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Dining A La King: Venturi's pizza brings Napoli to Goshen

Justin Venturi doesn't want to make Midwestern pizza or Chicago-style pizza. He wants to make Neapolitan pizza and that's why what he's serving in the 45-seat restaurant at 123 E. Lincoln Ave., Goshen, isn't the same as what you find at other pizza places locally.
Marshall King
Posted on March 7, 2011 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on March 7, 2011 at 3:27 a.m.

Justin Venturi doesn't want to make Midwestern pizza or Chicago-style pizza.

He wants to make Neapolitan pizza and that's why what he's serving in the 45-seat restaurant at 123 E. Lincoln Ave., Goshen, isn't the same as what you find at other pizza places locally.

It has a thinner crust. It has unconventional toppings. It's about 12 inches across and comes on a plate.

It cooks in about a minute in the wood-fired oven that's at least 800 degrees, so it may have a bit of charring on the puffed, outside crust.

And it's really good.

Venturi fell in love with this style of pizza while working on a New Jersey farm as a bread baker. A shop in Point Pleasant, N.J., started making such pizzas. "Something clicked," he said.

That was about 10 years ago. Falling in love with a woman on the farm brought him back to her northern Indiana hometown of Wawaka. He worked at Citrus, Oakwood Inn and then Il Forno before opening his own wood-fired pizza shop in Shipshewana. Last year, he worked with Eric Kanagy and Troy Pippenger to offer such pizza from Il Forno, a downtown Goshen restaurant that doesn't usually use wood firing.

The Elkhart County Health Department closed the Mondays at Il Forno co-op the day my column about it ran because of a licensing issue. But by then, Kanagy, Pippenger and Venturi had a taste of what they wanted and worked to open another place.

They bought the building at 123 E. Lincoln. With Adam Scharf joining as an owner, they remodeled the space to create what they're calling a "Neapolitian pizza pub."

Venturi oversees the open kitchen and oven and works 13-hour days to make the food. The other three work as managers and handle other parts of the business. The collaboration's result is a funky place with great food and some new things for Elkhart County.

The servers place orders with iPhones, using an app Justin created. The orders appear on a screen in the kitchen and he starts making the food. The orders for beer, wine or mixed drinks appear on a screen behind the bar.

The ingredients are simple. The process to turn them into a pizza isn't.

Justin makes dough from the double zero flour and lets it work over time. He gets fior di latte, which is fresh mozzarella different from the shredded form of the cheese. And the tomatoes are San Marzano, a form favored by many pizza makers.

An Italian federation certifies Neapolitan pizzas made with specific ingredients and following established processes. Justin is hoping to get that certification for his margherita and marinara pizzas, but needs to find tomatoes that are certified first.

"There's not too many in the middle of the country doing this style of pizza," he said.

Whether the pizza gets certified, he's a pizzaiolo -- a guy who's following a craft and putting his soul into his food.

The menu is growing and changing, but is still small.

Two salads are part of the menu now. The one made with sliced fennel, blood oranges, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Grana Padano cheese ($7.95) is a plate full of balanced, light flavors that sing together.

The garlic flatbread ($3.95) is simply dough with herbs, good olive oil and sea salt, but the flavors produced from them in a hot oven are stunningly good. I only wish the portion was a tad bigger or the price was smaller.

The 10 or so pizza options come configured, so to speak, with various ingredients. My favorite, though it's not on the menu at the moment, has brussel sprouts and pancetta, a form of Italian bacon. The margherita with basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella is stellar as well. The only one that felt like it has almost too much going on was the Capricciosa with artichoke hearts, olives, mushrooms, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella ($14.95).

The major difference between this pizza and the pizzas most of us have eaten is how light it is. But it's incredibly satisfying because of how good the building blocks and Justin's skills are.

Kanagy said he's eating it almost daily and not tiring of it. "That's why I did this," Kanagy said of all the work.

The pizza cooks quickly, but the wait for one has been significant at times because of how busy the restaurant has been since it opened the beginning of January. "People have been understanding," Kanagy said.

Not everyone likes this style of pizza. And not everyone will want to pay $6.95 to $14.95 for a plate-sized pizza that's not laden with a lot of ingredients. But plenty do, including kids. Kanagy said he's seen kids' faces turn from dubious to delighted.

The beer list of great microbrews has grown and now the wine list needs to, as well. The panna cotta and tiramisu are both really good and I look forward to other desserts coming out of the kitchen. At some point, the owners may offer lunch but aren't ready to yet.

Kanagy said he is excited for how people will flow from Venturi, Il Forno, Kelly Jae's and other places. "The more restaurants we have downtown the better we all do," he said.

Venturi is a great addition to the mix -- something funky and different, but with great flavors and a group of young owners who want to make it fun.

QUICK BITES

* Adam's Bistro is open in the food court at Concord Mall. Adam and Maggie Williams' restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and offers salads, burgers, sandwiches, desserts and specials, including jambalaya. Catering is available, as well as a banquet room at the mall. Unique Blend, the couple's other restaurant, is still open at 805 Bower St., Elkhart.

* Fritz's Pie Shoppe is having its grand opening this week. Fritz Huser, former owner of County Seat, has a shop next door offering baked goods. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 9 to noon Saturday. Phone: 574-533-6500.

* Lent starts Wednesday, which means that Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday is tomorrow. Paczkis, or the Polish filled doughnuts, are available locally at a few places, including Dutch Maid Bakery, according to owner Marilee Nixon. Are you giving up anything food-related for Lent? Feel free to let me know at mking@etruth.com.

* Perkins Restaurant & Bakery will have an event March 21 at its restaurants nationally to raise money for Give Kids The World, a nonprofit that helps kids with life-threatening illnesses. Pancakes will be free, but donations will be accepted. The Elkhart location is at 107 North Pointe Blvd.

* Restaurants are making plans for St. Patrick's Day, which falls on a Thursday this year. At Constant Spring the day marks its fifth anniversary and owner Jason Oswald said their will be a celebration including corned beef and cabbage. A lot of other places are planning to simmer the Irish-American dish for that day as well. Fiddler's Hearth, 127 N. Main St., South Bend, is having a four-course Irish meal on Thursday. The cost is $55 per person.

Marshall V. King is news and multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@etruth.com or on Twitter @hungrymarshall.

IF YOU GO

What: Venturi

Where: 123 E. Lincoln Ave., Goshen

Fare: Wood-fired pizza, salads, desserts

Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4 to 11 Friday and Saturday

Details: Credit cards accepted; handicapped accessible, though ramp up front step not yet installed; beer, wine and liquor available; no smoking; kid-friendly.

On the web: eatventuri.com

Phone: 485-2985



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