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SALEM – What does it take to make the perfect pizza? The freshest ingredients, top of the line equipment, and the patience and precision to put it all together. That’s just what you’ll find at Bambolina. Located on busy Derby Street in downtown Salem, Massachusetts, Bambolina is a casual spot serving lunch and dinner in a rustic yet refined space.

Owner Tim Haigh and his team make a style of pizza called Neo-Neapolitan, which combines all the timeless taste and authenticity of real Neapolitan pizza with new, creative toppings. It all starts with their dough, made traditionally with double zero flour.

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“The pizza dough as a base is made two days ahead of time, so it’s a very slow fermentation process and the pizza is balled up into a bun shape and then proofed overnight,” Tim explained. “That pizza ball is then very gently stretched out to keep the crust nice and puffy.”

From there it takes a trip on a peel into Bambolina’s big, beautiful wood-burning oven, made in Naples. Burning at about 1,000 degrees, it can cook a pizza in about 90 seconds.

“Neapolitan pizzas are cooked at a higher temperature than other styles of pizza, meaning you get this intense sear, kind of like a blistering on the outside of the crust. It doesn’t give enough time for the ingredients to evaporate, so you retain a lot of the moisture, the acidity of the tomato, and the richness of the fresh mozzarella cheese,” Tim said.

Margherita pizza at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Margherita pizza at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

The 11-inch pies are personal size, so they’re great to eat on your own. But with so many creative concoctions, you may want to order a few for the table to sample and share. There’s the deliciously salty Brussel sprout and bacon pizza, loaded up with house cured pork, or the simple yet satisfying margherita.

Seafood lovers will swoon for the Frutti di Mare pizza. Covered in mussels, calamari and a half pound of king crab legs, this pizza requires some extra utensils to tackle.

Frutti di Mare pizza at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Frutti di Mare pizza at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“It’s served with seafood apparatus. You get some picks and some crackers,” Tim confirmed. “It’s definitely a cool pizza.”

True New Englanders will want to experience Bambolina’s unique Clam Chowder Pizza.

“We actually use whole local clams, house smoked bacon, fresh shucked corn, sliced potatoes, scallions; we finish it with a little drizzle of mascarpone cream and then some broken up crispy potatoes on top,” listed Tim. “It’s awesome.”

Clam Chowder pizza at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Clam Chowder pizza at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Bambolina also offers a range of Italian inspired starters like creamy buratta cheese served caprese style; blistered shishito peppers topped with goat cheese, almonds and lemon; and Mexican street corn, served with an Italian spin – Caesar dressing and crumbled ricotta salada on top.

Their Caesar salad is anything but ordinary, after it takes a turn on the grill.

“The Caesar salad is cold, but we put it across the char grill before we serve it so it has that smoky flavor to the romaine lettuce,” Tim explained. “It’s our house made salad dressing. We cook the croutons to order, which we feel makes a big difference when you get a fresh, crunchy, hot crouton, and then it’s topped with white anchovies. Then it’s Romano cheese, which is grated over the top of it.”

The Italian comfort food carries on through the entree section of the menu, with hearty Bolognese, slow cooked and served over orecchiette pasta; and fork-tender short ribs plated over whipped polenta and wilted spinach; but it’s the Carbonara that the customers and the staff really crave.

Carbonara at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Carbonara at Bambolina (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“Carbonara is probably one of my favorite pastas,” Tim said. “It’s made with egg yolks and house cured bacon. We use bucatini pasta for it, which is beautiful. It’s like a spaghetti pasta shape that’s got a hole running all the way down the center. And we serve that with a soft poached egg on top.”

With pizzas priced in the mid-teens and entrees topping out at $24, you’ll find the prices extra palatable when you eat at Bambolina.

You’ll find Bambolina at 288 Derby Street in Salem, and online at bambolinarestaurant.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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