Worcester is a city that is quite rough around the edges. It’s like a cannoli coated with thumbtacks and arsenic; if your system can somehow handle the rough exterior you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful variety of flavors in the center.
“Restaurant Row” is the tasty center of the filled pastry. It’s a famous stretch of Shrewsbury Street where many of the city’s top restaurants and bars live. There is a healthy mix of new and old here; modern conglomerate-owned bistros sit just steps away from classic diners and family-owned restaurants. Take a walk down Shrewsbury Street on a summer night and you’ll come across young bar patrons & revelers getting liquored up next to middle-aged professionals out for a gourmet cocktail and a well-cooked snack. You might even see a drunk girl yelling at her boyfriend and searching for her cellphone.
There is always an interesting crowd.
Death of a Car Salesman
The newest member in the pack of Italian restaurants in Worcester is Volturno. Bringing passion and cuisine straight out of Naples, they arrive onto the scene to thunderous applause and critical acclaim. Recently, Volturno was chosen as Best New Restaurant of 2014 and Best Pizza 2014 by Worcester Magazine. They are constantly featured on local television and numerous other food publications, too. Deservedly so. We’ll get to that.
Volturno was built inside the old Buick dealership on Shrewsbury Street near the I-290 overpass. My father bought a car here in the late 90’s: a classic old-man white Buick LeSabre complete with luggage rack, fake convertible Presidential roof, and silver hood ornament. I distinctly remember being a kid, sitting on an uncomfortable metal chair waiting for him to finish haggling with the car salesman over white-wall tires and stain-resistant floor mats.
Out of the Wood-Fired Ashes…
It’s really pleasing to see how Volturno transformed the space. Parking in a freshly paved lot and walking along smooth concrete feels strange at first, but entering the restaurant will make you forget a car dealership ever existed here.
“Open” is a great way to describe it. Fucking gorgeous is even better. The windows stretch from floor to ceiling and there is a large, deep square bar in the center of the dining area. During the day, sunlight hits every corner. At night, the hanging lights give off a warm glow that you can see from the highway.
The tables have that reconditioned wood thing going on which gives the place a very natural and relaxed vibe. If all car dealerships looked like this, then I’d be in big trouble financially.
The back of the restaurant is home to two large wood-fire pizza ovens; the most essential piece of equipment for making a true Neopolitan pizza. Workers shuffle pies in and out surgically every few minutes.
Volturno fires the oven up to 900 degrees as per master pizza-making guidelines set forth by the Italian government. The owner, Greg Califano, traveled to Italy to become a certified pizzaiolo. The intense heat nearly scorches the pizza giving it that signature leopard-spotting which makes Neopolitans so recognizable. It also imparts a fantastic smokey flavor that no other pizza style possesses.
Here’s the deal: I’ve tried pizza in Boston, New York, Rome, and the motherland of modern pizza herself, Naples. Volturno pizza is right up there at the top with the best of the best. The dough was phenomenal. Soft, slightly charred, a delicate chew, and great flavor–I almost fell off my bar stool and I was rather sober.
The toppings (sausage, potatoes, onions, mozzarella) were all homemade and fresh, but frankly, you could put a homeless guy’s sock on that pizza and I’d still gladly eat it. It was that good.
I thought world class American-made pizza was only available in places like Brooklyn or the North End. Now, you can get legitimate pizza in Worcester that can impress the pickiest of big city pizza snobs around the globe.
To round things off, and because I want to be super fat, I had to get some homemade pasta. The carbonara with homemade bucatini, fried guanciale (a fancy type of bacon), onions, and a gooey soft-boiled egg topped with a mound of salty grana padano cheese was excellent. A very clean, simple, modern spin on a classic.
Volturno has something special going on. Passion and quality like this don’t come along often anymore, especially in a place like Worcester that sometimes feels forgotten. We’re incredibly lucky to have this gorgeous spot in our front yard. I look forward to coming back and trying all of their pizzas.