The heady aromas emanating from 2406 Wilton Drive are thick enough to cut with a knife. Sit outside long enough or pass by too slowly and you won't be able to resist the temptation to follow them to their source.
That source is pizza, specifically pies baked in a simple deck oven and topped with choice meats, imported cheeses, vegetables, or anchovies. Once inside, however, another scent fills the air: the sugar-laced perfume of fresh-churned gelato wafting from the display case in front.
These are the two main menu items that make up Dolce Salato Pizza & Gelato in Wilton Manors. The sweet and savory combination is nothing new for owners Leonardo and Silvia Baldi, who opened their new restaurant in June after relocating from Key West several months before.
Gelato — a soft ice cream made with milk and, sometimes, egg yolk — is Leonardo's specialty. In 2002, he immigrated to the United States from Italy with his wife. Together, they opened what Leonardo claims was Broward County's first true artisan gelato shop, a small store located behind Fort Lauderdale's famed Elbo Room where he sold 24 flavors to hungry beach-going patrons.
In early 2012, Leonardo and Silvia packed up shop and moved to Key West with plans to open Duetto — their first attempt at marrying pizza and gelato — with a business partner. For three years, they ran the restaurant off Green Street before selling it earlier this year with the idea to re-create the concept farther north.
Today, Dolce Salato is their private venture, a casual eatery where the family — including Leonardo's son, Guisseppe, and pizza maker Nikki Burrell — work tirelessly to deliver a short menu of specialty pies, foccacia sandwiches, panini, salads, and gelato.
Like the restaurant's creators, the recipes have been imported from Italy. Leonardo's cousin, a pizza chef in his hometown of Torino, spent several months in Key West helping him perfect the dough, sauce, and style. The result is a thin, crispy crust with just a touch of chew, strong enough to withstand the weight of fiery-red tomato sauce and thick helpings of homemade mozzarella.
The key, says Leonardo, is to be patient. At Dolce Salato, the dough is prepped, proofed, and coddled for up to 48 hours. No secret to the ingredients here either. The chefs won't boast about double-zero flour but instead swear by a combination of Canadian and American wheat, what Leonardo promises is better-quality than what you'll find in Europe.
"And the longer you let it sit, the better," says Leonardo. "It's what gives the yeast and sugar time to work its magic, so that when you eat our pizza, it's easy to digest and doesn't leave you feeling sluggish and tired."
The daily product and overall consistency owes much thanks to Burrell, who joined the Baldis three years ago, when they opened Duetto. Together, she and Leonardo perfected the Dolce Salato dough his cousin created, today preparing pies in a simple deck oven.
Each 16-inch pizza yields up to six slices — extra-large slabs that fold under their own floppy weight. They're loaded with a simple mix of ingredients, but typically no more than three or four at one time.
"We don't like [too many ingredients] in Italy," says Leonard. "We want just enough to experience the flavor, and that's it. The test: If you can taste it with your eyes closed and know what you're eating, that is good."
In Italy, there are many types of pizza, explains Leonardo. The most common, according to the Northern Italian native, is not Neapolitan but instead a simple alchemy of dough, sauce, and cheese that yields a thin, crispy crust.
At Dolce Salato, you'll find just such a pizza in La Margherita Classica, a familiar combination of mozzarella, basil, and red sauce. The cheese is procured locally from an artisan cheesemonger in Pompano Beach. The sauce is a family recipe perfected for use on pizza, a thick velvety blanket that bakes atop the dough and sloughs off the edges in pulpy clumps when you fold it. Before serving, the pie is given a healthy drizzle of olive oil, and — if you request it — a sprinkling of fresh-grated Parmesan cheese and a single thin sheet of prosciutto.
However, it's the stuffed pies, an Italian specialty made here the way you'll find them in Leonardo's homeland, that sets the Dolce Salato menu apart from your average pizza joint. Not calzone, not stromboli but a cross between a sandwich and pizza. The ricotta cheese and spinach is the most authentic, while the ham and cheese puts an Italian spin on an American classic — mozzarella, prosciutto, and toasted rosemary laid out between two layers of dough, ingredients melded between for a hybrid panini-esque take.
Gelato, of course, is the other half of the business. After 20 years, Leonardo considers himself the "gelato man."
"It's what started everything for us here in South Florida and helped us to make the decision to move here," says Leonardo. "I've been making my gelato the same way for the past two decades, and you won't find anything else like it around."
In making it fresh daily, Leonardo uses all natural flavors and ingredients to prepare a number of decidedly Italian flavors. There's amaretto, an Italian staple; stracciatella, the word for vanilla with chocolate chips; and bocce, a blend of hazelnut and chocolate.
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The pistachio, also, is Italian in its own right. Like the others, it's scooped into a large metal tin forming a peak-like sculpture, smooth crests of gelato arranged in arching waves. At first glance, the pistachio appears to be the least intriguing, a muted moss-green color that's not nearly as enticing as mango or chocolate. You'd be a fool to pass it up, however. Leonardo will tell you the nuts are imported from Bronte, a city in Sicily that's perched atop a slope of volcanic rock, the only place in Italy where pistachios grow. Expensive due to their limited production — the trees bear fruit just once every two years — they are hand-harvested, yielding nuts that are intensely flavorful, with a sweet-grassy aroma.
"We make everything here the old-fashioned Italian way, from the pizza to the gelato," says Leonardo. "It's nothing fancy, but it's what makes it good."
Dolce Salato Pizza & Gelato
2406 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday, noon to 1 a.m. Thursday and Friday, and noon to 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 954-463-7677, or visit dolce-salato.net.
La Margherita Classica $18
Ham and cheese stuffed (pie slice) $3.75
Gelato (medium scoop) $3.75