Let’s face it, regardless of what I say here you’d take it for bias. Not only because I speak as a former (quasi-present) employee of Bread & Circus Provisions, but also as an eater of pizza and thus the holder of an opinion. Lafayette eaters have long been tribal about their pizza affiliations — Alesi’s (my native tribe), Deano’s, Pizza Village, La Pizzeria, Antoni’s, etc. — everyone is a nativist when it comes to choice of pizza. One thing Acadiana’s favorite spots have in common is the American obsession with more. For years there seems to have been some kind of toppings arms race in town. How good is your pizza? Well, how many toppings can you fit on it?
Look, I can totally get behind a cut of pork for every inch of dough. But let it be known that there’s another approach. And that’s what Bread & Circus is...ahem... rolling out this spring and summer, almost exactly as I type this missive.
“It’s back to basics. It’s peasantry,” Bread & Circus chef/owner Manny Augello tells me.
As part of a near complete overhaul of his business concept, Augello raised more than $10,000 in Kickstarter funds to import a 3,000-pound clay-domed, wood-fired Italian pizza oven. Excessive, I know. But the excess simplifies Augello’s culinary message, streamlines his kitchen operation and lowers costs, all by way of Neapolitan pizza and Southern Italian country food.
For months prior to a late April re-open, Augello flirted with the change, adding pizza slices to weekday menus that had previously only been served Saturday nights. While Southern Italian components have long populated his rotating menus, the Neapolitan-style pizza is the chief engine driving the concept deeper in Augello’s culinary roots.
Bread & Circus was always known for culinary adventurism. But his eccentricities are more accessible by dough than by other vehicles.
Neapolitan pizza is about elevating simple, well-sourced ingredients. The doughs are hand-tossed, on the chewycrunchy end of the crust spectrum, and are neutral in flavor profile. All eyes are on top: burrata cheese, fresh oregano, balsamic reduction, salumi and fried eggplant make appearances on a short list of five house pies.
Consider this in contrasts: On the one hand, Augello offers the familiar Pizza Margherita — bold San Marzano marinara, mellowed with fresh mozzarella and lightened with basil. With the other he submits the Pizza Palermo, a house-invention and ode to Augello’s native Sicily, which boasts pungent but balanced flavors — a house-staple marinara lays a base for Italian anchovies and onion. For cheese, this pie takes low-class Italian liberties with what Augello roughly translates as “poor man cheese,” a rich dusting of bread crumbs in lieu of mozz. You can forget the Parmesan shaker; for the Palermo your server grates bottarga — dry-cured roe, or what I call fish salt — on your pizza after it hits your table.
That accessibility is provided by the rest of the new rustic menu, 80 percent of which is prepared in that fire-breathing oven. If you’re not feeling the pizza, maybe garlic knots, veal meatball sliders, baked rotini or calzones will do the trick. For longtime fans, the Juicy Lucy, fried chicken and the miso ramen are here to stay.
The switch to a pizza-centric restaurant concept has given Augello the chance to lower his price points. Local restaurants are suffering from closing expense accounts, and typically the most lux are the first to go. Bread & Circus typically ran in the higher-priced circles that get hit hardest when money is tight.
“Pizza, its relatives and Italian food in general, for that matter, is a food culture demanding the gathering of friends and family in times of celebration and distress,” says Augello. “We want to be there for those times, especially the good ones. The more economically approachable we can be across all income levels the more we can practice our craft.”