In North Scottsdale, in an area most known for its luxury condos, well-tended golf courses, and boutique shops, Lamp's pizza oven may be the neighborhood's most primitive attraction. Covered in an armor of shiny red tiles, it transforms bolts of wood into flickering flames and blistering heat, fervently churning out rustic pies with bready crusts charred and crisp at the rim, thin and soft in the center.
Which isn't to say this bastion of artisan pizzas doesn't have a pedigree behind it.
Chef Matt Pilato studied Neapolitan pizza-making at the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli Academy in San Francisco. Along with his wife, Lindsay, the two opened Lamp Wood Oven Pizzeria in the fall of 2011, its name an acronym for Lindsay and Matt Pilato.
Pilato doesn't quite adhere to the strict Neapolitan pizza standard, preferring instead to combine some of its techniques with his own style. The result is nearly 20 varieties of red and white artisan 12-inch pies, delicate yet able to be laden with top-notch ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, hand-stretched mozzarella, and sausages prepared by DeFalco's Italian Deli & Grocery in Scottsdale. The pizzas probably won't be causing Chris Bianco any sleepless nights, but they are some of the Valley's best.
There is a good, earthy mushroom creation, with handfuls of wood-roasted criminis and portobellos snuggled between bubbles of bright white ricotta, and a grilled vegetable pizza whose colorful mass of red peppers, eggplant, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, and red onion melded with gooey mozzarella tastes lighter than it appears to be.
And although the aptly named Gem gets its name from a well-balanced combination of meat, cheese, and garlic atop a luscious red tomato sauce, you couldn't be blamed for plucking the pepperoni off to enjoy on its own. With edges curled from the heat, each tiny, crisp-lipped cup comes with a few drops of grease in the center for hot, salty, oily bites of pepperoni you may be hard-pressed to enjoy any other way.
Going the more traditional route with Pilato's pizza selections is gratifying, but there certainly isn't anything wrong with taking a more inventive flavor path. In fact, it may be what he does best. His Dirty Little York pie, which brings together spicy sopressata, sharp provolone, heady roasted artichoke hearts and red peppers, and thin strands of red onion, is more sophisticated than its moniker might lead you to believe. Its well-balanced array of flavors is an exercise in pizza elegance. And if it's spiciness you crave, you could do worse than a journey to southern Italy's Calabria region in the form of a near-glowing orange pie called the Kicker. If the fiery Calabrian peppers and cayenne pepper-laced salami aren't enough to coax a bead or two of sweat from your brow, there's an optional side of Calabrian oil whose hell-hot bite should do the trick.
On evenings when the demand for pizzas necessitates a wait time, which happens frequently, or if you simply want a bit of pre-show before the main attraction, you could order an appetizer or salad — although the selections aren't as foolproof as the pies.
The most interesting thing about the uninteresting zucchini cakes is their lively, zig-zaggy streak of basil aioli. The same could be said of the meatballs, whose meaty yet under-seasoned flavor is helped to some extent by a bright homemade tomato sauce. Better is a starter-size slice of fresh and very cheesy eggplant Parmigiana. But the best of the bunch, hands down, is the mignulata, the hearty Sicilian bread filled with Italian sausage, cauliflower florets, and pecorino cheese. Made with Pilato's pizza dough, the thick slices, crunchy on the outside and moist, meaty, and cheesy within, taste as if they could have come out of any kitchen in Sicily.
If, like mine, your grilled vegetable salad contains a few lonely grilled vegetables hiding under a garden of mixed greens, you should probably skip it in lieu of the more flavorful grapes and Gorgonzola salad studded with toasted pine nuts and drizzled in honey. Or better yet, there's the tomato and mozzarella. Unlike the typical presentation of red and white rows of sliced ingredients, Lamp's concoction tosses seasonal tomatoes, orbs of mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil with toasted pieces of crostini and then sprinkles them in balsamic for light and refreshing bites with a crunch.
For dessert, there is a pizza made with nearly a jarful of Nutella and several slices of caramelized bananas that arrives as black as sin and is almost too cloying for its own good. More manageable are a few milkshakes, with the option of boozy accompaniments, and a creamy ricotta cheesecake with a biscotti crust topped with a thick, fig-Sambuca sauce. You could swear you were eating the pie version of a Fig Newton.
Lamp is a casual yet refined space, a small low-lit room of white painted brick neatly appointed with wood tables, accents of red, and graphic artwork of lamps. Its well-heeled, Boomer patrons in polo shirts and flowing, easy dresses settle in to the sounds of soft classic rock, sip glasses of Prosecco, and chat with nonchalant servers, who, like themselves, don't appear pressed for time.
In the center of it all, at Lamp's heart, is the oven, its fiery flames a reminder of why they came in the first place, and its bounty settling in their stomachs for the sleepy ride home.