By SUSAN ERICSON
A sign cut out in the shape of howling wolf hangs at the corner of the building that’s home to the brand-new Lupo Pizzeria in Fair Haven, named in honor of a great-grandmother whose last name means “wolf” in Italian.
So of course, feeling a bit like Red Riding Hood, PieHole had to try the “Grandma” pie.
Planning for this place has been in the works for six years, said Andrew Datre, Jr., whose family owns five Gianni’s Pizzerias, including those in Little Silver and another in Red Bank.
“I always wanted to come into Fair Haven,” so when this space, at the corner of River Road and Fair Haven Road, was vacated by Balderose Fine Foods, “we went for it,” he said.
Previously the longtime home of the Gourmet Picnic bakery, the space has once again gotten a complete makeover. The ceiling has been opened to the rafters, giving the place a more expansive ambiance, and the wood reclaimed from overhead was transformed into tables and a service counter. A floor made of 6,000 bricks was laid down, and a wall of white subway tile added a gleaming touch.
Named for Datre’s great-grandmother Catherine, who immigrated from Italy to put down roots in Brooklyn, Lupo Pizzeria is a diversion from the family’s business template.
“I wanted to get away from the diner-style pizzeria, where you can walk in and get anything,” said Datre. Part of the plan is a more limited menu, allowing the kitchen to concentrate on daily specials for lunch and dinner.
In addition, “the meat and the produce we use here is organic,” he said. “Our cheese steak is made from fresh sliced-to-order ribeye, not frozen.”
A bright, tomato-red square pie hot from the oven came to the counter, and we immediately requested a slice. Called the Grandma pizza, it’s priced at $19 for the whole thing or $3.50 a piece.
Intensely flavored marinara sauce, cooked down to a thick consistency, conveyed the zing of summer seasonal tomatoes just picked from the garden. Edged by a crust with a magnificent crunch, a thick, creamy slab of melted fresh mozzarella topped with fresh garlic and basil made us yearn for warmer weather, and maybe another slice.
A rich, velvety white vodka sauce covered a colossal wedge of vodka pie ($3.50), with big chunks of grilled chicken and mozzarella capping the chewy dough. Crisp enough to hold and fold, the perfected pizza crust is due to a more dense, mixed in-house higher gluten and semolina flour mixture, resulting in nice textural bites.
We also opted for an apple side salad ($9), and were rewarded with a gleaming white rectangular plateful of baby spinach mixed with Granny Smith apple slices, sweet candied walnuts, dried cranberries and crumbled blue cheese tossed with a cider vinegar dressing.
Takeout and delivery are available, but a pizza is best eaten fresh from the oven, especially where the Datres have created such a warm and inviting atmosphere. Years of experience are at work here, both in the kitchen as well as the front of the house.
Lupo Pizzeria is open from Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and 12 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Sunday.