When people talk about Italian pizza, they’re often referring to fluffy, chewy, heat-blistered Neapolitan-style pies. The owners of Little Conejo, Mark Wooten and Mychal Dynes, offer a crispy version inspired by pies found in Rome at their pizzeria in Ridgefield. This style — pizza tonda allá Romana — isn’t prevalent here. After trying these fresh pies, I wonder why.
Bunnie’s Pizza opened earlier this year in the downtown Ridgefield spot where Vinnie’s Pizza offered pizza, pasta and salads for nearly a decade. Wooten and Dynes are using the space for two concepts. At lunchtime Tuesday through Saturday, the restaurateurs serve burritos, tacos and snacks from their Little Conejo Norte menu, formerly offered at a food truck several blocks away. The space operates as Bunnie’s Pizza the rest of the time. Bunnie’s hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays for Italian brunch and 3-9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday for dinner.
At first, I envisioned sitting down and eating at the restaurant. But it turned out to be a draining week. It also suddenly became very cold, dark and fall-like, so I slipped into cocoon-mode. I decided to drive to Ridgefield to pick up the pizza, try a bit there in my car, and then finish at home. The first bite quelled my desire to get home as soon as possible.
Pizza tonda allá Romana dates to the 1950s. Tonda means round in Italian. The thin, crackerlike texture of the crust stays crisp when topped with a variety of veggies, meats, olives and other toppings. Bunnie’s crust is made with a sourdough levain starter created in Ridgefield.
At Bunnie’s, pizzas come in 12-inch ($12-$16) or 16-inch ($23-$29) rounds with a wide variety of cheeses, meats, mushrooms and veggies. I tried 12-inch versions of the MBT with mozzarella, basil and tomato ($13) as well as a 12-inch Prosciutto Pie with aged and fresh mozzarella, Prosciutto di Parma, basil and Grana Padano ($16). Pizzas are baked for six minutes at 600 degrees in the large deck ovens left from the days of Vinnie’s Pizza.
In the book “Pizza: A Slice of Heaven,” noted food writer Sam Sifton posits that whatever pizza a child tries first is what pizza is to him, and he will defend that interpretation to the end of his life. This may be true, but I find it sad and self-limiting.
Nonetheless, I’m aware of a very real thick-crust-vs.-thin-crust divide. As a native Detroiter, I have an appreciation for my hometown pies, as well as those from Chicago, New York, California, Naples and anywhere pizza is made well. I think that the anti-deep dish people had really bad over-proofed dough on a pizza once and mistakenly thought that was proper thick-crust pizza. Thick-crust pizza isn’t just bloated thin-crust pizza; it has its own flavors and nuances.
Each style has pizzerias that make excellent versions, meh versions and downright bad ones. People who are pizza-curious have a richer life than those who are sworn defenders of a certain style of crust. Bunnie’s Pizza is the first place I tried pizza tonda allá Romana. Now I’m obsessed.
I tried the MBT (mozzarella, basil, and tomato) first. The crispy crust had flavor, but not so much that it overshadowed the toppings. The tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes strewn on top had the fresh taste of summer, as did the leaves of basil peppered throughout the pie. The Prosciutto Pie had the same fresh tomato sauce slathered on the crust beneath the mozzarella cheese. Large strips of velvety Prosciutto di Parma blanketed most of the pie. Owner Mark Wooten tried various types of prosciutto before picking this one for his pizzas. As I ate, the intoxicating, herbaceous aroma of the fresh basil sprinkled on top filled my car.
I also ordered a Caesar salad and a From the Farm salad, which changes seasonally. Currently, it’s a mesclun salad mix with walnuts, microgreens and radishes served with a light vinaigrette — delicious mix of greens and crunch. The Caesar was also good, served with crispy romaine leaves topped with shredded Grana Padano, long thin croutons and an anchovy-forward, citrus-spiked dressing. Most of the produce at Bunnie’s comes from Red Truck Farm in Ridgefield, while the cheese arrives from Cowbell in Portland.
All the dishes I tried were well-executed and delicious. I plan on returning soon to try other pies, like the Funghi with a variety of mushrooms, basil and fresh lemon zest, as well as one of the pasta specials, like braised pork shoulder in red wine and tomato on fresh pasta. It may be a long drive to Ridgefield, but it’s shorter than a plane ride to Rome.