When Rick Thomas decided to get into the pizza business, he went back to his roots.
All the way back to Naples, where his grandfather Felice DiPalma was a master of Neapolitan-style pizza, a “maestro pizzaiolo.”
The resulting restaurant, Forno Napoli, opened Oct. 23 in Amherst, at 1280 Sweet Home Road. After training in Naples, and importing a custom-made wood-fired oven, Thomas has started offering Neapolitan-style pizzas.
Thomas is a veteran of the restaurant business, opening his first place with cousin James Felix Oliver, a former operating partner of Pranzo, among a long restaurant resume.
After their grandfather DePalma immigrated to the United States, he opened restaurants and owned a small hotel, said Thomas.
“It’s always been a passion of mine and my cousins to have our own place,” he said. “We decided to bring that style because it’s different, it’s unique, and we’re keeping the tradition of my grandfather.”
Thomas traveled to Naples and went through an Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana training course, learning traditional techniques and standards. That was followed by shifts in Casa Di Rinaldi restaurants to polish his technique. The restaurant is not yet Verace Pizza Napoletana certified, which would take a further inspection, said Peppe Miele, the organization's U.S. president.
In Amherst, the adherence to time-honored ways means Forno Napoli’s pizzas are made from Italian flour, tomatoes and water buffalo mozzarella. The oven was imported from Naples, made by the Acunto family, making ovens since 1892, said Thomas.
Pizza ($18-$23) comes in one size, comparable to a standard large Buffalo pie. (The canonical Neapolitan is no larger than 11 inches.) There’s also calzones ($16-$18), panini ($11-$15), pastas ($16-$17), salads ($6-$12), and chicken dishes ($17-$19).
The restaurant’s casual room belies its deep pedigree. Order and pay at the counter and look for a place among the communal tables, or one of the smaller high-tops.
Wine and bottled beer are available, and customers are free to bring their own, Thomas said.
“We don’t really sell slices, because of the integrity of the pizza,” said Thomas. “But we are promoting what I’m calling pizzetta, about two slices, made daily, fresh at the counter, for a grab-and-go kind of thing.”
A Rustica pizza ($22) arrived on its tray with puffy-crisp edges, the intense heat of the oven blowing bubbles in the crust. The richness of sausage and buffalo mozzarella was offset with faintly bitter broccoli rabe, with salty crumbs of finishing pecorino romano.
Orancia Chicken ($17) was tender bone-in roast leg and breast in broth flavored with fresh orange, garlic and the piney scent of fresh rosemary. It's served with roast potatoes, crouton, and a salad.
Thomas pointed out that while many Americans have come to see "panini" as a sandwich pressed between two hot griddles, in Italy it just means sandwich. Forno Napoli's Porchetta panini ($12) layered shaved, herb-roasted pork in a crackly baguette-like loaf.
An assortment of Italian desserts, from cannoli ($4) to pasticiotti ($6), are sourced from Gino's Bakery in Kenmore.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 636-9500.
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