Opening day at Due Amici pizzeria was proof that New York-style pizza can be popular no matter where you make it.
The line from the service counter stretched outside and around the front of the 60-seat restaurant when it opened nine years ago.
Owners Art Cornielle and Paul Cina welcomed about 200 customers that afternoon, as many people as they serve all day on a busy Friday.
“We had a great feeling about this location,” Cina said.
It helped that they've got sharp instincts when it comes to pizza. Corneille's family has operated a Brooklyn pizzeria since 1960. Cina's family was in the business for 20 years and operated on Long Island.
The due amici, or two friends, met here in Charlotte at Corneille's other restaurant, Ciro's Italian Restaurant, at The Shoppes at University Place. Later, Cina managed a second Ciro's that Corneille operated in Pineville for five years. Soon they decided on a new, more casual venture. “There was nobody doing pizza by the slice,” Corneille recalls.
A pizzeria in New York would thrive mostly on walk-up traffic. This one, near Bi-Lo supermarket, is done Charlotte-style, with plenty of parking.
Business keeps getting better, with a stream of customers from Highland Creek and other neighborhoods. They have embraced the menu so enthusiastically that the owners have made few changes over the years.
“We never take anything off the menu,” Cornielle said. “Everything sells.”
The centerpiece of the menu is the pizzas, sold whole (14 or 16 inches) or by the slice. The staff makes the sauces and dough in house every day, using recipes that Cina and Corneille developed.
There are three kinds of pies: a thick, square Sicilian-style pizza baked in a pan; stuffed pizza; and the favorite, New York-style.
Want a beer with that? There are 10 to choose from, including Peroni Italian beer.
By-the-slice pizzas, salads and desserts such as cheesecake and Italian ice are on display as customers approach the counter to order.
The caprese pizza is a specialty. It's creamy and delicately flavored by fresh ingredients: mozzarella cheese made in the restaurant, sliced tomato, strips of roasted red pepper, chopped garlic, basil and olive oil.
“Every little thing has got to come together,” Cornielle said, describing the effort that goes into making a winning pizza. Caprese, he said, is among the restaurant's best expression of this. “It marries all of the flavors together.”
While the pizzas are top sellers, the savory filled dough, such as calzones and strombolis, also are popular for a quick meal. Look beyond the pizza, and the menu has the flavor of an Italian bistro under such headings as “pasta,” “baked specialties” and “dinner entrées.”
In the shadows of the big pizza ovens behind the counter, the staff makes a fried calamari appetizer ($7.95), linguini with clam sauce ($9.95), hero sandwiches, lasagna ($8.95) and veal Marsala ($12.95 with pasta and salad).
Getting the recipes right was a matter of pride, the owners said. Seventy percent of the restaurant's customers are from the Northeast – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Philadelphia – so they're still just as particular about them today.
“People come in and say, ‘It's just like (the restaurants at) home,'” Cina said proudly. “It's the food, the personality and the atmosphere.”