How could a new pizza place possibly improve our scene? Given the lofty skills and rigid intention that goes into the best pizza here, how could a pizzeria, aside from bringing in a new style, elevate what we have? Our pizza makers seem to have seized every advantage. Grinding flour. Mixing grain. Dreaming up new topping combinations. But lucky for us, our pizza makers aren’t done finding limits to push.
For instance, the 1-year-old Mimi Forno Italiano has its own 5-year-old farm.
Both the pizzeria and its farm, Cavallo Vineyard, are in Laveen. The farm grows fruit, including figs, citrus, melon, prickly pear, and wine grapes. It also grows basil, arugula, onion, zucchini, and garlic. Owner Domenico Cavallo — who isn’t a lead cook, but isn’t above helping out in the kitchen on weekends — uses his own produce chiefly in specials from Friday to Sunday. In the future, Cavallo plans to pour the wine he makes.
His four-acre farm also grows 300 olive trees. Next year, he hopes to press, bottle, and use his own olive oil at Mimi.
Cavallo’s roots in agriculture go back further in time and place than Mimi. He grew up on a farm in Colliano, Salerno, where his mom still makes caciocavallo, a ball-shaped firm cheese. Salerno is in the Italian region of Campania — where the capital is Naples, birthplace of pizza. Given his bucolic past and proximity to the port city that served as pizza’s cradle, a farm furnishing a pizzeria baking Neapolitan-style pies is right on target for Cavallo.
Mimi Forno Italiano serves a range of Neapolitan pizzas. These pizzas hew closely to Neapolitan standards: high hydration (between 72 and 75 percent) for a soft bite, a puffy dough rim as the circumference, a soupy center, and a low-protein flour (00 Caputo) also working toward softness. In a spare but modern room, where liquor bottles gleam on uneven, tiered shelves above a bar angling toward a tiled pizza oven at back, Mimi also serves scratch-made pastas and other casual Italian dishes. Many, like fried calamari and arancini cored with ragù and risotto rice, are firmly in the pizzeria antipasto realm.
“When I decided to open my own restaurant,” Cavallo says, “I wanted to make 100 percent or very close to 100 percent Italian food, like my mother makes.”
For Cavallo, this includes classic dishes made in classic ways. It also includes strategic sourcing from his birth country. “I want to support my people from south Italy,” he says. Southern Italian sources supply his San Marzano tomatoes, Calabrian oregano, chiles, and many of his cheeses.
Even his oven comes from southern Italy. “The oven was imported from Naples,” he says, “from one of the best guys in Naples, who’s still building ovens at 83, 84 years old.” The oven is encased in coppery tiles, laid by Cavallo’s own hand. Pizzaioli feed the yawning oven olive wood, and often cuttings from citrus trees.
The food at Mimi brings a rustic, Old World comfort — just what you would expect from a Campanian farmer setting up on the outskirts of an Arizona metro area.
Arancini, for example, are almost the size of tennis balls. They come four to a plate, fried to a crisp surface so hot you need to wait for cooling. Fat short grains of rice in the molten middle ooze their natural creamy starches and cheese. The marinara dipping sauce is clean and light, straightway tomato soulfulness.
Pizza is 14-inch and round but almost squarely Neapolitan style.
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An anchovy pie used the tiny fillets sparsely, the hard marine salinity far from dominant. Mimi tops pies with ample mozzarella, contributing to the slight soupiness that pools at the pizza’s thin center. Basil leaves get a lot of deep color and flavor from an oil coating. Calabrian oregano generously peppers the surface, giving a wild lift and herbaceous swagger to match the anchovy. Crust is puffy and offers no resistance, a little too soft judging by our steep pizza curve. The intelligent use of toppings makes up for any small crust deficiencies.
This pizzeria should continue to grow as the farm does.
This month, the farm’s pumpkin crop has ripened, so Cavallo will be using it to create specials like pumpkin Caprese and swordfish with pumpkin risotto. If you’re in Laveen, hungry, and into pizza, Mimi Forno Italiano is worth a stop. If only to travel a welcome new path being quietly charted in our robust pizza culture. If only to come back again in a few years again, and to see where that path leads.
Mimi Forno Italiano.
3624 West Baseline Road, #174, Laveen; 602-368-4612.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday