Hopping onto the biggest trend in pizza, Fort Worth gets its own Neapolitan-style pizzeria with the opening of Cane Rosso on Magnolia Avenue, in the old Ryan’s Fine Grocer space.
Lift your nose and you might catch a whiff of the pizza’s toasty aroma as it bakes in its wood-burning oven, until its crust turns puffy and brown. Spy the line of customers winding around the back of the restaurant, eager to indulge in signature pies such as the Delia and the Paulie Gee. Observe the cars circling the small parking lot, desperate to get a space close in. (Those in the know head straight for the parking garage at Magnolia and Alston.)
The Fort Worth Cane Rosso has received the same frenzied reception as its two sibling locations in Dallas’ Deep Ellum and White Rock Lake. If anything, Fort Worth may have been more primed, having enjoyed two years of Cane Rosso doing a mobile truck pop-up at Times Ten Cellars and the Swiss Pastry Shop.
Neapolitan-style pizza is the real deal, originating in Naples, Italy, and it has become the benchmark of pizza across the country. Cane Rosso’s adherence to the requirements has earned it a certification by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana at its two Dallas branches. They use flour and tomatoes imported from Italy, and bake their pizzas in a 900-degree wood-burning oven. Such certification guarantees a certain level of consistency.
But Cane Rosso goes the extra distance with top-of-the-line ingredients. In place of pedestrian pepperoni, it uses Italian meats such as soppressata and prosciutto. Cheese is made in-house or imported specially, like the traditional Mozzarella di Bufala. It’s an artisanal approach that transforms pizza from cheap fast food into a meal to be savored.
Those accustomed to a pizza with a firm, crisp bottom carrying a heap of toppings will find a Neapolitan-style pizza to be an adjustment. It’s a lighter, more delicate experience, with toppings scattered strategically rather than piled on.
The crust is phenomenal. It’s allowed to proof slowly for more than 24 hours, so it develops a salty, sourdough tang. Once baked, it offers wonderful flavors and textures: airy and crunchy around the edge, with crusty spots that have been browned from exposure to the wood-burning fire. At the center, the crust is thin and pliable. You fold it over or eat it with a fork and knife.
The classic is the Margherita ($12) with tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese. Add sausage and you have the Emma ($14); add soppressata and you have the Ella ($14) — both pizzas named after the daughters of Cane Rosso founder Jay Jerrier. Other pizzas on the menu are named after his dogs. (Cane Rosso means “red dog.”)
But Jerrier has created a few items specifically for the Fort Worth branch, such as the Gipsy Danger ($16). It features a spicy, sweet-and-savory combination of toppings including dabs of creamy white mozzarella, mushrooms, sweet and hot roasted jalapeños, and a soppressata “marmalade” that is like a sweet jam with spicy bits of sausage.
He also offers a luscious meatball lasagna ($15) for dinner Friday and Saturday, with house-made meatballs in a rich Bolognese sauce with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Fort Worth has responded far more eagerly than its siblings to Cane Rosso’s non-pizza offerings such as pastas and sandwiches. The Cuban ($12) was a huge affair, big enough for two to split, with sliced pork, prosciutto and Swiss cheese layered on crusty house-made rolls.
Pastas often include nightly specials such as one night’s recent fettuccine ($15) with pancetta, mushrooms and red onion in a pesto cream sauce.
Of the dozen or so starters and salads, don’t miss the fried artichokes ($8) with artichoke hearts, dredged in a light coat of corn meal and fried until golden. They came with a spicy aioli, but were good enough to eat solo.
Winning the prize for most decadent was the burrata ($12), a fist-size ball of creamy, stretchy cheese accompanied by two bitter greens, arugula and rapini. You take one of the toasts provided and spread it with cheese, then a sprig of greens. The sharpness from the greens provides an ideal counterpoint to the cheese’s richness.
Desserts such as tiramisu ($8) and an over-the-top s’mores calzone ($10), with a fat turnover fashioned from pizza dough and filled with chocolate and marshmallows, make it hard to pick one. A good item for the table to share is the zeppole ($10), moist, eggy Italian doughnuts drenched in powdered sugar and served with a dark chocolate sauce.
Cane Rosso’s pizza team includes Dino Santonicola, a native of Naples, Italy, who has been a pizzaiolo for 20 years, and Shon Ben-Kely, who oversees the gleaming white-and-red-tiled domed oven that forms the centerpiece of the restaurant. A granite bar with high stools forms a U around the oven, a catbird seat for those who like to watch the action. Aside from the residual polished concrete floor, it’s hard to tell that this nicely furnished, darkly lit space, with its friendly, responsive staff, was formerly a grocery. A wall of windows runs along Magnolia, providing passersby a view of the liveliness within.