Photo by Sydney Cromwell.
Vecchia Pizza and Mercato
Benard Tamburello has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years. His new restaurant, Vecchia Pizzeria and Mercato, opened in May at the Preserve.
Il dolce far niente — an Italian phrase meaning “the sweetness of doing nothing.” For Benard Tamburello, this phrase means that when he is doing what he loves, it never feels like work.
Tamburello has been a chef for more than 20 years, from his start at Gus’s Hot Dogs to Bernie’s on Main, which he currently owns in Columbiana. However, he had always wanted to own a pizzeria. With the help of his friend and architect Chad Bryant, Tamburello began planning an authentic Italian tavern-style restaurant.
From exposed wooden beams in the ceiling to blue-tiled walls, Tamburello and Bryant planned every detail to look like a rustic Italian pizzeria. This plan became Vecchia Pizzeria and Mercato, which opens this month at The Preserve.
“We want to give you an experience like you were in Italy, just like they are in Naples,” Tamburello said. “This pizza’s like something you’ve never eaten before.”
Vecchia is a tavern-style restaurant, with no waiters, individual tables or fancy dishware. Customers eat their pizzas with plastic forks, knives and cups at communal picnic tables made of recycled lumber. Tamburello hopes the atmosphere will encourage conversation between strangers as they enjoy their meals.
“This is going to be all about the pie. No frills, no bells,” Tamburello said. “Just the most awesome pies you’ve ever had.”
Most of the pizza ingredients, such as the pepperonis and tomatoes, are shipped from Italy, and the mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce are made in-house. A local hydroponic farm provides organic, non-genetically modified basil. Vecchia also offers gluten-free pizzas, pastries, wine and 18 craft beers on tap, as well as a market with pastas, breads, balsamic vinegars and olive oils for sale.
From raw ingredients to finished pizza, the entire cooking process is visible to the public. Upon entering Vecchia, customers are greeted by a display of fresh ingredients and a window into the “dough room,” where the staff make pizza crusts, pastries and sausages. After placing their orders, customers can watch from the dining room as the staff cooks their pizzas in the restaurant’s distinctive pizza ovens shipped from Naples, Italy.
Cooking with these wood-burning ovens is an art form. Before Vecchia’s opening, Tamburello had to stay at the restaurant for several days to cure the ovens, keeping them at 100 degrees day and night. The ovens can reach 820 degrees, but each one has its own warm and cool spots that the staff must learn to use. Once perfected, however, the Vecchia ovens can cook a pizza in 90 seconds.
“Those ovens are living, breathing machines. The guy that taught me in school how to cook in these ovens said that these ovens are literally dragons. And you have to tame these dragons,” Tamburello said. “Each one has got their own personality. They do not all cook the same.”
The ovens have also caused some difficulties in opening the restaurant. They took two days to install properly, and Tamburello had to buy specially made ducts to comply with safety regulations. The challenges are worth it, though, when he sees customers enjoying Vecchia’s community and simple, delicious pizzas.
“You have no idea how hard it is to open up a restaurant,” Tamburello said. “You just have to keep smiling, and the passion will be there.”