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Monday, July 20, 2015

A Brick House

Brooklyn pizza makes a local home in Mall St. Vincent

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Grimaldi’s Executive Chef Cory Lattuca talks pizza like no other.

At this restaurant, fresh ingredients sweat flavor creating a local addiction for thin crust, coal-fire brick oven pizza.

“Our oven is hot enough that it allows us to cook raw sausage on the pizza instead of using pre-cooked sausage toppings, which is incredible,” Lattuca, who travels around the United States for Grimaldi’s, said. “When I say you get grease on a pizza, it’s not grease; it’s just a little bit of that extra flavor, and it spreads through the pizza.”

Lattuca has been with Grimaldi’s for 12 years, starting off as an intern. As the chain took off in Arizona, he stuck with the company after graduating from culinary school and moved up to his role as executive chef.

Lattuca will say the “good side” of him is Italian as he is originally from New York but has since moved to Arizona, where Grimaldi’s headquarters are located.

“As far as atmosphere, we want it to be a place where you are just as comfortable taking a date as you are taking your kids,” Lattuca said. “If you showed up in shorts or in a suit, you wouldn’t feel out of place in either.”

Located in Mall St. Vincent, Lattuca said the restaurant isn’t typically located inside of malls. “Where we try to be is outside major metropolitan areas and in well-developed areas,” he said. This is the second Louisiana location for the pizza restaurant; the first is located in Baton Rouge.

Lattuca said even though Grimaldi’s is a chain, the company prides itself on being a family and relating to the community that it roots itself in.

“We try our hardest to make people forget that we are a chain,” he said. “[We] hire a local management team. It’s important to have someone who is grounded in the community. Once we are up and running, we establish a local store marketing team to get out there and not only market our business but get to know the community around us.”

Lattuca admits the push for farm-to-table cuisine has put up some stiff competition, though his methods of converting customers is as simple as just getting them in the door.

“If I can get them in the door, I can convert you. There is nothing chain about it. It is about as artisanal and hand-done as you can get,” he said.

Speaking of flavor, Grimaldi’s goes to extreme heights to maintain its consistency throughout all 37 of its locations – one being the hiring of a chemist to analyze and recreate the exact water used at the first Brooklyn location.

“I think any bakery that comes out of New York will tell you that there is something about the water,” Lattuca said. “They’ll say the same thing about bagels as they will about pizza crust. That if you don’t get the water right, you won’t get the product right.”

Each of the pizzas are custom-made to order. The menu presents endless possibilities as there are no signature pizzas glaring at customers. The red sauce is unique and sweet – not your average tomato paste. It has a nice texture and is made with quality, crushed tomatoes from Italy. The white sauce is mainly just olive oil and mozzarella. Either one is a win mixed with fresh ingredients.

A regular cheese pizza is the perfect introduction to Grimaldi’s. The dough is right on the money as it balances the flavor of the freshly cut mozzarella and hand-grated Ramano cheese with seasons of basil and oregano. It’s light but filling even if you order a small pie.

Another perfect topping is the chicken sausage that customers can order sweet or spicy.

Calzones are also popular on the menu. These, too, are custommade to order and are packed with a healthy dose of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Lattuca advises customers to stick with just two or three toppings. As the cheese oozes out of the sides, you will need a fork for this one.

On the healthier side, the Mediterranean salad with salami is one of the best selections. This bed of lettuce is bathed in a house vinaigrette, which is perfect for a light lunch option. Along with the greens, this salad has a Mediterranean flair with Kalamata olives, cucumber and red onions.

Ordering light will leave room for dessert.

Grimaldi’s offers some of the best Italian options. But first, start with a “mean” cappuccino from Nicole, a server at the Shreveport location.

A foamy espresso pairs well with the trio plate to share. First, the New York-style cheesecake is creamy and delightful with a drizzle of a berry sauce underneath to swipe for extra sweetness. The tiramisu is layered discreetly with espresso but has a rich dose of cream. This trio is finished off with a small cannoli topped with mini-chocolate chips.

With hints of cinnamon in the dough of the shell, the piped cream complements the flavor of the pastry.

Don’t get carried away by desserts because pizza is the star of this business.

“It’s just interesting how much work actually goes into a pizza. We are bringing flour from the Midwest, coal from Pennsylvania, and we are re-creating New York water. We are bringing tomatoes from Italy, cheese from back East – hand-cutting it ourselves. We build the oven ourselves from the ground up,” Lattuca said.

“It might be the simplest pizza in the world but it has the most complicated journey to get there.”

–Lydia Earhart

Grimaldi’s

Location: 1133 St. Vincent Ave. #120, Shreveport 675-0178

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday grimaldispizzeria.com

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