Nella Pizzeria opened in Campus North Residential Commons this past summer to much excitement. Owners Nella and Francesco Grassano, originally from Napoli, Italy, closed their acclaimed Lincoln Park restaurant to make the move to Hyde Park. Specializing in authentic Neapolitan pies, Nella clearly hopes to appeal to students craving something a little more sophisticated than another night of Domino’s takeout.
In that vein, the decor is modern but rustic. Boxes of pasta and cans of crushed tomatoes line the walls, along with a long shelf holding plants and vines of ivy. Sadly, the restaurant lacks an open kitchen, so the famed 1,000-degree wood-burning oven and the pizzaioli tossing dough are not visible from the dining area. Nonetheless, the decor and friendly service lend the restaurant a warmth and hominess conspicuously missing from the sterile dining hall on the other side of the building.
Our party of six ordered three pizzas and two pastas, which, in true Neapolitan style, came piping hot within minutes. The Nella D.O.P. is a classic pizza Margherita with buffalo mozzarella, basil, and San Marzano tomatoes. The buffalo mozzarella is richer and more substantial than mozzarella made from cow milk and contrasts perfectly with the tangy freshness of the tomatoes, and peppery sweetness of the basil. But the crust is the star: Crisp and very slightly charred, it’s just barely thick enough to hold up to the toppings while still retaining its distinctive Neapolitan airiness.
The Amalfi is a white pizza with no sauce, instead topped with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, and a heaping pile of goat cheese and spinach. Though the toppings were fresh and delicious, we were less enamored by this pie; the spinach was somewhat overwhelming and, with no sauce except the juices of the cherry tomato, the pizza was a little dry. The Quattro Formaggi is also sauceless and features mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Emmental, and caciotta dolce (a mild, somewhat chewy cheese from central Italy). While the Gorgonzola contrasted nicely with the milder cheeses, there was far too much of it, and we found ourselves missing some added complexity in the form of sauce or herbs.
The Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is simple Italian fare: potato dumplings with basil, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Two of the six of us loved the dish, but the rest of us thought it lacked a real “wow” factor; neither the flavors nor the gnocchi was particularly unique. The pappardelle with ragù also fell short: The lamb was delicious, but the pasta itself was dry and rather flavorless.
The biggest disappointment, however, was the price. The meal cost around $18 per person, and the portions were relatively small; we finished eating within minutes and many of us felt that we could do with another two or three dishes. Once the initial novelty wears off, Nella may find itself catering more to faculty and staff than to students, unless it is able to cut prices substantially.