NEWPORT, R.I. — They were two hours away from opening their new restaurant to the public for the first time, and Kyle Stamps and Kevin O’Donnell were working in sync.
Stamps was rolling out a ball of sourdough and layering it with a red sauce infused with pineapple, spicy N’Duja, thin slices of red onion, caciocavallo, and thin pineapple slices.
“People are against pineapple on pizza. But there’s a way you can do it that isn’t offensive,” said Stamps. He’s preparing is the “Calabrian Luau” pizza, and telling me it’s his favorite on the menu. “This one is beautiful. The pineapple is bright. There’s a good level of spice. That onion brings it all together.”
Behind him, O’Donnell was taking another pie out of their grand Marra Forni Neapolitan-style pizza oven, which spins 12-inch pies once around in a circle slowly until they’re complete, to rest on a rack. At another counter, he was was rolling his slicer over the “Night Shade,” a pie with pesto Trapanese, eggplant, smoked mozzarella, and heirloom tomatoes.
They’re relaxed, even as prospective diners are peering inside and attempting to get through the locked doors for the night’s first table at Mother Pizzeria. And they’re reflecting on their own pasts.
Frankly, they’ve come quite a long way since their days working at a pizza joint on Ten Rod Road.
In the early 2000s, Stamps and O’Donnell were two teenagers working for Walter Slater at Junction Pizzeria in the Wickford Junction area of North Kingstown. Stamps was stuck in the dish room; O’Donnell was a prep cook. The food was simple, but it was delicious, they recall.
Looking around Mother Pizzeria, his new restaurant with Stamps and experienced restauranteur Lauren Schaefer, O’Donnell says the concept has a similar mom-and-pop feeling.
“I guess you could say that we have gone back to my roots,” said O’Donnell, the owner of nearby Giusto restaurant.
Mother Pizzeria, a neighborhood restaurant built by the team at Giusto, gets its name from the starter or “mother” used in sourdough baking, as sourdough is the staple ingredient behind every pizza.
The pizzeria has a separate cured and aged menu, with a selection of rotating cured meats, local cheeses, and domestic and preserved fish; guests can order them a la carte. Only cheese from New England and New York farms will be allowed on the menu, such as “Peach Fizz,” a cheese derived from cow’s milk from Sweet & Salty Farm, in Little Compton.
“Those cows graze on an open pasture on the seaside. You’re getting this salty, briny milk that transfers into the cheese,” said O’Donnell. “We’re really focusing on local cheeses because they’re sometimes even better than the imported cheeses.”
They’ll be keeping the seafood as local and as sustainable as possible, curing it in-house with brining, pickling, smoking, and confit techniques. The Rhode Island mussels, for instance, are poached and marinated in a coconut green curry sauce with cilantro. The tuna belly is cooked confit in olive oil, and served with eggplant caponata seasoned with calamansi vinegar and a Sicilian sun dried tomato paste.
Lighter snacks and salads range from cacio e pepe garlic knots to octopus salad with gochujang and fermented fennel.
Mother Pizzeria will offer two different kinds of culinary experiences. Looking for a quick bite or takeout? Slide into a seat at a hightop table by the counter for a rotating selection of thicker, Roman-style pizza squares and scoops of gelato flavors like stracciatella, Greek froyo, pistachio, and olive oil. Toppings include amaretti cookies, a chocolate magic shell, gianduja-hazelnut crunch, and a fennel-citrus honey drizzle.
Dining in? The space looks nothing like the Panera Bread once located there.
The grand Marra Forni Neapolitan-style pizza oven is the restaurant’s focal point, as designed by RODE Architects, a firm that has worked with O’Donnell’s restaurants previously — from Boston’s SRV to the The Salty Pig. The 65-seat restaurant’s semi-open kitchen affords a glimpse of the chefs at work — from the Italian marble bar, to stools at the chef’s counter, to the dark green velvet banquettes at custom wood tabletops. The patio has a view of Newport Harbor.
Schaefer is Mother Pizzeria’s general manager, and she came to Newport from New York where she held several positions in the hospitality industry, including a stint co-owning a wine bar for seven years.
“Giusto has this electric, beautiful wine list. But it’s hard for some people to totally grasp it and understand it,” Schaefer said. “We wanted to make this a bit more approachable while still checking the boxes of our mission.”
Meaning that most of the wines are organic, biodynamic, and interesting tasting. There’s also a lot of female producers, such as the Rocca Di Carpeneto Dolcetto “Aurora” for $14 per glass.
The beer list is seasonal, with represented breweries mostly from New England and New York. The house spritz replaces Aperol with a red bitter aperitivo infused with pineapple and rosemary.
“All of these,” Schaefer said running her hand over the cocktail and wine lists, “are recognizable or even nostalgic to most. But we wanted to just add a bit more creativity to the mix.”
Like many, Schaefer stepped away from the industry feeling burnt out, and became a director at a brand strategy company in Manhattan. But the desire to return never exactly went away. She has since worked as a manager at Giusto, helping turn the industry upside down to place a further emphasis and value on employees and the greater Newport community they’re located in.
The pizzeria just opened last week.
“This is more a year-round business that can help our overall mission — a sustainable business that can truly take care of its employees because it’s the right thing to do,” said O’Donnell. “It’s pizza, we know it’s going to be a natural fit.”
Mother Pizzeria is located at 49 Long Wharf Mall in Newport, Rhode Island. It is open nightly for dinner service from 4 to 10 p.m. The bar will close at 11 p.m. Lunch service is expected to begin in the near future. Follow their Instagram for updates. motherpizzeria.com.