by Julia Milano
Pizza, that delectable combination of tomatoes, crispy yet soft crust, melted cheese, savory meats and roasted vegetables.
Combined correctly, these ingredients can produce the most luscious of taste sensations. Theoretically, good pizza should be a umami experience whereby a fifth taste joins the expected flavors of bitter, salty, sweet and sour. Natural umami represents the taste of the amino acid L-glutamate which is naturally occurring in foods like mushrooms, vegetables, ripe tomatoes and aged products involving yeast or certain cheeses. Lifting another drippy bite to my mouth I reflect that without a doubt, this is the most umami pizza I have ever tasted, a true synergy of the five basic tastes.
Momentarily lifting eyes from my plate, I see Chef Anthony Valinoti, owner of DeLuca’s Pizzeria in Hot Springs and the creator of this ultimate gustatory experience, striding across the dining room. In his arms are two huge tubs of Pink Flamingo and Black Oyster mushrooms grown in nearby Benton. I motion Chef Valinoti over to thank him for his culinary genius and inquire how he achieves such an amazing synthesis of flavors.
“I deal with as many local farmers as possible and also import the highest quality of ingredients I can from Italy.”
The vegetarian pizza I am eagerly consuming contains locally grown heirloom tomatoes, arugula, onions, garlic and black oyster mushrooms. No flavor overwhelms the other and the crust made from King Arthur’s artisan flour, water and yeast has an ethereal yet solid delicacy which has been browned to perfection in Chef Valinoti’s brick oven. The whole milk mozzarella isn’t the least bit greasy and based on availability, DeLuca’s also offers fresh buffalo mozzarella. Hand-crafted from Italian tomatoes, and other seasonings, the pizza sauce is robust but not acidic. For those who like a protein packed pizza, there are an unusual array of high-quality meats to add-on including JV Farms’ homemade Italian fennel sausage, Pancetta from Butcher & Public in Little Rock and smoked beef from McClards.
In addition, Chef Valinoti uses Peppadew Peppers from South Africa, these piquant, sweet beauties don’t give me the slightest bit of indigestion. In fact, usually after consuming pizza, I feel sluggish and bloated. But DeLucca’s Pizza is so purely sourced and perfectly balanced that I don’t have my customary pizza hangover.
The menu also features an antipasto platter with homemade lemon or tomato vinaigrette and Arkansas spring mix salads. The simple one-page menu is a refreshing experience offering excellence and food made with love to discerning patrons.
Before energetically moving off to craft more of his magical pies, Chef Valinoti leaves me with these words, “Most people make you the kind of pizza you’re used to; I make you the kind of pizza I dream about.”
DeLuca’s Pizzeria is located at 407 Park Avenue, Hot Springs and is open Thursday through Sunday. Call 501-609-9002 as hours are variable.
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