The Neo-Neapolitain Way—Respecting the Tradition While Incorporating New Techniques
Words by Ben Haguewood Photos by Ashley Haguewood
The heart of Unit D Pizzeria’s luminous open kitchen and dining room is the wide-mouthed Neapolitan oven, burning Texas Post Oak at 900 degrees. From pizzas to sides, they don’t use gas. The oven is representative of owner Shalou Barth and Chef C.T. Turgeon’s approach to making their hallmark pizza and sourcing the restaurant’s dynamic menu of charcuterie, cheeses, sides, and the evolving list of beer and wine. They search both near or far to use the best.
Owner Shalou Barth, a native-Texan, returned from travels to Italy and a stint in San Francisco with a taste for Neapolitan-style pizza served in a casual wine bar, but with also a more expansive vision, “I consider our pizza neo-Neapolitan,” the owner noted.
The exacting standards of Neapolitan pizza, governed by Naples-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN)—where Chef Turgeon supplemented his ample culinary experience —serve as a guidepost, but Shalou and Chef Turgeon have forgone certification to remain imaginative and open to outstanding ingredients. “We respect the tradition, but we also want to incorporate more challenging applications and techniques and be able to source the best ingredients, no matter where they’re from,” said Chef Turgeon. The Mushroom pizza, for example, uses fresh mushrooms but is also sprinkled with porcini powder, drawing on C.T.’s background as Sous Chef at a Michelin-starred molecular gastronomy restaurant. “It’s a welcome change from cooking that relies so heavily on chemistry to something so rustic and singular, but fundamentally it’s a comfort food and the flavors should be approachable.”
The menu’s creative flourishes balance the comfort of the familiar with the delight of the new. The array of pizzas include a balanced composition of ingredients that go far beyond the skillfully executed house-made mozzarella and organic San Marzano tomatoes one expects at a top-notch pizzeria to include a range of lively ingredients from smoked venison sausage (from neighbors Dai Due), bresalao (aged, dried Italian beef), and guanciale (cured pork jowl), to farm-fresh Calabrian and sweety-drop peppers, radicchio, kale, and more. It also lavishes cheeses like rustic stracciatella, tallegio, and fontina. All-VPN disqualifiers, these tasteful embellishments satisfy diners looking for the elegant simplicity of the classic Neapolitan or those desiring a stirring of the senses.
Owner Shoulah Barth’s vision for straight-forward excellence and precision carries over to the restaurant’s every feature from the food and beverage lineup to the design. “We really cultivate relationships with our purveyors and that pays off in the products we can offer.” The tomatoes: sweetly acidic, organic San Marzano’s from the farm of renowned pizza maker Chris Bianco. The charcuterie: from Texas boar to European classics, accompanied with house-made condiments like shallot confit, orange mustard, and champagne-pickled peaches. The wine and beer: small growers and biodynamic wines you won’t find on grocery store shelves and limited-run kegs of beer. All of this served in an elegant space designed by Shalou’s husband Eric Barth (owner of A Parellel Architecture) that features rustic hard-wood tables made by east Austin’s Hatch Workshop, bright pine walls, and a woven cedar ceiling.
There is not an unthoughtful item on the menu and that care adds up to pizzas, small plates, salads, and charcuterie and cheese boards that one must experience to understand. It’s a new standard all its own.
Native Knowledge: Happy Hour: 5-6:30PM Mon, Wed-Fri for discounted draft beer and half priced featured bottle of wine.
2406 Manor Rd.