Thanks to Matt Marinara I managed to score a prime-time Saturday reservation to the soft opening weekend of RVA’s newest pizza joint, Stuzzi’s. Here a few thoughts….
The bad – let’s just get it out of the way… It was hot. Meltingly so. They enlarged the 1N Belmont dining room, raised the ceiling and added a wood fueled pizza oven to the middle of the space – then kept the same AC unit that had been used by Fritz. Add maybe three times the number of people that used to occupy the old space and it became harder to tell if it was hotter inside or out – and this last weekend in Richmond was set to braise. Of course, if I had a nickel for every time a Richmond restaurant open only to realize their AC unit was insufficient I would have at least a couple of bucks. To their credit they realized the problem early on, added some ceiling fans before service on Saturday and told me they are getting a larger unit this week. With a little luck, and hopefully minimal interference from the City, this should be a short term issue.
The not so bad…. Opening weekends can be chaotic for service. I’ve opened several restaurants and it really doesn’t matter how experienced the staff or how much you trained – the best you can really hope for is it not to be a disaster. Considering the circumstances – this staff did all right. Between the heat, a packed dining room and bar plus a line out the door the wait staff kept things moving under trying circumstances and managed to remain gracious through-out. Food and drink were served quickly, nothing had to be asked for twice, and when a couple of minor things went wrong they looked sufficiently horrified. Service-wise, a good start under difficult conditions.
The good… The food. Only a limited menu was available and, due to the crowd and the heat, we really didn’t have a long drawn out dinner. What we did have was quite good. A basic caprese to start then pizza and pasta. Finn selected the mussels over fettucini with red sauce – and then did what only a 5 year old can – sucked it all down. He proclaimed it good with a big thumbs up and a huge pile of empty shells.
M and I ordered two of the pizzas. A Margherita – basil, buffalo mozzarella and sauce – and a Sopresatta – the same but with thin slices of cured meat. The crust, fire baked on lava rock from Mt Vesuvius, was perfect – simple, crusty and really unlike anything else served in Richmond today. The sauce was equally simple – little more than crushed tomato and best described as ‘bright’ in flavour. A real triumph of basic ingredients speaking for themselves. Little Elias liked the sopresatta so much we asked for a couple of extra slices of the meat for him to chew on. The only difficulty, if it can be called that, was, due to the intense heat, the pizza never really cooled down to set and remained a bit of a gooey, runny mess. Regardless, it was quite good and will be worth many return visits.
All in all, a good opening and a valiant effort. Looks like we have a new pizza player in the Fan and maybe, as this is their goal, a mention of Richmond as a pizza destination on the Eastern seaboard.