REGINA MARGHERITA PIZZERIA | Dining Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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REGINA MARGHERITA PIZZERIA

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There's no big sign, but the spruced-up corner building at 38th and Butler should catch the eye easily enough. In this converted storefront, behind big plate glass windows is the Lawrenceville sister to Bellevue's popular Regina Margherita Pizzeria. Inside, there are a few framed illustrations of the woman, "Regina Margherita," here and there, but mostly the effect is of European café simplicity: marble tables atop wrought iron legs, wooden café chairs, cloth napkins, heavy Italian-made flatware, and staff in matching polo shirts and red scarves knotted around their necks.

The place is cozy enough -- and the food prep area is elevated -- so that it's easy to watch the chef work from the comfort, and discretion, of your seat. (You may stand right on the other side of glass counter and peer at the chef if you dare.) There's the patting and slapping of the pie dough; the elegant swoosh of his arm as he wields the spouted copper pot containing olive oil; and the agile slipping of the long-armed wooden pizza peel in and out of the oven.

The oven is a brick, wood-fired open oven with a fantastic copper ventilation pipe twisting out of it. In fact the "color scheme" at Regina Margherita is best defined by material: shiny copper metal, exposed brick and polished wood.

There's a very simple menu here -- just eight pizzas and a side green salad. There are two meat pizzas (ham or salami), one meat sandwich pizza, and the rest are combinations of tomatoes, cheeses, olive oil and herbs.

I had their signature pizza, the Regina Margherita. It was simplicity itself: a very light sauce of crushed tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil topped with portions of buffalo mozzarella, whole fresh basil leaves and cherry tomatoes. According to the menu, the crushed tomatoes, olive oil, flour and cheese have all been imported from Italy. That's a mighty long travel, but remarkably, the overall sensation was of freshness.

I ate my entire pizza (these pies are pretty much sized for one adult), which is unusual for me: Normally I get filled up fast on cheese and dough. But this pizza was so light, and best of all, using the less-fatty buffalo mozzarella meant there was none of that residual oil that can bog a pizza down.

My companion ordered the Capricciosa, which was like an antipasti tray on a pizza -- on top of the same crushed tomato base were artichoke, Italian baked ham, mushrooms as well as fresh basil and mozzarella. (All the other pizzas use the soft, fresh mozzarella, only the Regina uses the cheese made from actual buffalo milk.)

The crust here is sure to settle that endless battle between the thin-and-crispy and thick-and-chewy factions: It's a little bit of both. In height, the crust is on the thinnish side, but retains both a pleasing crunch and a soft chewiness.

For dessert, there was traditional tiramisu, strawberry-flavored tiramisu and the very popular "pizza dessert" (the night we were there, every table ordered one). For the pizza dessert, a crust is baked. While still hot from the oven, the chef cuts away the top layer (the hot pie dough puffs up like pita bread), then spreads Nutella -- that chocolate hazelnut spread so beloved in Europe -- on the bottom half. The top half is replaced where it sticks firmly to the ooey-gooey melting chocolate. The "pizza" is sliced several times crossways and presented to eager fingers waiting at the table.

The combination of the slightly crunchy, slightly chewy crust with the chocolaty richness of the hot and melted Nutella was delicious, almost instantly filling, and just different enough that it left me struggling to find comparisons. "It's sort of like a s'more," I offered. "No. A chocolate quesadilla," my companion countered, "but with a European flair." Close enough -- and that's also a fine sobriquet for Regina Margherita: Pizza & but with a European flair. * * *

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