Carrie Rengers

Piatto Neapolitan Pizzeria to open next to Hopping Gnome

Robert McMullin (left), his wife Carolina Tabares and Enzo Coccia, the pizzaiolo that Robert McMullin trained with in Italy in preparation for opening Piatto Neapolitan Pizzeria in Wichita.
Robert McMullin (left), his wife Carolina Tabares and Enzo Coccia, the pizzaiolo that Robert McMullin trained with in Italy in preparation for opening Piatto Neapolitan Pizzeria in Wichita. Courtesy photo

That’s Italian.

That’s the plan anyway.

Wichitan Robert McMullin and his wife, Carolina Tabares, are opening what he calls “an authentic Neapolitan pizza restaurant” to the west of Hopping Gnome, which is just down from the northeast corner of Douglas and Hydraulic.

When Have You Heard? first contacted McMullin about Piatto Neapolitan Pizzeria a few months ago, he said he didn’t have enough details finalized to discuss the restaurant. Then he was in Italy training with a pizzaiolo, or pizza maker, so he answered a few questions via e-mail.

McMullin came to Wichita with the Air Force in 2003 and then went into custom woodworking, which he said has some similar traits to pizza making.

“I was drawn to woodworking because of the creative flexibility, and everything is made from scratch,” McMullin wrote. “I feel like I’m transferring the skills I learned as a woodworker, to food. Neapolitan pizza is about artistry and hand-crafted methods.”

Here’s his abbreviated description of a Neapolitan pizza: “There’s no argument as to where pizza originated, that place being Italy. To be more specific, Naples Italy. Before pizza, there was flatbread, really good flatbread. Because of the lack of additives and simplicity of ingredients involved, Neapolitan pizza is very easy on the stomach. … It wasn’t until the 1700’s did the peasants of Napoli top their flatbread with pureed San Marzano tomatoes. It would be nearly another 200 years before cheese and basil were added, thus the creation of the classic Pizza Margherita. It’s the combination of these simple ingredients that make up a Neapolitan pizza.”

He said pizzaiolos “are very passionate about their craft. From the mixing of dough and selecting the ingredients to how pizzas are loaded into the oven are very specific techniques.”

McMullin said he learned a lot in Italy.

“The Italian culture is very fascinating. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that pizza is at the center of everything in Naples. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see hundreds of people packing the streets of downtown Naples to eat at their favorite pizzeria.

“I learned how to make dough by hand, getting a feel for how it should be. The most important thing I learned was how to stretch dough by hand. I talk about the dough so much because it is the most important part of pizza Napoletana. Without a good dough, the pizza is nothing. The dough is the boss. I mixed, balled, stretched and baked pizzas every day for a month. Everything about it will be useful going into our restaurant.”

There’s no opening date for the restaurant yet. McMullin wrote about why now is the right time for his concept, though.

“My wife and I feel Wichita is a prime market; we have a lot of different pizzas in the city, but not authentic Neapolitan pizza. The ‘foodie’ scene has really picked up in Wichita, along with craft beer, and we want to be part of the growing community.”

As food lovers themselves, McMullin said he and his wife want to share their Neapolitan love with others.

“I want Wichitans to have a piece of Italy here in their backyard. Naples is a long way away, so I want to bring it to them.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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