IN THE KITCHEN When Ivan Millan-Pulecio, former executive chef at Stone Hearth Pizza Co., was given the chance to buy the chain’s Needham Center location and turn the site into his own restaurant with his own vision, he rallied family and friends to help him realize his dream.
Opened on March 1, Hearth Pizzeria on Great Plain Avenue reflects the Colombian-born chef’s philosophy of using sustainable, fresh, organic, and locally grown ingredients to put his own spin on rustic Italian food.
“I’m trying to offer the most amazing fresh ingredients and amazing food that I can,” he said.
Millan-Pulecio, 36, said he learned his skills “hands on” by working in various kitchen positions over the past 16 years, including a variety of Italian restaurants in Greater Boston.
Along the way he developed his vision of opening a restaurant that not only makes delicious food with fresh ingredients, but is also an ethical workplace where young chefs and wait staff can learn the responsible way to run an establishment.
“It’s really exciting,” Millan- Pulecio said.
THE LOCALE In the past, as the chef responsible for buying produce for a chain of six restaurants, Millan-Pulecio said, he often found it difficult to find nearby farms able to accommodate the quantities he needed. But with just one restaurant, he’ll be able to take advantage of seasonal produce from local farms allowing him to add specials to his menu.
He’s also planted a small garden in back of the restaurant where he’ll grow oregano, chilies, and thyme.
His menu is the major change at the storefont space at the corner where Route 135 changes from Great Plain to Dedham Avenue, but the decor will be familiar to patrons of the former establishment.
While some renovations were done in the cooking area, the open-fire pizza oven is still a centerpiece of the kitchen visible from most tables in the family-friendly dining room.
ON THE MENU On a recent weekday evening we were seated immediately and decided to start with seasonal bruschetta, which was $5.50 for four pieces of perfectly toasted bread with garlic oil, a thin layer of goat cheese covered with small squares of roasted butternut squash, and topped with scallions and red onions. It was a hit with everyone at the table.
The new menu allows diners to make individual choices. There are four baked pastas on the menu, but also a “create your own pasta” section offering a variety of pastas, sauces, meats, and vegetables.
Our guests selected linguini with chicken, bacon, mushrooms, and broccoli in a pesto sauce ($16.75). An unusual combination, but delicious nonetheless, and one order was plenty for two people, along with a feta and olive salad, which was $8.95 for a large, and $4.95 for half.
The salads are excellent, created individually or from the menu, which includes the Ancient Grain Salad. Millan-Pulecio is particularly proud of this: It is gluten free and has a mix of millet, quinoa, brown rice, spinach, julienned beets and carrots, and roasted almonds.
Millan-Pulecio makes all of the pizza dough — white, whole wheat, multigrain, or gluten free — and it is rolled out in a thin Neapolitan style with a chewy, tender texture.
There are 16 pizzas ranging from the standard cheese ($6.75 for a 9-inch pie), or pepperoni for an additional dollar. There are also less traditional pizzas, including one with fig, prosciutto, and blue cheese ($8.95), and the Farm Fresh ($8.75), which has garlic oil, cherry tomatoes, charred red and yellow peppers, Yukon gold potatoes, artichoke hearts, green olives, Kalamata olives, and fresh mozzarella, topped with a salad of arugula, shaved red onions, prosciutto, and balsamic dressing. There are also hot-pressed panini sandwiches, wraps, and calzones.
The menu has other gluten-free options, and Millan-Pulecio said he knows what goes into every dish, so allergy questions can be accurately answered. There are local craft beers and wine.
Hearth Pizzeria, 974 Great Plain Ave. in Needham, is open Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. 781-433-0600, www.hearthpizzeria.com.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.