What is old is made new again in the Coastal Empire. What was once our favorite pizza in Savannah in times long past is now triumphantly reborn to be declared, henceforth, the current best pizza to be found around town. Come along with me, and I will show you the…well, you know.
Seldom does anything happen in Savannah that generates measurable excitement around the Coastal Emperor offices like what took place this summer with the opening of the much anticipated Starland Yard. The Yard, as I will henceforth call it, deserves and might get its own post, but I wanted to now simply set the stage for the following paragraphs. Located next to Two Tides Brewery and around the corner from Back in the Day Bakery, the Yard is a re-purposed collection of shipping containers built around a space for food trucks to park and serve people. There is space to play boccie and corn-hole, a bar, and, most importantly, one stand-alone restaurant run by none other than lauded recipient of much Coastal Emperor praise: Chef and Pizzaiolo Kyle Jacovino.
If you open the annals of recent Savannah culinary history (which you can do here and here) you will learn of a restaurant called The Florence that opened to great fanfare many moons ago, but has since faded into memory. Some found The Florence to be an exciting innovation much needed and much looked for in the humid vapors of our swamp. Others frowned upon the establishment for reasons that are easily dismissed as provincial or petty. What is pertinent to our discourse today is that The Florence was home to a young chef Name Jacovino, who had a wood-fired oven out of which he produced incredible Neapolitan style pizzas. Those pizzas were delicious and popular, and when the Florence closed its doors, those same pizzas were feared to be lost to history.
During the dark period that followed, the pizza crown was deservedly lifted onto the heads of the Big Bon family and their mobile pizza operation; an outfit anchored by a wood-fired oven out of which came exceptional Neapolitan style pizzas. Big Bon grew and continues to impress especially now that the pizza operation has a semi-permanent home at the Heritage Family’s separate business, Big Bon Bodega, with its own oven where they cook fine bagels instead of pizzas. It was in fact Mrs. Kay of Big Bon who told us one day in casual conversation that Jacovino was looking to kick tires and light fires at his own brick-and-mortar pizzeria. At the time, we thought this was only rumor and though we had hope, it was a fool’s hope.
Yet, the rumors grew and became part of the story of Starland Yard, which for what seemed liked a very long time was just an empty lot… then a stack of empty shipping containers. Could anything really come of such a mess? Finally, almost overnight, an Instagram account appeared announcing the imminent arrival of a little (and I mean that literally) place called Vittoria Pizzeria (interestingly, Vittoria was also a potential name for the restaurant that became The Florence back when Hugh Acheson was the big name attached to things.) Around that time Kyle Jacovino’s own Instagram started showing pictures of pizzas in progress. Our excitement went through the roof when those accounts showed the oven itself, an Acunto Napoli, built in Naples, making its way to the Coastal South.
Now, the story is complete and Vittoria Pizzeria is open in Starland Yard and Chef Jacovino is back to doing one of the things he does best—make outstanding pizza. Vittoria is not so much brick-and-mortar as it is cut metal, being itself built of out of stacked shipping containers like the rest of the Yard. Space is thus limited in the actual restaurant, but this only adds to the effect. You are right next to the oven and the prep area as you eat, making you an intimate participant (albeit as a consumer) in the pizza ballet taking place around you.
Vittoria means “victory” in Italian, and the pizza is truly victorious. Back when we first ate at the Florence, the first pizza we ever tried was one called Lorraine. That name has familial significance to us so we ordered based on that fact alone. That pizza instantly became one of my favorites anywhere and of any style, with its perfectly cooked crust (bubbled and pleasantly charred) and its array of mozzarella and ricotta, meatballs and marinara, and supremely spicy, whole Calabrian chilies. Thankfully, that pizza was apparently significant to Kyle as well because it, along with other home-runs from the old days, is back on the menu at Vittoria. Thus, on our first outing to the yard, the Lorraine was again our first order. This time though, like all the the Vittoria pizzas, the dough is even better. Naturally fermented (yes!) and a blend of 00 and spelt flours, it has a flavor and a texture that makes it literally as exciting to eat plain as it is to eat with toppings. In other words, there should be no errant crusts left on the plate at the end of a meal.
Even though Vittoria itself is small, they are an integral part of the Yard which manifests itself in the existence of a carry-out window where one can simply order a pizza (or three, as in our case) and sit anywhere in the Yard or in the wider world to chow down. Our first visit was during a Saturday at lunch service when the inside wasn’t open, so we ordered our pies and then had a seat at the neighboring bar. This will certainly be a popular move when the weather if fine. We feasted upon the aforementioned Lorraine, which remains my favorite, but also sampled the Margherita and the Siciliana. The Marg was spot on and a perfect example of the form. A classic for a reason, Vittoria’s version is further elevated by the amazing dough and the skill of the team at the oven. At 11$, you really would be hard-pressed not to order one every time no matter what else you go with. We loved the Siciliana too, with its brighter, umami-packed blend of olives, capers, lemon, and anchovies. I’m no fool, and I know how people in Savannah eat, so I fear for this pie’s longevity. I hope it makes the cut long term, because it proved to be our second favorite not just that day, but later after further eating of the menu.
On our return visit, we came for dinner service to experience the full menu because there are indeed other treats to be had within. There was a young lady just outside the container who took our name and then came to get us when a table freed up, which didn’t take long (granted this was a Wednesday night. I have no doubts Friday and Saturday might prove more of a temporal challenge.) We started with two of the bruschetta, which are big slices of phenomenal bread (made in house like the pizza dough) toasted and topped then baked in the oven. Of the four options, we chose the meatball parm and the pulpo, because as readers of this blog know, when I see octopus, I order octopus. Also, at both The Florence and during his tenure at 1540 Room, Kyle executed memorable tentacular dishes. This go round though, the meatball parm was the clear winner (meatballs almost always are.) The pulpo was good, but the octopus didn’t really stand out over the bread itself, which one could call a First World problem to be sure.
I also ordered from the salad options, choosing to go with the classic Ceasar. I appreciated that it included a good anchovy flavor but I must admit I was a little disappointed at the size. The salad is priced currently at $8 and it is a significantly smaller plate of food than one would expect for that price. We were sitting next to one of the inevitable Bachelorette parties that plague this city, and those females were practically apoplectic when they saw how small their salads were compared to the price. My Ceasar was tasty though.
Kyle mentioned that within the first week the La Diavola pizza had been the most popular, so we ordered that one on our second visit and could see why people liked it. Topped with sausage and soppresseta, it skews close to a traditional flavor profile of a pepperoni pizza (of which there is a version itself on the menu) with just enough wildcard element in the inclusion of those awesome Calabrian chilies. I liked it, but much preferred the other pies. We couldn’t help ourselves and halfway through the meal ordered another pizza, this time electing the quattro formagi (four cheese) a white pie which surprised with the inclusion of what I reckon was gorganzola. It would be a good counter balance to the Lorraine or the Siciliana.
Finally, if all that wasn’t enough, there are $2 scoops of ice cream available. We had pistachio and cherry respectively and loved ever bite, especially since they came served with some of the best biscotti I’ve ever had (though, in all fairness, I haven’t had many.) Once again I was struck by just how much the bread-part of the dish stood out. It certainly is true that great things must be built on a firm foundation.
We still love Big Bon, and will still continue to frequent their pop-ups (particularly when they partner with Leopold’s Ice Cream) but the crown of best Pizza in Savannah, the Coastal Empire, and perhaps beyond has once again been reclaimed by Kyle Jacovino with the inspiring gem that is Vittoria Pizzeria.
The Coastal Emperor is please. Buon Appetito.