Dallas pizza pioneer debuts creative test concept at Plano food hall
Local pizza chain Cavalli is joining the stampede of restaurants opening in Legacy Food Hall in Plano, but with a differently named concept called Forno Nero. It will serve a condensed version of the Cavalli menu, centered on its Neapolitan-style pizza.
Cavalli was the first Neapolitan pizzeria in the Dallas area when it opened its inaugural branch in Irving in 2007. A second branch opened in McKinney in 2010, and a third in Lewisville in 2016. Original owners were Paolo and Clara Cavalli; Paolo passed away in 2016.
The new owner is Chase LaFerney, who worked with Plano restaurant company Yum! Brands and whose family was in the restaurant business. He was first intrigued by the pizza, but ultimately became involved because of the stability of the company.
"I think we have the best pizza in town, but I was also impressed by the tenure and loyalty of the employees, some of whom go back to when the company began," he says. "Paolo was an engineer before Cavalli, and he set up a system that's really effective."
LaFerney took over when there were two branches, and oversaw the opening in Lewisville. The basic menu is the same at all three, but each keys into its neighborhood.
"The audience in Lewisville is completely different from McKinney," he says. "We added a couple of pizzas that are unique to Lewisville, including a white pizza with chorizo, cilantro, mozzarella, and crema. In McKinney, they'd been doing this giant tapas menu but a lot of those dishes weren't getting ordered, so we added some fresh pastas instead."
The new concept at Legacy Hall will have a smaller menu with a lot more improvisation.
"We're calling it Forno Nero, which means 'black oven,' because it will feature a showpiece domed black oven," he says. "But to give you an idea of what it's about, we almost called it 'Test Kitchen.' It'll be a little different. We'll be doing 10-inch pizzas instead of the 12-inch pizzas we usually do. There will be five to six pizzas that will be staples that are always on the menu, and four to five that are seasonal. That seems like a good fit for a place like Legacy Hall."
The smaller size will address what is the most frequently heard feedback, regarding the nature of the crust. Many parts of Dallas are still grappling with the nature of the Neapolitan-style pizza crust, which is more supple than the flat cardboard bottom that previously dominated the local pizza scene. If you scan Yelp for local Neapolitan pizzerias, half of the comments seem to dwell on the fact that the crust is not crisp.
"The crust on the 10-inch pizzas holds up much better, you can pull up a slice and the toppings don't fall off," LaFerney says.
When Cavalli first opened, Neapolitan-style pizza was still relatively unknown, and acquiring a VPN certification from the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, proving that your pizza was made in the true style of Napoli, Italy, added value. But with numerous chains doing the style, such as Spin, Blaze, Project Pie, and the latest, MiDici, VPN certification has become less of a thing.
"We switched to APN, Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, which certifies the pizzaiolo not the restaurant," LaFerney says. "But we're still doing things the Neapolitan way, using the ingredients and fermenting our dough for 36-48 hours. We're basically bringing Neapolitan-style pizza to the suburbs."