Can you imagine winning a Grammy but having to turn it down? That wasn’t exactly the case with Frank P. Nattle Jr. of the soon to be Brick Oven Pizza spot on Bridge Street but he still had quite a predicament. Frank was awarded Main Line Today‘s “Best Margherita Pizza – Philadelphia, Western Suburbs” in 2011 but couldn’t officially accept the recognition.
At the time, Frank was making his deliciously authentic pizza specialties at the late Brick Oven Bread & Cheese Shop that once occupied the storefront where Soltane Breads & Spreads currently resides. Although he didn’t own the Bread & Cheese Shop, Frank addressed the business operator, Jerry Sheehan, with a request to use the unique oven in an effort to perfect his craft.
Frank, bringing his own ingredients and a specially formulated recipe, started giving out pizzas at First Fridays. They were a hit so it led to other First Fridays and eventually Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. He got the oven at 5 pm and cranked out around 75 freshly made pizzas for his guests that evening. Unfortunately, just when things got rolling and he was informed of the incredible award, Brick Oven Bread & Cheese went out of business.
The series of events turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After seeing demand elevate so quickly at the Brick Oven Shop, Frank was motivated to open his own store and thus Vecchia Wood Fired Pizzeria Napoletana was born at 249 Bridge Street. The doors aren’t officially open but Frank anticipates once the handmade oven and butcher block tables are completed, they’ll be cranking out authentic pizzas, hopefully before the end of June. He plans on creating the tasty 13 inch pies, which will range from $9 to $15 dollars, according to the true Naples’ standards and he’s off to a good start. The unique components going into every aspect of this pizzeria will truly make it one of kind.
Vecchia’s oven wasn’t crafted by any old stone mason. Two artisans, one of which has bragging rights for building the largest brick oven in the world, made the trip from Italy to construct the massive pizza oven. On top of the impressive craftsmanship behind this structure, it is being built with stone from Mount Vesuvius, but that’s not the only cameo this famous volcanic mountain made at Vecchia. The San Marzano tomatoes used for the pizza sauce are known for growing in the rich volcanic soil. The large tomato growing region pumps out the red fruit by the masses and due to the unique location, they are sweeter than usual. This means, when Frank whips together a batch of the sauce, he only adds salt.
“The thing with Italian cooking is you want the absolute best ingredients you can get, very few extras added, keep it simple and cook it fast. That’s what this oven does. It gives the pizza a different characteristic. It’s so hot it actually blisters the pizza so you taste a slight burn but with a marshmallow texture.”
The oven can reach an impressive 1000 degrees and crank out one of the blistered pizzas in only 90 seconds. When the structure is really blazing at the highest heat, which takes six hours to achieve, it’s only a mere 60 seconds before you’re able to enjoy the Italian cuisine.
Keeping with the Italian tradition, Frank uses the only acceptable flour, Caputo, and will introduce his menu to the public with standard but flavorful selections like the Original Margherita. The soon to be pizza shop owner whose ancestry derives from Caserta, Italy, received a lot of inspiration and advice from the famous Keste Pizzeria of NYC, including the authentic Naples recipe. It doesn’t get more true to form than that!
Frank promises that Vecchia will be open 7 days a week at 249 Bridge Street for lunch and dinner. Guests can grab an old time glass soda bottle from the pizzeria’s cooler or bring their own beer and wine to wash down the authentic pies. Lunch specials may also be available once Vecchia is up and running.
Keep an eye out for Frank to open his doors to the public in the next couple of weeks with room for 24 seated guests. Since the hand placed tile was getting finished when I visited, there was no way to fire up the wood and get a pizza cooking in the oven for me to taste. I will certainly be one of the first to bite into Frank’s Italian cuisine as soon as it’s ready and won’t hesitate to share the saucy details!