1905 N. Orange Ave. | 407-237-0921 | wolfiespizzamia.com | $$
Through all the great meals I’ve enjoyed and the lousy ones I’ve regretted, I can’t deny, nor overlook, White Wolf Café’s independent spirit and culinary legacy in this city. The Ivanhoe Village stalwart has served as a locus for Orlando’s anti-chain, pro-homegrown restaurant movement for the better part of two decades – and for that, owner Michael Hennessey and, in recent years, chef Jason Schofield deserve full credit. Now the pair has embarked on a bold new venture just a few doors down with Wolfies Pizzamia, and it’s unquestionably one of the best restaurants to open this year.
As much as we enjoyed chef Schofield’s rustic Italian fare, the decor made its own impression: With its patchwork of rugs, butcher-block tables, stained glass windows and antique mahogany furnishings, Wolfies is startlingly reminiscent of a quaint restaurant in Bologna we dined in last year. Wolfies feels as though it’s steeped in history – a place where generations of culinarians have honed their craft before bequeathing perfected recipes to their current keepers.
Schofield is the first to helm Pizzamia’s kitchen, but he employs time-honored methods to serve his patrons. Yes, hand-tossed pizzas are a major draw, but Schofield is big on nose-to-tail dining and worked to become a deft dry-curer, proficient pasta-maker and maestro del formaggio, so there’s more here than just pies.
Toward the back of the restaurant, dangling from strings, are various house-cured meats, which find their way onto the salumi platter ($10) of lonza (pork loin), prosciutto, soppressata, bresaola and speck. Our faves: wispy slices of salty bresaola and saltier lonza – though, really, we could’ve snacked on any of them for hours. Stuffed olives and artisanal bread served with creamy “pig butter” (rendered lard) accompany the meats, which were presented on fish-and-chips paper. Schofield’s dedication to in-house charcuterie deserves kudos; temperature and humidity are key factors in properly curing such meats, and in warm, muggy Florida, that’s no easy task.
Schofield uses scraps and trimmings from Mangalitsa and Hereford hogs, along with beef and veal, to make the meatballs in his version of spaghetti and meatballs ($13). The meatballs were great, but we were blown away by the linguine and marinara and how those simple flavors and textures evoked memories of the pasta we enjoyed on a speeding Milan-bound train. A bowl of thick split-pea soup ($3) and a peppery arugula salad ($9; $6 half) with just the right amount of garlicky zest would surely gratify vegetarians, as will any number of their doughy-crusted pizzas. We opted for the meaty 18-inch Wolfies pizza ($18) ourselves. The oh-so-good mix of bresaola, gorgonzola and fennel justified the beefed-up price.
Another justification: good customer service. Even in the midst of prepping for an after-close private event, Schofield took the time to explain the cuts of meat and his curing technique. That sort of attitude appears to have filtered down to the waitstaff, as all our servers were very accommodating and cordial. So even though house-made tiramisu ($5) and zeppoles ($5) failed to elicit the same effusive reaction as our appetizers and mains, we savored each and every bite in an effort to prolong our stay and enjoy this inviting space just a little bit longer.