Pizzeria Gregario

Chef Greg Seymour takes a special pizza out of his wood-fired oven at his restaurant Pizza Gregario. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Chef Greg Seymour takes a special pizza out of his wood-fired oven at his restaurant Pizza Gregario. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]

Early in 2018, Greg Seymour asked me if I’d like to learn to make pizzas in a wood-burning oven. Although eager, I was not skilled. Too thin, too lopsided, too much sauce, not the right flick of the wrist as it left the peel and went into the maw of the orange-glowing oven. I can’t say that Seymour makes it look easy. Sure, he’s got the muscle memory, the deft wrist movement, the ability to bank the fire just so, the finished pizzas chewy-crusty with just the right bubbles. He’s really a one-man symphony orchestra at his little Safety Harbor original, but if you pay attention you realize how much he sweats for his art. He buys whole, local, naturally raised pigs and breaks them down, making his own sausages and charcuterie. He buys organic wheat and ancient grains and grinds them himself, has a buddy from whom he buys water buffalo milk, another from whom he gets produce. He’s careful about his sauce tomatoes, militant about no refined sugar and eating “clean.” He sends me pictures of bread he’s tinkering with made from red fife wheat, einkorn, spelt and hulled barley or a slow-cooked hog’s head he’s turning into something delicious. All this thought is brought to bear on a pizza that will cost you around $17. It’s an order-at-the-counter, menu-on-the-chalkboard place, perfectly family-friendly and casual, but this is expertly made, wild-culture pizza, the best in our area.

Address: 400 Second St. N, Safety Harbor

Phone: (727) 386-4107

Price: $-$$

Bavaro’s Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria

Pizzaiolo Bavaro's Carne and Margherita pizzas, made in a wood-fired Italian oven. [DANIEL WALLACE | Times]
Pizzaiolo Bavaro's Carne and Margherita pizzas, made in a wood-fired Italian oven. [DANIEL WALLACE | Times]

Like the universe itself, Dan Bavaro’s scope keeps expanding. He just recently opened Sorellina (“little sister” in Italian) at the Hall on Franklin, a smaller and abbreviated version of Bavaro’s, which he has already downtown in Tampa, in St. Petersburg, at the airport and soon in Sarasota. He has a big production facility that produces his pizza and pasta sauces. (You can buy them at Publix, Amazon, Costco, etc.) In 2018, he got a pizza tuneup of sorts, training with Antonio Langone in Sorrento, Italy, a gentleman who holds the World Championship Gluten-Free Pizza title. (It’s a thing.) He started his Neapolitan pizza empire in 2009 when no one knew precisely what that meant. This was not street pizza you fold along the vertex angle to make a skinnier triangle as you walk. It was not coal oven or deep dish. It was made with super-fine 00 flour and a 100-year-old yeast culture brought from Naples, zapped for 90 seconds in a 900-degree wood-fired oven. It is its own thing: crispy, puffed crust, with a tender, soft middle nearly requiring a fork. Tampa Bay has warmed to the style and it has proliferated, but Bavaro was the gateway drug for us. bavarospizza.com

Tampa: 514 N Franklin St., Tampa, (813) 868-4440

St. Petersburg: 945 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 258-7517

Sorellina location at the Hall on Franklin: 1701 N Franklin St., Tampa, (813) 405-4008 (this is the Sorellina location)

Price: $$

Ava

The Pesto Pizza from Ava features mozzarella, goat cheese and marinated cherry tomatoes. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
The Pesto Pizza from Ava features mozzarella, goat cheese and marinated cherry tomatoes. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

When Ava opened in 2014, a collaboration between South Tampa restaurateur Michael Stewart and then-Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon with pizza superstar Joshua Hernandez imported from Los Angeles, it was my top-ranked restaurant of that year. It was that magical balance of great food, hip design and a palpable buzziness that money can’t buy. My ardor has cooled just slightly, perhaps because the playing field has become more dense with notable restaurants at a similar price point, and perhaps because some of the best dishes have changed somewhat. (The wood-fired veggies were ho-hum on my last visit and the whipped ricotta has become too runny.) That said, at the original and also at the kiosk at Armature Works (one of 14 vendors), the pizza is still very, very good. This is Neapolitan-style, best eaten with a fork and knife, tender at the center with big blistery bubbles at the cornicione. I recently shared a mushroom pizza with friends at the flagship and wandered around Armature Works pecking away at a filetto pizza with swaths of prosciutto and sweet cherry tomato halves. Both great. avatampa.com

Tampa: 718 S Howard Ave., Tampa, (813) 512-3030

Armature Works: 1910 N Ola Ave., Tampa, (813) 250-3725

Price: $$