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The Tuscan Oven
LOCATION: 4801 N. 9th Ave
HOURS: Open Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Ted Lamarche, owner of The Tuscan Oven Pizzeria with his wife, Deanna, tells a great story from his childhood.
His father, a naval officer, was stationed in Gaeta, Italy, and one of Ted's buddies in their neighborhood was Stefano, a local Italian boy.
One day while they're palling around, Stefano got an idea that they should get themselves a snack. A bag of chips or maybe a grilled cheese sandwich, right?
No, they go swimming in the Bay of Gaeta, raid a mussel bed, come back with a sackful, steam up their catch, and slurp them down with a little bit of lemon. (They hit a lemon tree on the way home.) Doesn't it just break your heart to think how empty children's lives were before video games?
Thirty years later, Lamarche is still all about Italian food. The Tuscan Oven's centerpiece is a 2-ton, 500-degree, hardwood-fired oven made of brick, pumice and clay that he had shipped from Italy. It's the biggest thing in the room with a beautiful wraparound copper frontispiece crafted by Kevin Marchetti, who is Pensacola's Renaissance Man on Pace Boulevard.
The pizzas are made in the southern Italian style, which is to say very thin throughout with a nice chewy crust around the edge.
From the "Tuscan Favorites," we tried the Margherita, a classic Neapolitan creation of tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. It's basically a cheese pizza with a little additional flavor from the basil.
The Abbondanza is the guilty pleasure pizza, loaded with sausage, pepperoni, capacolla ham, and bacon. The capacolla brings a hint of heat to it. Delicious.
We also had one that we remember from back in Naples, Italy: Pizza Bianco, or white pizza. This one has no sauce, only mozzarella and fontina cheeses sprinkled with garlic. The fontina gives it an extra little bit of nutty flavor. Be sure to drizzle some tableside olive oil on this one. We thought this was the most authentic of the pizzas we tried.
Or you can design your own. With four cheeses, six meats, including prosciutto and two types of Italian sausage, 14 fresh vegetables, and specialties, such as anchovies, pesto, capers and pineapple, you'll find what you need.
To get the true effect of this style of pizza, it's best to get a 15-incher. You don't have to try to pick it up and eat it. As Lamarche says, "It's not a boardwalk pizza." Eat it with a knife and fork "alla Italiana."
The star of the salads is the Caprese. They slice fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, layer them alternately, top them with fresh basil leaves, and drizzle the dish with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Ever wonder where the colors in the Italian flag come from? Just look at this Caprese.
Lamarche says his philosophy is to prepare food simply and serve it at a reasonable price. So, the most you will spend for a 15-inch pizza here is $16, and the 10-inch varieties are all $10 and under. The pasta dishes are under $10 and the appetizers average between $5 and $6.
The best seats in the house are right next to the oven, where you can watch the pizzas being made, chat with Lamarche as he plies his trade and be captivated by the fire in the belly of the beast—the Tuscan Oven.
Bon Appetit, Y'all! For more on The Tuscan Oven and other area restaurants, visit the Web at www.pensacolabites.com.