Savoy Pizzeria & Craft Bar, the sleek, new, pizza-centered West Hartford establishment from Max Restaurant Group, is all about the flames.
“There is nothing that compares to cooking with fire,” says Dante Cistulli, chef and managing partner of the downtown restaurant, which opened in October. Two wood-fired pizza ovens form the heart and soul of Savoy’s kitchen. The Neapolitan-influenced pizza, the restaurant’s flagship food, is cooked for a short period of time in one oven at 850-900 degrees. Cooking at this extremely high temperature creates a crispy and ever-so-slight char on the outside and a soft and firm inside crust that artisan pizza lovers crave. The other oven provides the heat for the restaurant’s non-pizza items, giving each dish a unique, wood-smoked flavor.
In addition to these fire-forged flavors, Savoy offers guests a casual but upscale ambiance, a robust craft beer list and craft cocktails with an emphasis on Italian spirits like Campari (a popular Italian liqueur) and grappa (a type of Italian brandy).
Savoy Pizzeria & Craft Bar
32 LaSalle Road, West Hartford
Hours: Tue.-Thu. 4 p.m.-midnight, Fri. 4 p.m.-1 a.m.,
Sat. 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Closed Mon.
“We really wanted to do something different,” Cistulli says. He aptly describes his restaurant as having an “old school Brooklyn type of feel.”
Born in Bristol and raised in Farmington, Cistulli started working for Max Restaurant Group a few years ago when he was hired at Max a Mia in Avon. He later worked at Max Oyster Bar in West Hartford. He also worked at various New York-style pizza spots where he made by-the-slice, gas oven-baked pizza. But he always dreamed of opening his own pizza place.
When he started seriously talking with Max Restaurant Group about making that dream a reality, Cistulli said they knew they wanted to do something that was “a little more chef driven” than your standard pizzeria. He adds, “We wanted the dough to be the star of the show.”
To that end, Cistulli studied with a Neapolitan-influenced pizza-making expert in Texas and spent time over the last year honing different dough recipes.
After meeting with Cistulli, I tried the pepperoni pizza and the Rosy Ravita, a pizza topped with prosciutto and arugula, fig spread, asiago, goat cheese and served with a hot honey drizzle. The star of both pies was indeed the dough. Ultra thin, the crust maintains its structural integrity and demands to be finished, even to the edges. The Rosy Ravita was slightly sweet thanks to the honey and figs spread, which worked well with the mild bitterness of the arugula, as well as the saltiness of the cured prosciutto. It is a very creative pie with lots of well-thought-out ingredients, but I preferred the more standard, yet equally well executed, pepperoni pie.
The restaurant also features a variety of non-pizza items and a stellar small-plate menu. I opted for one of the specials, a wood-fired butternut squash, from Sub Edge Farm in Farmington, served with whipped goat cheese, pistachios, golden raisins and arugula, and drizzled with maple syrup that tasted every bit as good as it sounds. Another standout was the burrata, decadent fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream.
Savoy has 10 draft lines with an ever-changing mix of local and national craft beers, also offering growler fills to go. I couldn’t resist taking home a half-growler of the sought-after Captain’s Daughter double IPA made by Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island. I also tried Savoy’s signature cask-aged Negroni cocktail. The classic Italian cocktail is made from one part gin, one part Campari and one part vermouth. Savoy starts with this simple recipe, then ages the drink in a small bourbon barrel. “The cask smooths off the harshness of the gin and the bitterness of the vermouth,” says the restaurant’s general manager, Mike Oliver, who oversees the bar. The resulting drink is a mellower but excellent version of a standard Negroni that goes down easy.
The layout of the restaurant is open and hip. The kitchen is, at one end, visible from the long bar and most of the tables. The relaxed atmosphere and quality food make Savoy an excellent destination for those craving craft cocktails, beer or wood-fired pizza.