Earlier this year, I stopped by to chat with, and buy bread and pastries from local baker Rob Van Keuren, when I ran into Mogan Anthony. If you didn’t know, Mogan is the chef/owner of Village Social in Mount Kisco and Rye Brook, the newly opened Pubstreet in Pleasantville, and Locali in New Canaan. I hadn’t seen Mogan in quite some time, not since both of us were on a food tour of Arthur Avenue, so it was nice to catch up and talk shop. Before we parted, he invited me to stop by one of his places for a meal, an offer only an idiot would pass on. I’ve been to Village Social a few times, and his new spot is a trek, especially when I’m not on my Westchester Magazine flow, so that left one…
It’s a funny thing with Locali because that’s where I would’ve chosen. In fact, I the word “Locali” came out of my mouth fast. It’s Neapolitan style-ish pizza and creative small plates. It’s in New Canaan, and it’s maybe 10 minutes away on the backroads. It has been open for four-plus years. And I think Mogan is a damn good chef, and one of the humbler guys you’ll meet in the restaurant biz.
So, how the hell had I not been before this? Chalk it up to taking for granted how close Locali is and figuring I could go whenever, or because my friends (so-called, obviously) shot down the idea. Whatever the reasons for not going, I was there now, and recruited my friend, Daisy for eating and drinking assistance.
Once inside and settled in, Mogan stopped by to chat and to help push out a few dishes during my visit. Soon thereafter, we met the man that executes the menu at Locali, executive chef William Eschner. Chef William explained the restaurant’s menu, and informed us that there are multiple gluten-free options, especially under the small plates category, and that they are more than happy to accommodate prospective guests with something off-menu if they have allergies. Eschner mentioned that he and his kitchen crew enjoy those challenges, and in addition, they’re constantly experimenting with ways to be inventive while still putting out awesome food.
Let’s start with Locali’s very sharable small plates, many of which are vegetable-based. There are a few raw veggie options you should opt for like the shaved broccoli with hazelnut butter and smoky/spicy romesco, and the shaved local cauliflower dressed with tangy white balsamic vinegar, cashews, and dates that provide sweetness. The veg dish that won me over immediately was the Crackling Kale, coated in a secret gluten-free “mix” and seasoned with an Italian gunpowder spice blend (basically the Italian version of a curry) and deep fried to crunchy perfection. For the cheese nerds, you’d be wise to opt for the whipped sheep’s milk ricotta with Mike’s Hot Honey, a splash of citrus, and fried basil leaves, served with crispy bread for your spreading pleasure. The 36° Burrata (malted honey, saba) is something I’ll be sure to get on my next visit. If you’re a calamari fan, don’t miss this one; breaded and fried, and possibly the most tender version I’ve had around here. And, you guessed it, it’s also gluten-free!
If Locali features anything, it’s their Neapolitan style pizza. They use San Marzano tomatoes for the red sauce pies and fresh milk mozzarella, aka fior de latte, whenever mozzarella is the cheese of choice. But that dough though…It’s flat-out flawless. Rested for optimal fermentation, before it’s pounded-out, topped, and sent into a 700° to 1200° (on a hot summer day) handmade wood oven that burns red and black maple, ash, and oak. The results are a blistered, chewy, slightly crunchy, well-seasoned dough that doesn’t leave you feeling super stuffed.
Of their 13-deep pizza roster there are mouthwatering choices. The Wild New England features mushrooms and porcini mushroom oil, while the Sicilian Godfather (San Marzano, soppressata, red onion, cherry peppers, provolone) and the Snake Oil (San Marzano, fior de latte Reggiano, capicola, garlic sriracha, honey, scallion) are geared towards heat. There are “plainer” pies too, like a classic Margherita or the Heirloom Tomato. I chose to go with one of their spicy pizzas first, the 3AM, with red sauce, pepperoni, Calabrian chilis, smoked mozzarella, and garlic. It’s brings the tingle, but not in excess, unless you consume the chilis, which I don’t shy away from. This, to me, is an ideal pizza, and appropriately named, as I would want this post-drinking (or while drinking) and especially after hours. The second pizza sent over was Mogan’s idea, and one of Locali’s most popular, the LOCALi Clam Pizza. Normally I’m not a clam pie guy, and I left thinking it was better than what the New Haven spots serve up. Locali places their mozzarella-laden cooked dough in a bowl so it caves in, forming a well for a bunch of shelled clams and a lemon, garlic, and parsley broth. Grab a slice, fork out the fresh clams, pile it said slice, then mop up the broth with the crust. Not only is this seafood pizza a big-time winner, their Neapolitan is the best I’ve had in Connecticut.
Locali’s menu has a few more offerings that include a couple pasta dishes and a rice bowl, salads, a kid’s menu, and dessert. To drink, you’ll find plenty of wine available in glasses and even more in bottles, as well as craft beer and very good cocktails. There’s a lot to experience at Locali, and you could certainly fill up on small plates. I’m a pizza guy through and through so I’ll be busy over the next few visits shoving down slices.
P.S., I may have drooled a little during the posting of this blog.
Locali Pizza Bar & Kitchen
32c Forest Street
New Canaan, CT 06840