in Philadelphia by two self-proclaimed pizza nerds, Vinny Gallagher and Davide Lubrano, who joined forces after meeting at an international pizza competition in Atlantic City.
After rave reviews, their tiny pizzeria in Philly quickly grew in popularity and they sold out of pizzas many days. Pizzata has a fresh philosophy. “We try not to use anything frozen, we do everything fresh, we make it ourselves,” Lubrano said. They had to add a large refrigeration unit for the dough fermentation to keep up with the demand. “Right now, there’s still some Fridays and Saturdays that we might sell out but it doesn’t happen as often,” he said.
With “Crust the Process” as the pizzeria’s tagline, sourdough is the base of Pizzata’s operation. Creating sourdough is a science.
“The way we do that is by making a pre-ferment, which is flour and water and some yeast mixed ahead of time whether it’s a few hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, it kind of varies,” Gallagher said. “You have a lot of wiggle room deciding what that pre-ferment looks like. We’ll make this pre-ferment the day before, in our case like 18 hours to 24 hours in advance and then in the morning we’ll take that pre-ferment and we’ll add it into our mixer with our flour and water and we’ll use that to leaven our dough.”
People are more accustomed to and knowledgeable about sourdough bread from firsthand experience during the pandemic, Gallagher said, noting that the fermentation process breaks down a lot of the complex carbohydrates and sugars so it’s a little more digestible. “It adds a lot of aroma, a lot of mouth feel, things like that, so based on the type of pre-ferment you use you can get different flavor profiles,” he said. “To help us get what we actually look for—how it mixes, how it handles, how we chop it up and divide it and shape it, how we stretch it, how it bakes—we play with a lot of things. Right now, we’re mixing four different flours. In addition to our pre-ferment, our dough undergoes kind of a long maturation process, so it’s anywhere from three to five days right now.”
The dough creation process has been adjusted to account for the difference in the climates between Philadelphia and Naples. They are able to rely on a more consistent product here. “In Philly, the temperature swings are going to be 20 to 30 degrees a day right now. We don’t use our AC all day every day because it’s kind of impractical when the temperature drops and gets cool. So, the temperature in the Philly shop swings wildly,” Gallagher said. “Here in Florida, the temperature is so hot that we have the AC running constantly, so I already know my room temperature is this, my flour temperature’s going to be this. So, a lot of the variables here are kind of controlled. It’s actually really nice. Regarding the water difference, it’s one of our main ingredients, so we invested in a pretty nice water filtration system to kind of take out a lot of the variability here.”
One of the pizzeria’s partners, who has been coming to Naples since the 1980s and wants to retire here, found commercial business locations here for the pair to check out. “We thought that this place had potential,” Lubrano said. “We’re just very blessed to be here.”
Both Gallagher and Lubrano had long journeys with pizza before they serendipitously met in 2019 when they were on the stage at the same time at the pizza competition in Atlantic City.
Davide’s path was practically fated. Pizza truly was his destiny as it was for his father, brothers, uncles and cousins. “My dad had a restaurant on Long Island for 20 years,” he said. “I was born in New York but then he moved back to Italy when I was 4 years old to open up a Neapolitan pizzeria there.” While his dad became well known for his Philly cheesesteaks, the younger Lubrano grew up doing homework in the pizzeria’s kitchen. “I started working there when I was very young and kind of fell in love with the business,” he said, pointing out that it was common to be in the restaurant business where he grew up in Monte di Procida, a spot on the coast in southern Naples, Italy. Lubrano eventually was a pizza chef in Austria, Spain and New York before moving to Philadelphia.
Gallagher got into the pizza business from being in San Francisco, home of naturally leavened sourdough bread, and started making dough for an acclaimed wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzeria. “Making 2,000 pounds of dough a day, like 200 or 300 pizzas a day, you get pretty good at something really quickly,” Gallagher said. “So, I took that kind of practical experience and just went off a deep rabbit hole of knowledge pursuit, and so I just read anything and everything I could get my hands on from the biology and chemistry of what happens with the dough to theory and all that sort of stuff.”
After Gallagher won the Neapolitan division competition in Atlantic City, the two talked and exchanged numbers. Gallagher was just moving back to Philly and Lubrano was in Philly. “We started to become friends and getting a beer and talking about pizza all the time,” Lubrano said. “I wanted to reopen a small shop and he was looking to start a food truck. So, because we are both so passionate about pizza and talking about it all the time, we thought why not combine the two together and give it a try. Thank God it all worked out.”
Trying to recreate in Naples the same process they have in Philly, the aperitivo part of Pizzata will offer beer and wine but not initially. They will add this feature in about a month. “Aperitivo is basically happy hour in Italian,” Lubrano said. “We added a small section of the menu where there’s like very small bites—a plate of olives or a plate of anchovies or just a burrata topped with truffle oil and a little bit of focaccia bread that we make in house. Just small things that when you just get out of work and get a very small bite with a beer if you don’t feel like getting a whole pie. Because we only make one size pie and it’s 16 inches.”
Pizzata, basically, is an Italian word for gathering to eat pizza, Lubrano said. “It just symbolizes people getting together to eat pizza and it can be for any type of occasion,” he said. “Basically, any occasion is a good occasion for a pizza, is what I always say.”
Pizzata’s menu also includes about six sandwiches, four salads and four desserts made in-house in a space that used to be Mangino’s Pizza Bar for many years before it closed in April. The pizzeria has about 40 seats overall with 16 outside under a covered walkway. That Piper’s Crossing walkway connects to many other local eateries, including Fernandez the Bull Cuban Cafe, Jimmy P’s Burgers & More, Patinella’s Chicken Grill and House of Omelets.
“It’s like a food court,” Lubrano said. “We’re not really in competition with anyone here. We are able to be very supportive of everyone and everyone else here is supportive of us.”
Pizzata, 1201 Piper Blvd., Suite 17, will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily with tentative plans to extend the operating hours during season.