Things I love about Nonantum, the Italian neighborhood in Newton: fire hydrants painted red, white, and green, tomatoes growing on a tiny space only big enough to hold a bag of groceries, the language of the old country spoken on the streets by the residents.
Into this densely populated Italian-American pocket comes Massimo Ottani from Latina, along the Tyrrhenian Sea, south of Rome, halfway to Naples. In February, Ottani opened The Landing — L’Approdo Pizza & Kitchen (L’Approdo translates as “The Landing”) a block away from a DePasquale’s on Adams Street. The little pizzeria has just a couple of stools inside and tables on an outdoor patio. It’s mainly take-out. What a place!
In your pizza box are thin-crust pies made with Ottani’s own dough, sandwiches on exceptional bread he bakes, specials of the day — giant, juicy meatballs in a heavenly sauce, chicken Parm, lasagna with Bolognese sauce, tripe, cheese, or meat arancini — and typical Italian desserts.
The pies are traditional Neopolitan. The thin crust is a substantial, chewy dough that’s full of flavor and is cooked through; it tastes like someone who cares mixed it. Toppings are enough to flavor the dough without getting sloppy. The Margherita, which I consider the litmus test of all pies, is remarkable: a little sauce, some mozzarella, Parmesan, olive oil, and basil. Half-moon-shaped calzone are also thin, not doughy, not messy. If you cut off a piece, you can eat it like a sandwich. The semplice calzone (also called cotto), with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and ham is very good.
Breads are the size of a salad plate, and sandwiches are sold by the whole or half. A frittata sandwich, an egg cake with zucchini, bell pepper, and potatoes, is memorable. So is a chicken salad sandwich. There are others filled with vegetables and cheese.
This food couldn’t be plainer. A crostata with berries and a simple cross-hatch of pastry doesn’t look like much until you taste the intensity of the fruit with the flaky crust. You might notice a stack of little rectangular black-plastic take-out containers filled with tiramisu in the refrigerator case. I wouldn’t blame you if you walked by this dessert, which has been wrecked by restaurants for a decade. This tiramisu is one of the best I’ve had in a long time — softly whipped coffee-flavored cream with mascarpone over ladyfingers.
Ottani trained in Latina at Pizzeria Posillipo with owner Gianfranco Ambrosino, who is registered with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the True Neopolitan Pizza Association) that certifies pizzerias. Ottani attended classes at the organization, which trains cooks to make the industry more professional. In Nonantum, his aunt, Lisa Lucchetti, is cooking with him.
Look around, check the case to see what’s in it that might not be listed on the menu board. Watch Ottani throw a pie. He’s so cheerful and he’s so happy to be in this neighborhood.
A construction worker sitting on one of the stools, who has made impressive headway with his pie, closes the box and gets up to leave. He leans over and announces, without prompting, “This is the best pizza,” and takes off. 223 Adams St., Nonantum, Newton, 617-964-7117, www.thelandingpizza.com.