After eating at EVO (Extra Virgin Oven review here: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,20171.0.html
), I hopped in the rental car (leather seats already getting hot from sitting in the sun for 40 minutes) and punched it towards Vespa Pizzeria. It was only about 10 minutes or so away on Daniel Island.
Where the EVO crust left me scratching my head a bit, there was no question as to what was being used upon entering Vespa. A wall of firewood and a stack of Caputo 00 Pizzeria flour greet patrons at the door. The space is new(ish) and nice. Heavy, earth toned marble on the bar, reclaimed butchers block tables provide the primary seating and a plush, red, half rounded and cushioned seating area is arranged around a larger table to the left of the entrance. The Mugniani oven is blinged out with small, chrome effect tiles and a rack of used Vespa scooter tiles stand on their sides…lined up like books across the top of the make area. Sorry for some lack of photographs, my phone was running very low on power and I wanted to make sure I got pictures of the pizza and could also time the bake.
So the space was very clean, but did not have the comfortable "neighborhood joint" feel of EVO, likely due to the retail/commercial area the place is in. Still, something about strip mall/town center newish builds with their high ceilings and exposed ductwork presents a challenge to make a restaurant space feel unique and more comfortable. There is some sense of ubiqiotousness to such spaces, even with all of the thoughtful, personal touches and obvious investment of capital put into the Vespa space.
EVO was still full and jamming when I left. Vespa was virtually dead. There was a three top at one of the tables and my boney white arse at the bar. That’s it. I ordered a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from a beer list which was lacking the depth of the EVO selection.
My pizza cooked in 2:43. Too long for the authentic Neapolitan style pizza the pizzeria’s website mentions they are making.
The margherita at Vespa looked much more Neapolitan than the EVO version….the mutzarell was applied more sparingly in dollops, allowing the sauce to stand alone in places per usual. The undercrust had more of the pock marked charring most often associated with Neapolitan pies. I personally cannot abide by the chiffonade of basil put on this pie. Authentic Neapolitan = whole basil (or any style as far as I am concerned), but that is also a personal preference. The cornicione showed the overall darkening that 2:30+ bakes often produce when using Caputo, not looking entirely unlike my LBE pies.
While the pie looked more “Neapolitan” at Vespa than at EVO, it lacked real depth of character. The crust had the wheat-forward taste associated with Caputo flour, but the crumb was a little tough and too dry from the extended bake for really good Napply-Don. Still, the crust at Vespa was without question better than the crust at EVO when considering the Neapolitan ball field both pizzerias claim to be playing in.
But the sauce at Vespa is unfortunately what can often be found at Neapolitan-style joints….it was just kind of there. Yes, it was clean and obviously made from good tomatoes, but it lacked the degree of vibrancy you would expect at a high quality Neapolitan joint like Keste or UPN. This was all the more glaring when compared to the excellent sauce I just experienced at EVO. Also, there was a bit too much sauce put on the Vespa margherita for my personal tastes. The cheese was of good quality. The chiffonade of basil spread evenly over the pizza ruins what a margherita should be about….that changing tapestry of flavors as certain bites contain various combinations of the three topside ingredients. So the flavor and textural components of the Vespa pizza where for the most part there…but there was nothing that made me think, “Man, I cannot wait to eat this again”.
If you were to take the Vespa crust and use the EVO sauce, cheese and basil, you’d have a very good pizza.
Was the Vespa pizza bad? Absolutely not. Was the EVO pizza bad? Absolutely not. Miles above ordinary chain pizza fare. But pizza is like many things….the question “compared to what?” comes to mind. I cannot speak for the entire Charleston pizza scene, but I would imagine these two pizzerias represent a step-up in quality and stand at or near the forefront of the pizza scene there. But when compared to the excellent Neapolitan pizzerias I have eaten at and consider my benchmarks, Vespa and EVO don't stand out in the wider word of Neapolitan pizzerias.
So after the very quick kiss and run at Vespa, I was running quite late and did not get a chance to make it to Monza Pizza (http://www.monzapizza.com/
) as initially planned due to my flight being punted by 2 hours. So it was time to punch the rental car north to Murrells Inlet and call it a day. --k http://vespapizzeria.com/