MELROSE – Beyond the dough, sauce and cheese, there are two essential ingredients for making real Neapolitan pizza: Wood and Fire. Inside a little brick building on Essex Street in Melrose, pizza power couple Joe and Leesa Auciello are firing up an authentic taste of Italy at Wood + Fire, in their 900 degree oven.
“It makes it nice and crispy on the edges,” Leesa pointed out. “Not a lot of ingredients on top of it to overpower. It’s very simple.”
“Where it cooks so fast in 90 seconds, you cannot leave it for a minute,” Joe explained. “You have to pull it out, spin it, lift it up, put it down, put it over the fire. You might have to melt the cheese on the top or the bottom might cook faster. It is an art. You have to know what you’re doing, especially where the oven is 900 degrees. You turn your back for a second, boom, you can lose the pizza.”
Wood +Fire is a nice, open space with high ceilings and a highly delicious menu. You can start with some crispy Fried Calamari with hot cherry peppers, mussels with roasted garlic, or fresh burrata cheese with thin-sliced prosciutto.
For something even cheesier, check out the made-to-order mac & cheese with and a Ritz cracker crumb topping that’s baked nice and toasty in a cast iron skillet; or go for some real Sicilian comfort food with the handmade arancini.
“Our arancinis are made fresh every day,” Leesa said. “Has rice, peas, ground beef, mozzarella cheese, and a little bit of sauce. And they roll them up, fry them, and they’re just delicious. You break them open, the cheese melts.”
“It’s a Sicilian recipe from my grandmother, brought down to the mother, then down to me,” explained Joe. “Some people like it with a side of marinara sauce. Me personally, I just like to grab it and eat it like an apple. It’s just a great appetizer.”
You can also get a great Panini, like the Muffuletta stuffed with mortadella, salami, and provolone; or the Grilled Chicken with vinegar peppers. Then there are the calzones, generously stuffed with prosciutto cotto, mozzarella, and ricotta. For the ultimate in Italian taste and authenticity, the Margherita pizza is an absolute must-order.
“It’s very simple. It’s got great dough, quality tomato, quality olive oil, and quality Calabro mozzarella that we bring in and we actually hand-cut it in house,” Joe described. “It’s very light on the cheese, very light on the sauce. Fresh basil right on top, a nice quality olive oil and it’s just a great, great bite to it.”
Other popular pies include the Sicilian Shrimp pizza loaded up with garlic, grape tomatoes, and a boat full of fresh seafood, the Verde Pizza smothered in a lip-smacking pesto sauce; and the hearty, flavor-packed Sausage and Broccoli Rabe, inspired by Joe’s childhood.
“Growing up, we used to have a lot of pasta with sausage and rabe. So we said why couldn’t you just put broccoli rabe and sausage on a pizza? From there, we just explored it. We said, you can put pretty much anything on a pizza.”
He really does mean anything. Case in point: their sweet, chocolatey dessert pizza.
“It’s a Nutella pizza topped off with fresh sliced bananas, fresh hazelnuts, sweet ricotta cream, and powdered sugar,” Joe said. “We start by cooking the dough in the oven. It comes out and we actually spread the Nutella, and as the Nutella hits the pizza dough where it’s already a little warm, the Nutella starts to spread and melts.”
“It’s like an addiction. You can’t stop eating it. Even if you’re full, you still order it, and you still eat the whole pizza,” Leesa added. “It’s just delicious.”
This really is the kind of food that you can’t stop eating. And Leesa and Joe are the kind of people you can’t help but like.
“My husband is very passionate about his food, the way he cooks. He’s interacting with the customers out here and cooking at the same time, and everyone just enjoys it.”
“We got people that come in here that know us by name, we know them by name,” Joe added. “We try to create a great family fun atmosphere, where it’s not just a regular pizza place. We want you to come down, unwind, relax, whether it’s you and your wife or you and your family. We want you to come down and enjoy the atmosphere.”
You can find Wood + Fire at 35-37 Essex Street in Melrose and online at woodandfiremelrose.com.
Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.