REVIEW WRITTEN BY LEN LEAR
For Digital First Media
Opening a restaurant and making it a success is as difficult as capturing thunder in a thimble or coming up with the name of another Hun besides Attila. But Arde Osteria & Pizzeria, which opened in October, 2014, at 133 North Wayne Ave. in Wayne, a town that may have more pizza outlets than traffic lights, is packing them in every night, despite the sometimes supersonic din, with Neapolitan-style pizzas, flatbreads, a great buffalo mozzarella bar, homemade pasta, bread and desserts and BYOB.
Co-owner Giuseppe “Pino” DiMeo, 49, came to Philly in the 1980s and almost 30 years ago opened Allegro Pizzeria next to the WCAU-TV building on City Line Avenue. He later opened a second operation in Maple Glen, a third in Conshohocken 10 years ago and a fourth in Wilmington six years ago. (The Wilmington location is the only one of the four still extant.) But in spite of their history with traditional New York-style pizzerias that depend mostly on takeout business and even on selling pizzas by the slice, Pino’s son, Antimo, 24, was pushing for more authenticity.
Antimo’s upbringing shaped him as surely as a cookie cutter shapes a hunk of dough. “Ever since Antimo was 10 years old, he has said, ‘Pop, I want to make the real stuff — true to our roots, Napoletana,’” Pino said. “We tried for two years to get it just right. We used six different tomatoes and different cheeses. We finally added creamy buffalo mozzarella, which comes from the milk of water buffalo in the Naples region, and extra virgin olive oil from Tuscany, and we knew we finally had it right.”
So in April, 2012, the family opened DiMeo’s Pizzeria, a BYOB in the Andorra Shopping Center in Philly’s upper Roxborough section. (The name will soon be changing to P.D. Pizza.) And two years ago the Naples “roots” concept came to Wayne with Arde Osteria & Pizzeria. Antimo, who spent a year studying and working in Sorrento with a Michelin two-star chef and another two months in Spain with a highly regarded chef, is the executive chef at Arde. Pino’s managing partner is Scott Stein, whose family owned two center city restaurants in recent years.
“I’ve never seen such loyal customers at any other restaurant as we have here,” said Stein. “We have some customers who literally come in here three or four times a week.
At Arde, the dough is made two days in advance of “double zero” flour, water and “mother dough” instead of yeast to get a natural rise. And local organic milled wheat flour is added to the mix. The DiMeos import buffalo mozzarella weekly as well as San Marzano tomatoes and expensive Neapolitan Pasta di Gragnano from Giuseppe Afeltra, which they contend is the best dried pasta in the world. Even the water used to make the dough is imported from Naples. “We made batches of dough with Wilmington tap water and with bottled water from Naples,” said Antimo. “It was no contest. It was much better with the bottled water from Naples.”
We ate at Arde in mid-October on the first day of their new menu. The flatbreads were newcomers, and our goat cheese and truffle honey flatbread ($12) was an elixir of impeccably moist cheese with a whisper of sugar plums topped with spring onions and crunchy walnuts.
The tortiglioni, a pasta that is larger and thicker than rigatoni and works very well with chunky sauces, was draped with the heavenly, pillow-soft buffalo ricotta and hugged by a muscular Bolognese sauce, but there was not nearly enough sauce to clothe the pasta ($20).
Another new dish, spaghettone a pomodoro (spaghettone is a thick spaghetti that is especially tasty with spicy sauces), had a silky texture, juicy San Gennaro tomatoes, cheeses and Mandranova, a very high-quality extra-virgin olive oil from Sicily. A super dish that also could have used more sauce ($18).
A dessert of homemade tiramisu had palate-stunning richness that has brought universal acclaim from Yelp-ers, a tough bunch. Our server and the hostess could not have been more pleasant and efficient. As mentioned earlier, the noise can definitely be a turnoff, although Stein said it was even worse before they installed some acoustic “soundproofing.” Parking is almost impossible to find on Wayne Avenue, but the train station one block away is likely to have available spaces in the evening.
The DiMeos plan to open yet another restaurant, Pizzeria Arde, in February of next year at 18th Street and JFK Boulevard in center city Philadelphia. For more information, call 484-580-6786 or visit www.ardewayne.com