Las Vegas’s pizza IQ has increased by cheesy leaps and bready bounds over the past 5 years. Franchised dreck (or Radio City dreck….or even the sadly declined Due Forni drivel) just won’t cut it anymore. Between the seminal slabs of Settebello succulence and the passionate pies of Pop-Up Pizza, true aficionados of artisanal pizzas now have multiple places to go when they’re craving top shelf ingredients displayed on superlative crusts.
Into this mix has stepped Novecento — a wood-fired operation (yes, they use nothing but wood to heat their ovens just like Settebello) — a place that both impressed our very own young Wilburn, and seeks to challenge Settebello’s hegemony in the authenticity department.
As good as Novecento’s product is, some of ELV’s loyal readers weren’t that impressed:
“…cannot compete with Settebello for that sweet, buttery, chewy, charred-on-the-bottom work-of-art they make,” said Jeff.
“Can’t shine a candle to Settebello,” chimed Joseph.
So, unlike most lazy ass writers (and believe us, ELV is perfectly capable of being a lazy ass writer) Eating Las Vegas took these statements as a challenge.
And by “challenge” we mean we decided to taste test pizza margheritas from each of these establishments in a side-by-side showdown (sort of) in a single afternoon.
We began by dropping in on Novecento’s newly opened Henderson location, where we polished off one of their 12″ $12 beauties in about 12 seconds.
Then it was down the road to Settebello’s Green Valley operation where a similar beauty hit our table less than five minutes after ordering it. (And less than 20 minutes after we’d eaten the first one.)
The size of the pies and prices are about the same, so what follows is our tasting notes from the taste test. Like us, you will be pretty surprised by a few things.
Let’s start with the crust, shall we?
Three components always come to mind when evaluating pizza crust: its construction (recipe), flavor and performance. We shall now evaluate these variables individually and, in rating overall deliciousness, their totality.
Crust construction — Settebello uses OO Caputo flour from Italia; Novecento uses an American brand that is less expensive and which Chef Marc swears is just as good.
Crust flavor — Settebello’s has the tang of long-fermented sourdough; Novecento’s is no slouch either — getting at least a solid 12-18 hour fermentation (according to the batch) according to Chef Marc. But it tasted breadier without the same degree of ever-so-slight sourness connoisseurs crave.
Crust performance — Settebello’s is the sturdier and crispier — retaining its shape under whatever blanket of ingredients it is draped in. But Novecento’s is more authentically Neapolitan — both spongier and likely to become lost in a pool of liquid after it is served.
Judging all three of these components together, we at ELV give the crust nod to Settebello by the width of a wheat stalk.
Tomato sauce — Both are fresh and bright with the flavor of good, ripe tomatoes and little else. Settebello’s is saltier, and also flecked with basil-infused top notes. Novecento’s tastes like the best friggin’ fresh tomato sauce you’ve ever had. A toss up.
Cheese flavor and texture — Settebello got more rubbery as you chewed it. “This cheese is an insult to all their other ingredients,” is how the Food Gal® put it. Novecento’s fermented curd tasted of true, fresh, watery, water buffalo mozz — clean, milky and slightly sour — just like it does in Italia. Big nod to Novecento on this one.
Getting a woodie, i.e., does the wood make it good? — Neither pie is overwhelmed by smokiness; both showed off their woodsy side subtly, and in perfect balance with the other flavors. Another toss up.
Umami bomb factor — A tough call. Settebello’s pie is saltier; Novecento’s cleaner and brighter tasting. We’ll score it a 10-9 round for Novecento — based upon a single point deduction for the crappy mouth feel of Settebello’s cheese.
Appearance — Another tough call. It is true that Settebello’s crust holds up better, but in Naples they love that watery mess that develops in the pan. “You could row a canoe from one side of these pizzas to the other,” is how Alan Richman put it years ago after touring the famous pizzerias of Naples. Both Chef Marc and our staff suggest turning what looks like a liquid disaster into the tastiest dipping sauce you’ll ever find for all those bits of leftover crust….and they would be right.
Who wins, you ask?
Well, as with any championship bout, you can’t dance with the champ, you’ve got to knock him down. Novecento didn’t score a clean knock out (or a knock down) over Settebello, but it went toe-to-toe without giving ground.
It’s kinda like the Thrilla in Manila 38 years ago this week:
Frazier won the fight, but Ali was the one standing at the end.
And the next time we go out for pizza, we’re going to Novecento.
NOVECENTO PIZZERIA (2 locations)
5705 Centennial Center Blvd. Suite 170
Las Vegas, NV 89149
9460 South Eastern Ave.
140 South Green Valley Parkway
Henderson, NV 89012