Mastino Italian Soul Foods

Mastino Wood Fired Pizza Oven_MastinoWhen you get the munchies, sometimes it’s a hearty pizza that’s needed, and sometimes it’s just a small bite that will fill the spot. Mastino, A Wood-Fired Italian Kitchen & Bar, gets it. They call it “Italian soul food” and once you’ve taste it, you’ll know why.  It’s got the best flavors, the freshest ingredients and the honest-to-goodness authenticity the soul craves.

By Deby Goldfarb

Owners Steven Dapuzzo and Salvatore Campanile are devoted to those details. The brick oven, for example, came from Naples, Italy and it’s made with brick and mortar from Mt. Vesuvius. This unique beauty, actually made from the hot lava rock, can withstand temperatures of over 3,000 degrees. In keeping with attention to detail, the fresh “Mozzarella di Bufala” (Buffalo Mozarella) cheese is flown in from Italy twice a week. For variety, whole milk Mozzarella is used, too, but made in house to assure its quality.  Mastino only uses naturally sweet San Marzano tomatoes, also imported from Italy. Grown in the foothills of Mt. Vesuvius, these powerhouses have five times more antioxidants than other tomatoes. “No wonder the Mediterranean diet is so healthy and the people there live so long,” says Chef Salvatore.

Mastino’s adjoining restaurant, SoLita, offers fine dining with the elegant look of crisp, white tablecloths. The word “Solita” means south of Little Italy. The more casual  “Mastino” took its name from the Neapolitan Mastiff dogs that guarded the Royal Palace of the Queen of Naples in the 18th century. The story is that Queen Margherita  secretly donned a monk’s robes to wander incognito outside the castle in order to sneak the street food and pizza she so enjoyed. Finally tiring of the charade, she issued  a challenge to find the best pizza in the land. The winner, Raphael Esposito,  was the first to create a pizza using Italy’s colors: red (tomato),white (mozzarella) and green (fresh basil.) He named it after the Queen and, thus, the very first Margherita pizza was born. It was so special, the Queen used her huge Mastiff guard dogs to protect her private dough recipe. Mastino is named after them, “the protectors of the recipe.”

Mastino_Wood-Fired PizzaHundreds of years later the secret is out, and today the pizza is duplicated, according to its original tradition. Professional chefs actually attend Culinary School dedicated to the craft of pizza-making in Italy, called the AVPN, Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, to earn the coveted certification. So at Mastino you are tasting pizza that is authentic, certified Neopolitan pizza, made according to their very strict rules. Chefs must use the right equipment and proper ingredients (special flour, olive oil and fresh basil) to preserve the original way of making pizzas, a far cry from today’s fast food. Salvatore is a Certified Master Pizza Chef from Italy while co-owner, Steve, from New Jersey quips humorously, “I’m from Brooklyn, Italy.

You must taste the “Shaved Brussel Sprouts Salad”, even if you think you don’t care for this particular veggie. It looks like cole slaw but it has much more to it. The sprouts are combined with healthy and delicious additions of red onions, toasted walnuts and pecorino romano cheese are tossed with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Lemon for a tangy, light and crunchy combo.

Another favorite is the Eggplant Stack. Crispy eggplant is layered with fresh mozzarella, tomato and arugula and drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil to create a towering mouth-watering masterpiece. For a smaller appetite, try the “Piattinis,”  or House Special small plates. How creative and unusual to offer a “mini’ Osso Bucco, still braised, falling off the bone and oh-so-tender,

If you enjoy seafood, four ‘Piattinis’ to try are the Garlic Little Neck Clams (in a savory white wine sauce), the Spicy Mussels in a tomato/ garlic broth for a little more kick, the crispy Calamari and, last but not least, a surprise favorite: Baby Octopus, prepared either grilled or in a spicy tomato sauce with black olives. As Steve so wisely explains  referring to the similar ingredients in the dishes, “it’s all in the combination!”

Of course you can’t leave without trying the signature “Old School Meatball” decorated  with a generous dollop of contrasting cool ricotta cheese. The secret to these outrageously popular meatballs is that they are made the traditional way with three meats: pork, veal and beef. One taste guarantees that you’ll be back.

If you’d like to try your hand at making authentic Neopolitan pizza, sign up for Savatore’s culinary classes that include The Art of Mozzarella Class; Introduction to Basic Pizza Making Class; and the 5-Day Professional Neapolitan Pizza Certification Course. There are only four Artisan Pizza Academies in the United States and Mastino’s is the first in Florida.

You’re going to feel very comfortable here, surrounded by the cozy red brick walls and rustic wood,  watching the flames of the hardwood burn and glow in the oven, relaxing at the bar and watching the game or sitting outside in the breezy courtyard, perfect for alfresco dining.  It’s all about the “comfort food” and the comfortable ambiance.  As Salvatore explains, “this is our interpretation of what a neighborhood place should be: A real place for locals to come, that offers high quality yet is affordable; that is social or just a quiet place to watch sports and have a bite to eat.”  They certainly have captured just that in this little jewel, set back and tucked neatly in its spot in Pineapple Grove, just far enough away from the hubbub out on the Avenue. stb

Mastino is operated by Society 8 Hospitality Group, which also runs SoLita in Delray Beach as well as Beauty & The Feast and Ocean Market Grille at The Atlantic Hotel & Spa in Fort Lauderdale.

Mastino Wood Fired Italian Kitchen & Bar is located at SoLita Delray Beach at 25 NE Second Street, Delray Beach. Visit mastinowoodfire.com, or call 561-922-0900.