Images by Samuel Ithurburn

Without Reservation: Masullo

Some things in life run deep, and one of those things is decidedly food. When it comes to yogurt and granola, are you a stirrer-inner or the separate-and-equal type? With ice cream, do you go cup or cone? With a PB&J, do you cut your sandwich into rectangles or triangles? With crusts, or without? Folks tend to hold these preferences sacrosanct. But when it comes to our beloved pizza, the “this or that” options multiply exponentially, which is why we count ourselves lucky to have so many different types of pizza joints in our city. Everyone has a favorite crust type or topping combination, but when it comes to Neapolitan-style pizza—a careful, wood-fired balance of topping, cheese, sauce, and crust—Masullo is all that.

When we sat down to said pizza to ask namesake pizzaiolo and owner Robert Masullo how he describes his style, he self-deprecatingly answered, “too many words and too many qualifiers.” Unsure of how to categorize his Neapolitan style with the fact that we’re not in Naples, he explained that his pizza is “a different thing in a different place.” But we’re more than happy to enjoy this thing in this place. Masullo Pizza opened up ten years ago not on the bustling midtown grid, but on relatively sleepy Riverside Blvd in Land Park.

When asked why there, the chef answered with the simple fact that he grew up there and “wanted it to be a little bit like how [he] wish[es] the world was—quieter, homier, and slower.”

So he traded in the foot traffic and higher rent for a neighborhood spot that’s loved by families, friends, and dates alike.

Within just a few minutes of speaking with Masullo, it’s easy to tell that he’s something of a purist when it comes to his pizza. Not pretentious, but particular and passionate. He sings the praises of a wood-fired oven, which “means something more than an oven with wood in it—more than just a heat source.” Likewise, making the dough is a 36-48 hour process wherein the starter rests for 18 hours, is formed into dough, and becomes the pie in your pie hole the next day. That fermentation lends itself to nothing less than a bubbly, airy, complex crunch.

And if you’re doing your math right, Masullo opened shop at the height of the recession. What’s the chef’s recipe for grit? “Everything has to evolve. If not, you’re likely going to fail.”

By opening for lunch hours, adding outdoor seating, and selling their rosemary bread at Taylor’s Market, Masullo has managed to stay relevant and adored. Sure, some ideas have stuck and others not. Entrees like chicken and lasagne have made their appearances, but ultimately “people see us as a pizzeria,” says Masullo, and “you gotta sing your hits.” Not one to feel stuck, Masullo adds:

“I like the repetitive—we’re always working on perfecting something. Too many restaurants focus on the creativity at the risk of consistency, but there’s no need to reinvent it night after night.”

Given our society’s ceaseless search for the next big thing, for Masullo to have found purpose in the intention and constancy of perfecting his craft 60 hours a week is downright admirable. And damn tasty.

After a decade of slinging dough, Masullo is expanding into the space next door to include a private dining room, a better waiting area, a larger kitchen, a proper espresso machine, and breads and pastries (Masullo got his start in pastry, donchyaknow?). In the meantime, we look forward to having Masullo and his team sing their hits encore after encore.