Munch goes to Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria in Downtown

Two hundred forty-five steps.

Based on the lazy, lumbering gait of the brown-bagged brigand that pens this alleged column each week, it is exactly 245 steps from Munch's second floor desk here at One of America's Drab Office Buildings, down the stairs, out the door, across the street and down a half-block to Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria in the new River Vue apartment building (a.k.a. the old State Office Building).

In the near 17-year history of this column, it is the shortest-ever trip by Munch to do a review, obliterating the 309-step mark of previous record holder Papa J's Centro set in March 2010. Any closer, and Munch'll be doing reviews of the company snack bar: "The chipped ham was sublime n'at; the fish sandwich the envy of a church basement during Lent ..."

But hey -- Felix Baumgartner jumps to Earth from 24 miles up; Munch walks 0.08 miles to inhale a pizza. Records both.

Munch has Rick Werner -- a South Hills entrepreneur who moved around a bit before boomeranging back to Pittsburgh to open Stone a month ago -- to thank. His specialty: authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas rolled, tossed, topped and slid into a 5,000-pound, Italian imported, igloo-looking, wood-fired oven that he tiled himself. It burns up to 1,000 degrees and can cook a pizza in about 90 seconds.

Mr. Werner said he became intrigued by the concept after trying it in Atlanta a few years ago -- he liked how fast the pizza was made. So he studied how to be a pizzaiolo at VPN Americas in Marina Del Ray, Calif., which is the American delegation of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.

Founded in 1984 in Naples, Italy, VPN's purpose is "the promotion of the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan pizza," according to its website, and "provides training in the preparation of the authentic Neapolitan pizza and certification for those pizzerias/restaurants making Neapolitan pizza."

Mr. Werner is clearly a quick study. He's turning out some very good pizzas that should only stand to get better as he continues to hone his craft.

Seven traditional Italian pies from the simple Margherita -- a light pomodoro sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil -- to the spicier Vesuvius -- light pomodoro, smoked mozzarella di bufala, salami piccante, parmesan, basil and a chili oil ($6.35 to $10.25).

Munch has made several visits with various FOMs, trying different combinations of fresh toppings each time. But there's been one constant: the crust which is appropriately thin, adequately crispy and quite flavorful. And that's arguably the most important thing.

Munch's companion enjoyed the Proscuitto e Funghi (mushrooms), while Munch loved the Quattro Formaggi, a four-cheese, sauceless pizza with terrific flavor from the parmesan, fresh and smoked mozzarella and a bite of gorgonzola (both $10.25).

You can also create up to 360 permutations of pizzas by choosing your own base -- marinara, margherita or bianca -- and any of four oils, and 30 toppings (prices vary). We tried a few kinds from, basic: margherita, pancetta, sausage ($8.35) to adventurous: bianca, caramelized onions, sausage, smoked mozzarella and white truffle oil ($14.25); to out there: marinara, pancetta, gorgonzola, cherry tomatoes, rapini, anchovies and evoo ($11.25). Not a bite was wasted on any of them.

The pizzas are modest in size -- only four cuts and meant for one person -- but they can be filling, and are linebacker approved: Munch was in line behind Steelers linebacker Chris Carter. Italian hoagies and salads are available, as is bottled beer, wine and Italian sodas ($5.99-$9.50). Service -- by Mr. Werner's manager sister Nicole -- was friendly and thorough.

The floor to ceiling windows and white tile give Stone a clean, modern look with some nice flourishes -- weathered wood tabletops installed on the high ceilings, a colorful, stylized mural of an Italian woman and Vespa scooters, and columns of the stacked cord wood used in the ovens.

We don't see proper Neapolitan pizza often enough in Pittsburgh and the handful of places that do it right, are at more traditional sit-down restaurants. Stone is more of a quick lunch, dinner or takeout spot -- and definitely worth walking more than 245 steps to visit.


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