Central Florida's most primo pizzerias

by: Scott Joseph Updated:

Via Napoli is a casual pizzeria in the Italy pavilion at Epcot.

I don’t know why it should be so, but pizza has not historically been one of our strong suits. Maybe it’s because Central Floridians have converged from so many places around the country, and pizza makers tend to bring their own regional styles with them. There’s New York style pizza, of course, which many take as the standard. But there is also Chicago deep-dish, which is quite different from the pizzas you’d find in downstate Illinois, where many pizzerias are situated in neighborhood taverns.

Florida doesn’t have its own style of pizza -- not sure what that would look like. The good news is, we’ve steadily been getting a better grade of pizza. I credit the ovens. More pie makers are recognizing that a proper pizza can’t be achieved in a conventional oven. It needs to be capable of producing high heat. Wood-burning is fine, but isn’t essential; brick lined seems to get good results, but so do other styles. You’ve just got to have high heat.

This was made evident recently when a pizza restaurant that I liked in the past moved to a new location -- leaving its oven behind and inheriting a lesser oven in its new spot. The product just wasn’t the same.

Now it’s common for announcements of new pizza joints to give details of the oven’s origins. Naples, Italy, seems to be a favorite oven-shopping destination. That doesn’t guarantee a good pie, of course -- I’ve had so-so pizza in Italy, too -- but at least restaurateurs and pizzaiolas are recognizing the importance of the pizza oven.

Here are some of the pizzas I recommend:

Tartini Pizzeria & Spaghetteria is a relative newcomer to the South Orlando neighborhood of Belle Isle. The owner claims his is only one of two ovens like it in the country. It is wood-burning and produces extra-high heat (he claims he can cook a pie in under 30 seconds). What makes it unique, however, is its turntable oven floor that not only rotates the pizza but also raises and lowers it as it spins, moving it through the hot air.

Wolfie’s Pizzamia is the newest restaurant from the folks at nearby White Wolf Cafe. Taking over a space that had been used only for private parties, Wolfie’s serves a pizza with a thin but doughy crust, and ample toppings. The atmosphere will make you feel as though you’re dining in New York’s West Village.

Prato on Park Avenue imported its oven from Naples, Italy, and is so proud of it that it put the pizzaiola station right out in the dining area. It’s fun to watch the pizzas being made, but look for the chef using a special laser-pointed thermometer to find the hottest spots inside the oven.

Francesco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria is located in an unlikely spot, inside a nondescript office building. Chef/owner Francesco Aiello, formerly with Terramia, brings his pizza-making skills to Maitland, and the crowds are loving it. I recommend sitting at the food bar so you can watch the pizzas being made.

Via Napoli is the place to head to if you find yourself at Epcot and looking for something to eat. At the Italy pavilion, of course, Via Napoli is in the back, past the more formal restaurant. Here the three ovens are named for the three active volcanos in the Naples region. You can’t get any hotter than that.

For more recommendations, visit ScottJosephOrlando.com.