It seems the most familiar foods can invite the most debate — and offer the most potential for controversy. Pizza is one of them. We know pizza and we love it. We have particular expectations and opinions about it, and in some obsessive cases, we might even harbor strong convictions.
That is how, with a short menu and just a handful of ingredients, Ancora Pizzeria and Salumeria has managed to create a stir since opening last summer.
This is not your general purpose pizzeria. It doesn't take phone orders (though now it is possible, if not especially encouraged, to order takeout from the bar). If pepperoni has ever made an appearance here, it must have been as a special.
Rather, Ancora is passionately specific in its devotion to Neapolitan pizza — the manna of Naples, Italy — and just about everything revolves around the wood-burning oven in the corner of the open kitchen.
These pizzas are small, the type one equates with a single-serve meal. They cook in about 90 seconds in the blazing hot oven, a process which in turn requires a minimalist attitude toward toppings. If toppings were allowed to get too profuse or zany, they wouldn't cook right during the pizza's short stay in the heat.
Well-known local chef Adolfo Garcia is a partner in Ancora along with Jeff Talbot, a veteran of fine-dining kitchens who found his niche in making bread. His approach to pizza resembles that of an artisan baker, and the result makes Ancora worth accepting on its own terms despite any friction with your notion of a pizzeria.
There were some issues when Ancora first opened, particularly a tendency for the outside ring of crust — or "cornicione," in Neapolitan pizza parlance — to balloon excessively, pushing toppings and sauce to a soupy pit at the center. It seems Ancora has perfected its process now. The dough's texture has a good tug and stretch to it, crisp but not cracker-stiff, with charred bubbles scattered like beauty marks.
While the Neapolitan pizza principles and the fascinating (though pricey) southern Italian wines are imports, just about everything else is local. There's a dedicated salumi-making workshop, and the kitchen has been putting market-fresh finds to beautiful use. One recent example was watermelon with olive oil, black pepper and intensely salty cured pork, in this case little pink bouquets of culatello. And if there is anything better than fresh chanterelles, it might be those same mushrooms glued to Ancora's dough by pungent Taleggio cheese, roasted until their trumpet edges wilt.
Dessert choices are biscotti to dip in your stovetop-brewed, percolator espresso or cherry-studded sourdough toast to smear with honey-drizzled mascarpone. An even better finale? A bracing nip of ice-cold grapefruitcello liqueur, another imported Italian tradition as welcome on a hot Louisiana night as a blast of air conditioning.