Bufalina has set a new bar for Neapolitan pizza in Austin


When I heard Bufalina planned to open at 1519 E. Cesar Chavez St. about three months ago, I wondered what design ideas ownership had for the vacant, former auto shop I’d visited during the East Austin Studio Tour.

The answer: Not much. And that’s a good thing.

The Neapolitan pizza place lets its food make the biggest impression. Owner Steven Dilley installed some handsome wooden shelving and added a complementary bar and tables made of Texas walnut, but the walls remain a plaster patchwork, small pieces of art dotting them like during EAST. It’s a modest workman-like vibe that echoes the building’s history.

The biggest design element: a large, white-bricked oven shipped from Naples, Italy. It does most of the work in this small restaurant that seats about 40 people. It looks like an igloo, but it burns like the sun, turning out the best Neapolitan pizza in Austin. (Note: Neapolitan pizza is wetter in the center and puffier around the edges than the thin and crunchy New York-style pizzas you’ll find at places like Home Slice or Little Deli.)

University of Texas graduate Dilley left his job in algorithmic equities trading in New York City several years ago and moved back to Austin. He’d spent years in NYC playing around with pizza-making as a hobby and headed to Naples to observe the masters and refine his technique in preparation for opening his own place.

His studies paid off. The gorgeous pies at Bufalina have an excellent balance of yeast and dough, making for an evenly cooked pie with gentle rise and charred, bubbled edges. The pliant pizzas are slightly chewy and evenly cooked throughout, holding up under the weight of their fresh ingredients. Tables are set with fork and knife, but I had no trouble eating the slices by hand, folding them over into mini calzones.

Creamy pools of melted mozzarella suspended like full moons in crimson tomato sauce top a calabrese pizza ($14), with smoky roasted red peppers and the salty tang of salami crisped at the edges. Bufalina serves cured meat from Iowa’s renowned La Quercia and uses their nduja (a spicy, spreadable pork sausage) in judicious amounts to bring a counter kick to the mild sweetness of caramelized onions on another pie ($14). And, again, those ivory pools of mozzarella. We enjoyed La Quercia’s rich and nutty spallacia (pork shoulder) on a plate balanced with pickled beets and chantilly cream flavored with mustard.

Neither my dining guest nor I are big fans of mushrooms, but even we couldn’t resist the earthy and oily pleasures of the mushroom pie ($14), firm nobs of pan-sautéed crimini mushrooms mellowed by the salt and milk of Parmesan, fontina and mozzarella, with olive oil drizzled across the entire affair ($14).

You might not see the prosciutto picante buried beneath a pile of citrus-tossed bitter arugula and slabs of shaved Parmesan on the fresca pizza ($15), but you can taste its mild red chili pork flavor on the overflowing farm-fresh pie. That startling freshness serves as the hallmark for the handful of starters at Bufalina, as well. They could serve only excellent pizza and call it a night, but they make a towering bibb salad ($8) that looks like a pale Christmas tree, decorated with slivers of bright mint and radish circles and brushed with the snowy down of fresh cream.

The early fall salad ($5) was a dark green tangle of mixed greens enlivened by a chili-spiked vinaigrette and painted with baubles of tart mustard seeds that looked like something you’d find at the Forest Moon of Endor Café. The salad was flavorful but simple, like a deconstructed caprese ($8) with marshmallow cubes of supple homemade mozzarella and the acid and cool of fresh tomatoes and basil.

The only misstep at two dinners was a taleggio pizza ($14) that suffered from overly salty sausage. We actually didn’t order that one, but curiosity and proximity to our table neighbors led us to trade some mushroom slices for sausage slices. We were sitting just inches from the friendly couple (who also gave us some lessons on the history of the Icelandic language in addition to their slices).

Bufalina is a small space, and when it’s busy (which seems to be most of the time), your first seating option may be at one of the communal tables in the center. It’s no problem if you don’t mind the prospect of eavesdropping and the joys of newfound knowledge. But, wallflowers and the secretive beware. The friendly staff does their best to manage the crowds, and the guests seem to handle the wait with good humor, maybe fortified by one of the six local draft beers or a glass of one of the 33 bottles of wine from a heavily French and Italian list.

Or maybe they just know their patience will be rewarded with the best Neapolitan pizza in the city.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360 Eats

Gregg Allman tribute video released on anniversary of his death
Gregg Allman tribute video released on anniversary of his death

The music of Gregg Allman lives on. The Southern rock legend died one year ago on May 27, and to commemorate the anniversary of his passing at age 69, his team compiled a three-minute video that showcases Allman the way he’d want to be remembered – always making music. The clip, set to his 1973 song “Queen of Hearts” from his...
This week’s music picks: The Wine Down, Richard Buckner, more
This week’s music picks: The Wine Down, Richard Buckner, more

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHcLWDN_vKI&w=492&h=307] Wednesday: The Wine Down series with Sour Notes at 3Ten. The local indie band, whose 2017 album “Darkest Sour” was their fifth release in less than a decade, celebrates is 10th anniversary by playing this seasonal series that...
How to build the ultimate cheese board
How to build the ultimate cheese board

Whoever first decided it was not only acceptable but classy to throw a bunch of cheese bits and snacks on a board deserves credit for simultaneously pulling off what may have been both the greatest scam and invention in the history of entertaining. Sure, you might want to invest in fresh cheese if you're having friends over, but you can pull together...
Webb Report: Whatever happened to Celebration Station?

You don’t forget the first place that banned you from riding the go-carts. Try as you might, it’s the kind of thing that sticks in your craw. After I drove a gas-powered go-cart a little too wildly — out of ineptitude, not recklessness — and slammed into the car in front of me at the finish line as a kid, a ride attendant told...
Olivia Munn discusses Aaron Rodgers’ family issues for the first time
Olivia Munn discusses Aaron Rodgers’ family issues for the first time

Olivia Munn has opened up about ex Aaron Rodgers’ family issues nearly one year after their split. >> Read more trending news  Munn appeared on Sirius XM’s “Andy Cohen Live” and said she only met the NFL Green Bay quarterback’s parents “a couple of times.”  “Before he and I started...
More Stories