In a world that is hyperobsessed with what's trending right this second, it's easy to find comfort in the concept of old school. As the name suggests, Scuola Vecchia Pizza e Vino offers just that — food prepared in the authentic Neapolitan tradition of centuries past. The Delray Beach restaurant is a certified member of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, and the coveted title designates Scuola Vecchia as committed to respecting the Neapolitan culinary art form of pizzamaking and preserving it for future generations.
The certification from the international Italian organization regulates everything from ingredients to hand-stretching dough techniques and the ovens. Dough is made with a special Caputo "00" flour imported from Italy. The finely milled flour is considered the best of the best. Imported curds are used in the daily ritual of making fresh homemade mozzarella. Tomatoes for the sauce are from the rich volcanic soil of San Marzano. A bell-shaped, wood-burning oven, also imported, adheres to the strict guidelines. Oven temperatures, in excess of 900 degrees, coupled with a volcanic stone baking surface contribute to the desired and characteristic charred, crispy yet tender crust.
Scuola Vecchia owner Sharon Aloisio's love affair with Naples developed after her first trip more than two decades ago. The people, food and culture inspired Aloisio so much that in 2011 she fulfilled her dream of re-creating the experience of serving authentic Neapolitan pizza at home in America. Clearly, this is not your typical South Florida pizzeria. You won't find chicken wings or subs on Aloisio's menu. Beyond her pizzas, you will feast on antipasti, homemade pastas, salads and panini.
Scuola Vecchia's modern dining room is a juxtaposition to its old world, traditional menu. Wide-striped, navy-blue-and-white banquettes line white-tiled walls that display framed images nodding to Italians and their culture. Gray-veined, white-marble tables provide seating with a handful of spots for sidewalk dining. An Italian travelogue highlighting tourist attractions can be viewed from a mounted television.
Early on a recent evening, we were one of the first tables seated. I prefer this time at this restaurant. As the evening progresses, the cozy room tends to get loud when seats are full. Our capable, experienced server knew when and how much information to offer. His knowledge guided us through menu choices. Efficient service and well-timed courses were acknowledged and appreciated.
Scuola Vecchi's menu lists more than a dozen offerings under the antipasti header ($8-$25), and it seemed fitting to start with a classic. Polpette ($12), two tender, moist meatballs made of ground beef, had an uncomplicated, simplistic appeal. The sliced bread garnish came in handy when sopping up the bright-red San Marzano tomato sauce. The battilocchio del giorno ($8), or daily hors d'oeuvre, presented itself as two-bite squares of a rectangular pizzette painted with pistachio pesto and topped with melted fresh buffalo mozzarella. They had me at pistachio pesto.
Fried dough in any form is hard to resist. As was the case with a plate of montanara ($8), five fluffy pillows dotted with red sauce, fresh basil and finished with a sprinkling of salty pecorino romano. I forced myself to resist another savory munchkin, knowing that more dough was on the horizon. Other favored starters include tagliere misto ($25) as assortment of Italian meats and cheeses, enough to feed four people, fried calamari ($16) and melanzane alla parmigiana ($12), lightly fried eggplant with Parmesan and tomato sauce.
We lightened things up with a rustica salad ($10) that combined thinly sliced prosciutto di parma draped on a mound of the standard spring mix of lettuces lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. The tangy tartness of Gaeta olives and artichoke hearts played well with the dry-cured ham.
More than two dozen Neapolitan-style pizzas ($9-$19) are divided into white and red columns, with build-your-own options. The biggest challenge is deciding which one. In the end, tradition ruled. As the story goes, the award-winning Regina Margherita ($15), named after a 19th century Italian queen, mimics the colors of the Italian flag, with red grape tomatoes, white imported fresh buffalo mozzarella and green basil. The pizza arrived with hastily distributed ingredients, on a perfectly char-speckled and chewy crust, leaving portions of slices naked. It looked more like a delivery that slid around the back seat of a driver's car rather than a pedigreed pie. After rearranging the toppings, we agreed that the flavor was amazing and the crust was spot on.
Homemade fettuccini is the noodle of choice, with a selection of four sauces ($13-$20). We opted for the bolognese ($20), a generous, tangled nest of toothsome noodles that stood up to the meaty sauce. Baked pastas include a traditional meat ($19) and a vegetarian lasagna ($17).
Pockets of thinly stretched dough create a crispy vehicle for overstuffed vegetarian or meat-filled panini ($10). The Americano is a two-fisted sandwich with layers of salami, hot sopressata, prosciutto cotto, caciocavallo cheese and mixed greens. It is a mouthful.
With barely enough room for dessert, we acquiesced, only to be slightly disappointed to learn the housemade chocolate caprese cake ($10) was not available. As early diners and part of the first seating, it was apparent someone didn't finish their prep list that day. Tiramisu ($10) took the cake's place, and offered a solid rendition. Although I prefer a more intense espresso flavor, the ladyfingers were perfectly soaked, without being soggy, and the mascarpone was particularly creamy. Had we not already exceeded our evening's dough limit, the Nutella pizza ($12) would have been in the running, or maybe the pizza dolce ($12), topped with sweetened ricotta cheese, sliced almonds and a drizzle of honey. We'll find comfort in those during our next visit.
Scuola Vecchia Pizza e Vino
522 E. Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach
Hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Tuesday
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Boosters, highchairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes