If you can't make it to Italy this summer, you can find a little bit of Naples in a 50-seat corner restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
There, chef Luigi DiMeo kneads the dough and cooks the sauce used on his eponymous coal-oven pizzas. DiMeo follows many of the rules created by the official Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. His crust is crisp and just a little chewy. It's thin, but not too thin. Ask for it well-done, and it arrives with the blackened edges that I adore.
To truly test DiMeo's prowess, order the simple margherita Napoletana ($11.95, 12-inch/$14.95, 16-inch), fresh tomato sauce, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil. The menu says, "no substitutions," and I can't think of any reason you'd want to. The sauce is densely flavored, but neither too sweet or too spicy. I'd also recommend the broccoli rabe and sausage pizza ($16.95, 12-inch/$19.95, 16-inch), which combines the bitterness of the greens with the richness of sausage.
I didn't care for another popular pizza known as bruschetta Napoletana ($13.95, 12-inch/$16.95, 16-inch), with diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic, oil, Parm-Reg and fresh arugula. While the menu says the herbs are fresh, I'm quite sure they were dry. They gave the entire dish an almost metallic taste. Switch back to fresh, please. Who uses dried herbs on bruschetta?
The house-made Caesar salad ($7.95) was plenty big for four to share. The greens were fresh, and the dressing had a nice, garlic creaminess. But the house-made croutons suffered from the same fate as the bruschetta pizza. They tasted packaged. The house salad ($13.95) is a mixture of romaine, garbanzo beans, onion, boiled egg, olives, pepperoncini, cucumber and tomato. DiMeo also does a classic Caprese with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil and pesto ($8.95).
We couldn't resist coal-oven chicken wings ($9.95, 10-piece/$17.95, 20-piece), served along with triangles of focaccia and a big pile of caramelized onions. You'll want to eat those onions on top of the bread or save them to eat with pizza crusts. They're that good.
There are panini sandwiches ($9.95-$10.95), a calzone ($10.95) and just a few other specialties, including a generously sized portion of spaghetti and meatballs ($15.95). The meatballs were rather bland, but like the pizza sauce, the tomato sauce was textbook perfect. Eggplant parmigiana ($15.95) is a multilayered beauty served with spaghetti and tomato sauce. There's enough here for two meals.
Two-year-old Luigi's has a very nice bottled-beer menu with many international choices and a delightfully well-priced wine list, heavy on Italian. Finish the night with house-made ricotta cheesecake ($5.75), sweeter than many Italian cheesecakes, but still very good.
I like to think of Luigi's as a neighborhood pizza joint for discerning pizza fans. Guests sit at the bar or at one of the 14 tables set with sometimes wobbly cafe chairs. Service is efficient and friendly. Families with children come for early dinners. The takeout business is bustling. And if any of our professional sports teams are playing, Luigi's is packed with fans, eyes on the three big screens, tables piled high with cold beer and DiMeo's beautiful coal-oven pizzas.
Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza
1415 E. Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Can be noisy
For kids: Highchairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Small lot or city parking lot