There is a bizarre rolling of the eyes in some when you mention that a new pizzeria is opening. "Not another one," is often heard, which is weird because why would somebody complain that a new pizza joint is available to us? It's like taco carts; still waiting for one on every corner. Sure, there are a bunch of pizza places that serve up fare that one could label as "Meh" around town but when something special opens up in the neighborhood it is a reason to celebrate.
Fiamme Pizza Napoletana just happens to be one of those reasons to bust out the party hats and streamers. What started out as a hand-built mobile pizza caravan, with an oven created brick by brick to uphold 800-degree heat, a favorite at local breweries, farmers' markets and bars, Fiamme now has a permanent home at the corner of Swan and Sunrise roads.
The pizzas they serve up aren't ordinary hand-tossed and sauced varieties or some oven-baked common snore. What originator and head chef Scott Volpe does is not only old-world authentic, but a unique take on a classic Italian staple. Not only did he get trained and certified to make Neapolitan pizzas here in Tucson, which is quite an undertaking according to him, but he is also a champion in world pizza acrobatics. So, on any given night, you will be treated to some of the best pizza in the Southwest and get a show, too.
"Napoletana pizza is just fancy Italian for Neapolitan pizza," says Volpe, as he rolls out some dough, which he handmakes fresh every day. "The DOP, or denomination of origin protected on the menu signifies we make pizza how pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, with long-fermented dough in traditional methods using wooded dough trays, cooked in an 800-degree Italian Mugniani (traditional Italian open hearth ovens) fueled with Tucson's own mesquite wood. It yields a light crispy, yet soft crust topped with fresh Fior Di Late mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes grown in Naples. The quality of the pizza in my mind is going to be even better now that I'm in a store front. The cured meats, imported salami, flour, and tomatoes are better quality than before, which will also translate into the mobile pizza as well as we will use all the same ingredients for both. My dough is naturally leavened, made with only natural yeast, no manmade yeast goes into the dough making process. Almost all of our items on the menu are made in house including the deserts and salad dressings."
Volpe also makes his own mozzarella cheese, which can be found in most of Fiamme's dishes including their signature Margherita pizza which is perfectly finished with locally-sourced basil or his Speck & Mozzarella plate where he wraps speck (or smoked prosciutto) around the cheese before heating it in his tomato sauce and pairing it with more basil. That basil also goes into his handcrafted pesto used to create the Caprese pizza that incorporates farm-fresh tangy cherry tomatoes and roasted pine nuts.
The house-made items just don't stop at cheeses, sauces, dressings, desserts and dough. Oh no. Volpe also composes a fennel-rich sausage that goes into the Pizza Bianca, or white pizza with no sauce, and the Carne, a meat cravers delight, nestled with Calabrese salami and salty, savory prosciutto. All pizzas can be made in the full 13-inch size, which ranges from $11 to $15, or individual 9-inch varieties that barely topple the $10 mark and feel free to create your own pizza if you like.
San Marzano tomatoes have a natural sweetness to them so when biting into a Fiamme red sauce pizza do not expect over, or under, seasoned glop resting between the dough and cheese. Theirs is a flavor profile from another time and another place which, for some, might take some getting used to. Although once you've had an authentic pizza such as Fiamme's, going back to the canned or corporate fare could prove challenging, if not disappointing. The magic is in the mozzarella, that stretches thin and firm with each bite. As any real Italian will say about any real Italian food, this is la prova e nel sugo, or if the sauce sucks it isn't real Italian food. Fiamme, in the hands of a young skinny kid in Tucson, is the real (and a really delicious) deal.
"Outside of getting the restaurant up and going, I'm also training for the World Pizza Games in Las Vegas," Volpe says, flipping some dough around like a Frisbee. "It has been my dream for a while now to have my own shop, and that was my goal when I first opened Fiamme back in 2013. I accomplished that goal and now it's time to set the bar higher and make new goals for Fiamme and myself."