When Ciao Baby! opened in April, Collierville got its first taste of Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas.
Set up much the same way a sandwich shop is arranged, Ciao Baby! lets patrons build their own pizzas, which are then fired up and ready to go in a little over a minute. Gone are the days of waiting a half-hour or more for your classic pizzeria pie to be ready. Gone (gone!) are the days of getting full on soda while you wait or slyly topping complimentary crackers with powdered Parmesan cheese to sate your hunger.
In fact, by the time you sit down, your pizza will most likely be right there with you. Walk down a long counter that runs alongside one wall of the dining room, following as a Ciao Baby! employee prepares a pizza to your liking. Choose from three classic pizzas — Margherita, Bianca, and Marinara — and top this pizza base with cheeses, meats, and veggies. For those who aren't feeling so creative, Ciao Baby! has plenty of suggestions. More traditional pizzas with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and meats abound, but patrons will also find more adventurous options like the Bacon Ranch with bacon, chicken, ranch dressing, and cheddar cheese.
"Wood-fired pizza has been in our family for generations," says Adrian Arcuri, whose delightfully familiar Italian-American accent is more than a little reminiscent of The Sopranos. He moved here from Connecticut in 2011 to start a pizzeria with his wife Ashley. "This is the real deal," he says. "No frozen dough, no frozen cheese, no frozen sauce, no conveyor-belt oven. My oven is an authentic Neapolitan wood-fired oven."
That oven turns out what Arcuri calls "Vera Pizza Napoletana," which is an authentic (and highly protected) method of making pizza according to the traditions of Naples, Italy. The dough is made simply with water, flour, yeast, and sea salt. The crust is thin but not cracker-like; the inside is soft and pliant; and the crust is hearty.
For dessert, Ciao Baby! does authentic cannolis, dotted with chocolate chips and pistachios and wrapped in a pizzelle cookie instead of the traditional fried cannoli shell. For options beyond pizza, Arcuri has expanded the menu to include other wood-fired items like calzones, sandwiches, and hot wings. Soon, he says he'd like to include wood-fired bagels, a small, rustic type of bagel popular in Montreal.
"They're starting to do them all over New York now," Arcuri says. "It's unbelievable. It's great stuff."
Ciao Baby! is open every day for lunch and dinner.
Ciao Baby!, 890 W. Poplar, Suite 1, Collierville (457-7457) ciaobabypizza.com
The Arcuris will soon be in good company, as another quick-fire, custom pizzeria is set to open on Ridgeway Road later this summer. Pyro's, a new concept from Kirk Cotham and Chad Foreman, will take on the vibe of Swanky's Taco Shop, with a focus on gourmet, custom pizzas, craft beer on tap, and an atmosphere for hanging out.
Cotham and Foreman were also looking for a concept that could be duplicated in other locations, such as the spot they plan to open at 2035 Union near Overton Square later this year. If successful at these first two locations, Pyro's will expand to three or four locations in Memphis and then look beyond the Mid-South, Cotham says.
The thin-crust pizza will cook very quickly in the gas-fired oven and come out with a crispy bottom but stay moist throughout. Like Ciao Baby!, Pyro's will offer suggested topping combinations, including some unusual ones like the Shepherd's Pie with meat, potatoes, and a white sauce. But if you are particular about your pizzas, you can also build your own.
"The good thing about this place is, I can go with my wife, and I can get pepperoni and she can get chicken pesto," Cotham says. "And we both get exactly what we wanted, coming off the oven at the same time and served hot."
Pyro's will be open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and even have egg-based breakfast pizzas. Cotham isn't sure that the hours will be the same for each location he opens, but with the Park Place location, Pyro's enthusiasts will be able to get pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.