TAPPO RESTAURANT: 51 BANK STREET, STAMFORD, 203-588-9870
When I walked into Tappo the day after their grand opening, the lunch service was a little slow, but at a table in the center of the narrow dining room I found a couple of familiar faces. When Gerardo Mascolo, the pizzaiolo from Campana, came over to talk to them about their meal, it was all in Italian.
I could follow the conversation just well enough to understand all the “tutto benes” and “troppo bounos” meant these guys liked the food.
Nino Antonelli, one of the businessmen at the table, is from southern Lazio and he’s serious about Italian food.* As they were finishing up their margherita with mozzarella di bufala, the waitress delivered the pasta; garganelli with pesto and string beans and the taglionini with a San Marzano tomato sauce. Both of these pasta dishes feature beautifully hand-made pastas and fresh ingredients.
“That’s what this restaurant is about…we use the best ingredients and we don’t mix too many of them,” said Mascolo, who oversees the pizza while Chef Massimo Stecchi concentrates on everything else. It’s simple. Take the Calabrese olive oil, “you don’t need to infuse it with anything, it’s amazing.”
Mascolo came over from Nick’s Pizza in Glenbrook, which is also owned by Joseph and Aldo Criscuolo — but comparing the two is utterly pointless. Tappo serves traditional Napolitana-style pizza, very light with only fresh ingredients like house-made sausage, creamy mozzarella and prosciutto di San Daniele.
While his experience at Nick’s was with American-style pizza, Mascolo came up in the business slinging pizza in Naples, so he’s comfortable overseeing the staff at the brick oven in Stamford.
What stands out here is the crust which is superbly delicate and chewy, with just the right amount of char and bubbling.
When I asked Mascolo about the sauce, he reiterated the restaurant’s philosophy about simplicity. The ingredient list is short: San Marzano tomatoes seeded and crushed by hand, salt and maybe a little olive oil.
Anybody can tell you, you can size up a pizzaiolo by their margherita, it is the undefended layup of pizza making. If you screw this up, you might as well pack up your pizza peel and go home, yet so many places don’t get it right.
To Tappo’s credit, their margherita was nearly as good as the two I had near Naples this summer, though the mozzarella di bufala, which was ultra-fresh in Italy, must be imported here. But if you ask Mascolo, he’ll tell you he goes for the sausage and broccoli rabe, another classic combination. The pies get a little more exotic from there, but I like to keep it simple.
Don’t let my obsession with pizza stop you from trying the pasta, the antipasto, the salumi, or the secondi courses. I’m leaving these for my next visit, which will be very soon.
As I was leaving the restaurant I whipped out my iPhone and broadcast a bold statement; that in my opinion, Tappo just served me the best pizza I’d ever had in Stamford. It may have been the Sambuca talking, but looking back on my meal I steadfastly stand by my words — as controversial as they may be in a pizza-obsessed town like Stamford.
Actually, they may be in for a downtown pizza fight as we recently reported the owners of Napa & Co. will soon open Bar Rosso, featuring wood-fired brick oven pizzas in the location Bennett’s is vacating. It appears Stamford is ready to jump on a trend that’s been raging in New York for some time.
In New York, real Napolitana-style pizza has been very much in vogue with places like Motorino and Co. garnering nearly universal praise. So when Tarry Lodge, the Batali/Bastianich venture in Port Chester, brought the trend up the line — enticingly close to Connecticut — it had to be a matter of time before Stamford got in the game.
These restaurants, particularly Motorino, are in a class of their own (I’m not completely delusional) but Tappo is taking this very seriously. So just when you thought the last thing downtown Stamford needed was yet another Italian restaurant, Tappo proves it’s exactly what we needed.
* Nino tipped me off last year to Zero Otto Nove on Arthur Ave., which also serves an amazing Napolitana-style pizza as well as some amazing pastas and fish.