Settebello in Henderson,
a suburb of Las Vegas.
For some Settebello is just another pizzeria—another joint they've trekked to in search of the perfect pie so ardently desired by many who've landed in Vegas from foreign parts.
Expatriate New Yorkers go to their beds envisioning wafer-thin disks, smothered in pepperoni, which plunge them back toward sweet adolescent evenings in Queens. Chicagoans pine away for legitimate deep dish, babbling names like "Uno's", "Due's" and "Lou Malnati's". If you ain't been there...well, there's no describing the thrill of chunky tomatoes, thick bombs of Italian sausage and that chewy pan-cooked crust. Even Los Angelinos demand that their nouveau concoctions rate attention among the pizzerias of Las Vegas.
But back to Settebello.
Owner Brad Otton and his pizza oven.
Here along Horizon Ridge in Henderson strides a man on a mission. Long strides—they belong to 6'5" Brad Otton, former quarterback at USC who helped win the Rose Bowl in '96. Football behind him, Otton decided to go into the pizza business. Not just any pizza. Authentic pizza from the holy city of pizza wisdom—Naples.
Following a sojourn in Italy under the tutelage of pizza guru Enzo Coccia, Otton returned home to launch the only pizzeria in Las Vegas with the Vera Pizza Napoletana seal of approval. In other words Settebello makes pizzas identical to those you'd find in bella Napoli (well, almost). It serves up pies any Italian would call his own. (Uh, we need to talk about that too.)
First the nitty. Pizza at Settebello is deliziosa! Otton has brought in a veteran pizza chef (a pizzaiolo) from Naples. He also imports Molina Caputo flour, renowned for its ability to produce a chewy crust, and low-acid San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil near Mt. Vesuvius. The meat toppings are obtained through a Seattle salumeria run by Mario Battali's father. The fresh mozzarella is no mere California cheese but superior stuff from Wisconsin (it's in the milk, bub, which ultimately means it's in the grass Elsie chews).
There are further strictures.
The flour is combined with water and special yeast into dough which must be hand-shaped into a 12" disk no more than 1/8" thick. The tomatoes on top should be crushed, not sauced. The pizza bakes quickly (60-90 seconds at about 900 degrees) directly on the floor of a wood-fired stone oven. Thereafter it must be served hot from the oven, not boxed and delivered off down the road.
Pizzaiolo with his long-handled peel.
Alas, for all these "musts" Otton can't quite reproduce the pizza of Naples, which utilizes local tap water of a unique iron content and low ph acidity plus local mozzarella free of preservatives. So Otton filters his water. Even the 2000 ft. altitude of Las Vegas means that dough rises slower here than at sea-level, thus affecting its consistency. But let's not quibble!
To begin with Settebello offers the three classic varieties of Neapolitan pizza: Pizza Marinara (topped simply with crushed tomato, garlic, oregano, and olive oil); Pizza Margherita (with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil, and olive oil); and Pizza Margherita Speziale (which substitutes mozzarella di bufala, made from the milk of so-called buffalo cows, for the usual fresh mozzarella).
Pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Rafael.
Of course these rather spare, albeit scrumptious, offerings can sustain the taste demands of not even a Naples pizzeria. Customers demand additional toppings. At Settebello these include a Pizza Capricciosa (which adds prosciutto cotto, artichoke hearts, roasted mushrooms, and olives to the Margherita base); a Pizza Diavola (adding peppered salami, roasted red bell peppers, and crushed hot peppers to the Marinara base), and a half dozen others.
What you won’t find on a Settebello creation is either the pervasive cheese topping common to most American pizzas—or pepperoni. Why no pepperoni? Brad Otton does not like pepperoni. Anyway, he suspects that this type of salami is an Italian-American invention or, at best, an Italian product nowhere to be found around the Bay of Naples.
Which brings us back to the whole idea of Italy.
Remember the old ad for pasta sauce: "Now that's Italian!"? Trouble is, no native Italian would ever say such a thing. Few think of themselves primarily as "Italian". A Frenchman may be first a Frenchman (Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité) but an Italian is fundamentally a Florentine, a Roman, a Venetian, etc., or, a bit more broadly, a Tuscan, a Calabrian, a Sicilian.... Most likely he can't sing all the words to the national anthem, nor does he care to learn them. His politics—like his cuisine, his dialect, and his soccer club—are instinctively local, indeed something akin to tribal.
His pizza is no exception. The Neapolitan may cleave to his Margheritas, but a Roman prefers the paper-thin crust served up in pizzerias (he thinks even the light Naples crust is too thick). For variety, an Italian will patronize delis which feature an ultra thick crusted, ingredient laden "Lazio" style, which is cut with scissors and sold by the slice. A Sicilian pizzaiolo, on the other hand, will bake ingredients right into the crust and forgo cheese altogether. Sometimes.
Italian-Americans? "Another race entirely" according to argument-loving Italians, who can agree on this if nothing else.
Who but a foreigner could create a dish called spaghetti Bolognese? Any resident of Bologna would scoff at the notion that thin pasta like spaghetti should ever be combined with a meat sauce. As for that strange Italo-American staple called "spaghetti and meat-balls"—the less said the better!
"The Italians have made a religion of food," says Otton, who first encountered them fifteen years ago on a Mormon mission to Italy. "They spend a good deal more time eating than going to church." A judgment which may well apply to our own self-styled "Sin City".
The simple interior of a
no nonsense pizzeria.
But will American Las Vegas embrace the true grail of Neapolitan pizza served up at Settebello? Brad Otton is betting they will, and I hope he's right. Not because authentic Naples pizza is inherently better than other versions—after all, we like what we like.
But Settebello represents the antithesis of that depersonalized (or fake personalized) dining which becomes the norm in our scores of chain restaurants. It is an experience with quality—in the production, the ingredients, and the desire to do something in a time-honored fashion.
Incidentally, they make a helluva good pizza!
Settebello Pizza Napoletana at 1776 Horizon Ridge Parkway (near Valle Verde) is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., til 10:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Pizzas and calzones run from $6.99-$12.99. Call 702/222-3556 for reservations or (gasp!) take-outs. The latter are merely "tolerated".
— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Las Vegas Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.