Whether you like Novecento, my friends, comes down to this: What do you see in your mind and anticipate on your tastebuds when you hear the word “pizza”?
If you like a thick, bready crust (or one that’s cracker-crisp), the top spackled with a granny’s-quilted-blanket layer of cheese, you probably won’t.
If you abhor the delicate spots of charred dough that a wood-burning oven tends to leave behind and want to pick small-medium-large instead of the Neapolitan-standard 11-inch, it’s doubtful.
Enough toppings to qualify for any of those “lover’s” characterizations? Yeah, no.
What Novecento (say nova-CHENTO) serves is the real thing, Neapolitan-style pizza in the style of the place the pie was born (although they do have a gluten-free option).
This type of pizza isn’t new to the Las Vegas Valley; Settebello started serving it a few years back in Henderson and much more recently on the west side. But Novecento, from longtime local chef Marcus Sgrizzi (who also has Parma near Buffalo Drive and the Summerlin Parkway), has given it his own spin, including a counter-service format.
We went to the original Novecento on Centennial Center Parkway, which has been around for maybe a year; a second location just opened on Eastern Avenue. It’s set up in a way that’s sort of cafeteria-style. Enter the doors and walk past the big pile of wood that reinforces what’s fueling that 900-degree oven (“novecento” translates to “nine hundred”) and then follow the glass wall that surrounds the food-prep area.
First, you’ll be asked how many pizzas you’d like, whereupon the dough is stretched out onto wooden pizza peels (those big paddle-shaped things that make it easier to put the pizza into and take it out of the oven). You’ll also be asked what toppings you’d like. There are a number of formulas from which to choose, or you can design your own, although the restaurant cautions some restraint; more than three items and the dough won’t cook properly.
Which it does, promptly, after it’s slipped into that blazing-hot oven, where the hot firebrick and burning wood and sparks and ashes begin to work their magic. After 90 seconds (because of the extreme heat, thin crust and limitation on toppings and therefore moisture), it’s ready to go, at which point your name — or the one you gave, anyway — will be called.
So how was it? See paragraphs two through four above. We love Neapolitan pizza, which in its best iterations has a stretchy, chewy, blistered crust with, yes, the occasional charred spot, so we were happy. We went pretty basic to really taste the dough, with the white cheese ($8.99), which was simply adorned with fresh mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, basil and grated cheese.
But despite the fact that pizza is Novecento’s specialty, it’s not its only trick. A stromboli ($9) was the same dough, just folded over and filled with a hearty, slightly chunky, long-simmered marinara, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and two toppings of choice, which in our case were sausage and mushrooms. It shaped up to a much higher-quality version of a pizzeria classic.
And you can balance the carbs quite nicely, with an exceptional pasta e fagioli ($4.50), a bowl of creamy, hearty goodness that was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Salads, too, such as the roasted beet salad ($5 for a small, $9 for a large). I was awfully glad we chose the small one because it was still served on a platter (although a small one), with crisp, delicate butter lettuce, cubes of roasted beet, Gorgonzola cheese and a slightly sweet red-wine vinaigrette. And this wasn’t mostly lettuce, but topped with tons of beet cubes and a vat of Gorgonzola. The vinaigrette was well balanced but its use on the salad was not, on the contrary as overdressed as the proverbial hooker at a high-school prom. And since I assumed that the beets would be roasted in the wood-fired oven I was a little disappointed that the cubes were cold, but I guess my assumption would be pretty impractical with all of that pizza-making going on.
Service was fine. As I said, this is a counter-service place, but the limited contact we had with employees was positive, one bringing a spoon with our soup when he figured that, as newbies, we hadn’t caught on to the get-your-silverware-on-the-way-to-the-table routine. We also were confused at which point to order because of what we thought was a lack of signage, although from our table across the room we noticed that the signs were there but just sort of high, so maybe it was just us.
Next time we’ll know, and we have a feeling there will be a next time. Like a great number of restaurant owners these days Sgrizzi has said he has franchising hopes, but unlike most of them, it seems he’s come up with a winning formula.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.