It all started with a brick oven in a backyard.
For the past eight years on Columbus Day, Chiro Zottola has hosted family and friends to celebrate their Italian heritage with homemade pizzas. “We’re always looking for a reason to invite friends over and cook pizza, cook food, eat, and have a good time,” says Luigi “Lou” Giovanetti, who co-owns a cluster of buildings on Moody Street in Waltham with Zottola and Zottola’s brother Mario.
So when a space in their row of buildings became available, the trio decided to extend the backyard tradition and venture into the restaurant business, serving Neapolitan-style pies and rustic Italian comfort food.
They landed Dario Copia, an ace chef from the Abruzzo region of Italy, at the suggestion of their friend Shingara “Peppino” Singh, the executive chef and owner of Da Vinci Ristorante in Boston, who formerly cooked at nearby La Campania in Waltham. The threesome named their venture Charcoal Guido’s in honor of the Zottolas’ father, and colored the space red and black to match the glow of the charcoal briquettes and wood-fired oven.
The restaurant opened Nov. 14 with a comfortable modern lounge feel. Its vibe sets the mood for an after-work drink, but it’s also welcoming enough to attract families on weekends. “We have people in here that are my father’s age, 75 years old, that are Italian — and Italians don’t really like to go out to eat someplace else because they say they can always make it better. But they come in here and just love it,” Giovanetti says. “My nephews and nieces come in here that are 16 years old and they love it because it’s just like their Nonna’s house. And we’ve got everyone else in between.”
Bar seating winds through the restaurant, giving patrons an up-close view as pizzas emerge from the oven and sausage, lamb, and beef cook over lumped coal in a nearby 6-foot pit. An appetizer of alette di pollo ($8), chicken wings with a lemon-pepper sauce, demonstrates the pit’s power; the meat slides right off the bone.
Like many of Charcoal Guido’s offerings, the thin crust pizzas are very greasy, but they’re also perfectly charred and sized just right. Funghi pizza ($14) is excellent, with porcini and shiitakes, sweet tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Vongole pizza ($14), an oblong white pie with clams and garlic, doesn’t measure up, with sandy, tough clams. The pie comes off as an oily mess.
All pastas and breads are made in-house, and two panini on the lunch menu use the same dough as the pizza to great effect. Steak panini ($10), served with Parmesan sauce, caramelized onions, and spinach, is the favorite at our table, with the shredded meat mimicking a cheese steak. The speck in a chicken breast and provolone panini ($10) is strong and its smoky flavor overpowers the dish. Both sandwiches, folded inside the pizza dough, get a lift from the fluffy bread.
Another lunchtime staple, the Parmesan burger ($10), a breaded and deep-fried beef patty with mozzarella and tomato sauce, tastes like a giant meatball. It’s not bad, just slightly disconcerting. All three lunch sandwiches are served with steak fries that are so enormous, one patron wonders aloud, “Where do you even find a potato that big?”
The lunch menu is surprisingly bereft of pastas, but the dinner menu has plenty, including a number of gnocchi. Ravioli Abruzzese ($10), a specialty of the region that the Giovanetti family comes from, is classic ravioli stuffed with ricotta. It showcases the homemade pasta in four pieces cooked al dente, served with a slightly spicy tomato sauce. It’s small and simple, but it tastes as ravioli should.
The three owners have brought the backyard party to life in Charcoal Guido’s. Giovanetti says they take pride in being Waltham natives and that the community has already returned the affection. “It’s better than I thought and busier than I thought,” says Giovanetti of his cool, comfortable spot.