In cooking and in life, there are shortcuts, and there is a path that is longer, more challenging — and more rewarding. At Stanzione 87 in Brickell, where owners Franco and Ashley Stanzione pride themselves on following Neapolitan pizza-making traditions, shortcuts are not an option.
That means they let dough slow-ferment for days before it ever sees a lick of sauce. They cook pies in a domed, rocket-hot, wood-burning Italian oven. They make mozzarella from scratch every morning, hand-pulling it into dozens of pillowy rounds for that night’s dinner service.
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“I’m not a chef by any means; I just know how to make pizza,” the ever-humble Franco Stanzione said.
Raised in Brickell, trained in NYC
The Stanziones, both 28, grew up in Miami and started dating as high schoolers at Gulliver Prep. They stayed together through college in New York — she was an art-history and fine-arts major, he studied finance — and made plans to come home after graduation. A private-equity job that Franco Stanzione had lined up fell through, and he decided to seize the opportunity to create a business plan, find investors and open a pizzeria that honored his family’s Neapolitan heritage.
They opened the restaurant in early 2013, in the construction shadows of what’s now the bustling Brickell City Centre. Franco Stanzione had learned to make pizza at the hand of master pizzaiolo Giulio Adriani in New York, and he had grown up spending time in his uncle’s restaurants in Key Biscayne. The rest, the couple figured out along the way.
“It’s like when a baby is stuck under a car, and its mom finds the superhuman strength to lift up the car and save the baby. That’s sort of what happened with us and this restaurant,” Ashley Stanzione said. “It’s really hard work, trying to do everything the right way, but we love it. I’m so happy to come to work every single day, because I get to work with my best friend.”
Stanzione 87 makes romantic food
Part of doing things the right way, as Adriani instilled in Franco Stanzione, is using fresh mozzarella on Neapolitan pizzas. Stanzione makes about 80 pounds of mozzarella every morning, using nothing more than cheese curds, Sicilian sea salt and hot water.
“Because our pizza cooks so quickly, the integrity of the mozzarella remains intact and you can really taste it,” he said. “We have to make sure the quality is fantastic, so we make it ourselves. Who doesn’t want homemade mozzarella? It’s fresh, it’s romantic, and it shows the care that we put into our food.”
It’s a remarkably simple process, provided your hands can withstand some time submerged in very hot water (tip: wear latex gloves). Once you’ve gotten a hang of pulling and shaping your own cheese, it’s hard to imagine ever going back to store-bought for fresh caprese salads or pizza nights at home.
As for the Stanziones, they’re bringing their no-shortcut pizzas to The Citadel, the food hall opening later this year in Little River. And they have plans to keep growing their brand after that.
“We definitely want to open more restaurants,” Stanzione said. “With Neapolitan pizza, we’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re preserving an art form that’s been around for hundreds of years.”
Recipe: Stanzione 87’s Fresh Mozzarella
Makes about 10 balls
5 pounds fresh cheese curds (see note)
2 1/2 ounces coarse sea salt (about 70 grams)
8 cups water
- Bring water to a boil in a teapot. Meanwhile, crumble or grate the cheese curds into a large bowl, breaking them into pebble-size pieces. Sprinkle salt over the curds.
- Pour about half the hot water — just below boiling — into the bowl with the curds, trying not to pour directly onto the curds. Reserve the remaining hot water.
- Using two wooden spoons, work the curds as they soften in the water. Drain water from the bowl, then add the reserved water, reheated to near-boiling. Continue to work with the spoons until the cheese texture becomes smooth and melds together.
- Use your hands — the water is very hot; it helps to wear a pair of latex gloves — to pull and stretch the cheese. Shape the mozzarella into baseball-size balls, using a thumb and index finger to close them at the bottom.
- Place finished mozzarella balls into an ice-water bath to cool. They will keep for several days submerged in the ice-bath water, covered and refrigerated.
Note: Cheese curds available at Mimmo’s Mozzarella and Italian Market, 475 Northeast 123rd Street, North Miami; 305-351-6826.