Blocks Pizza Deli in South Beach Blends Italy With Local Ingredients
Inside Blocks Pizza Deli, managing partner Richard Collins chatters in Italian with Eugenio Vittoni, a fair-haired, slim European gentleman imported straight from Verona. And though the restaurant's concept is as Italian as most of the employees -- selling pizza by the slice and offering a take-and-bake option -- none of the ingredients comes from the mother country. Instead, the pizzeria has opted to use only the freshest local products.
Lyssa Goldberg Blocks Pizza Deli is on Washington Avenue between Española Way and 15th Street.
While pizza chef Vittoni tends to the dough in the kitchen, Collins says there isn't even a freezer back there. "A lot of other pizzerias use frozen products. Ours are all-natural. We're using only fresh products," says Collins, the only American partner. "We freeze nothing here. We don't use preservatives, so if it's not consumed within 24 hours, it gets thrown out."
Asked about sourcing, Collins says, "Eugenio will go to the farmers' market and buy ingredients. He can tell you all about that. He'd come talk to you now, but if he leaves the batch of dough now, we'll have to throw it all away."
As great as it is that the sliced portobello mushrooms, organic leeks, and baby spinach leaves aren't defrosted toppings, the clear focus of the pizzeria is the use of "mother dough" -- the pride and joy of not only Blocks Pizza Deli's owners but also an entire "confraternity" of Italians going back centuries.
This is certainly no Domino's but also not Gino's or Miami's Best. Since the pizzeria opened two months ago, new customers have drawn comparisons to local favorite Pizza Rustica -- probably because pizza slices (called blocks) are sold by the rectangle, with specialty slices preassembled and ready to be baked in the oven.
But the difference is twofold. First, the slices are baked, not reheated, to order. It might be confusing, or even off-putting, to see unbaked pizza on display, but this only means the pizza with its freshly melted cheese tastes that much better. Second, of course, is the dough. All it takes is one bite to reveal that this light sourdough won't leave you feeling heavy the way a competitor's denser crust would.
Lyssa Goldberg Unbaked blocks with fresh mozzarella and toppings are on display.
The tradition of this special mother dough began on the Italian island of Sardinia 300 years ago, passed down by the Confraternita Della Pasta Madre to those who make the commitment to tend to it properly. Yeast from the original batch has been kept alive by adding water and flour daily, and it is turned into dough through an intensive, multiday process.
"That's the nice and romantic thing about this now. In no way can you sell something like that. It's just on the passion and care of the person that you give the yeast, that it's going to work its magic," Chef Vittoni explains in a thick Italian accent.
Even if this sounds like some fairy tale or pure folklore, there are digestive health benefits. "Our dough is completely leavened naturally for 48 to 72 hours, while other doughs are basically still leavening when they're sold to you," Collins says. "That's where you get that bloated feeling after eating pizza."