above: Wood-fired meatballs and burrata; owner and chef Bes Kaba; sausage ‘n pepper pie heading into the fire.
Photographs: Venera Alexandrova
Family-friendly sophisticated contemporary Italian adds to SoNo’s food scene
Warm, lightly charred focaccia and olive oil with herbs and balsamic—this welcoming gesture, rare in inflationary times, gives guests an insight into what’s to come at SoNo Wood Fired. Nibbling on the slow-fermented, wood-fired focaccia, guests order drinks and review the menu. The glowing embers and flaming charred wood in the oven fires up more than contemporary thin-crust pizzas, spicy wings and gooey mac ‘n cheese. The main courses are ingredient-forward and casually sophisticated enough to please foodies—oven-roasted Faroe Island salmon, slow -braised short ribs, and zuppe di pesce.
SoNo Wood Fired, which opened in January, meets guests’ different moods. One visit we ordered apps and mains. On another, we ordered pizzas and salad. At another table, a father taking his son and friends for a post-game, pre-movie dinner (SoNo Wood Fired is across from the Bow Tie Cinema), sat at apart from the kids, enjoying a beer and chicken parm, while the kids dipped homemade mozzarella sticks into red sauce, and devoured several pizzas. Chef/owner Besar Kaba wants his place to be inviting to all ages and configurations of guests, looking for well-made, reasonably priced Italian food in a time when people seem to be eating out less.
The space has a spare, industrial vibe, with wood tables and chairs and retro industrial lighting. Faded wood siding evokes old picnic tables. On the wall, a mural copy of Banksy’s “Girl with a Balloon,” holds onto a pizza balloon. A long bar fills in the evenings with guests eating and drinking craft beers, wine and the house sangria.
How are the pizzas? The dough is fermented for two or three days, which creates a light, puffy-edged leopard-speckled crust. Pies are individual size, and our table of four relished the opportunity to try several. Of course we ordered the margherita, the classic made with San Marzano tomato sauce, fiore di latte (fresh mozzarella) and a couple whole fresh basil leaves placed on a couple slices (making the rest of the pie safe for kids who don’t touch green). The chef uses house-made sausage on the sausage ‘n pepper pie, and make his own spicy chili honey, which he drizzles on the spicy-sweet Calebrese.
Two of the white pies were our table’s favorites. In Due Thyme is spread with caramelized onions, scattered with bacon, and drizzled with honey over a base of fiore de latte, balancing sweet, smokey, salty, earthy flavors with the crisp char of the crust. Funghi features tartufa black truffle sauce imported from Italy and sliced mushrooms over a base of three cheeses, fior di latte, luxurious burrata and rich Taleggio, a semi-soft, washed-rind, cow’s milk cheese.
Figgy Smalls presents beautifully, prosciutto draped on a bed of arugula, sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts. Beneath that fresh, salty topping is a sweet layer of fig and honey spread, and melted fiore di latte. This pie is for people with a sweet tooth.
The Pizzaria Salad is a shareable bowl of fresh green leaves glistening in a bright lemon dressing, showered with shards of parm. Kalamata olives are tucked into the salad, and a hot pickled pepper dares the adventurous. Caesar and baby kale round out the focused salad menu.
Whether dining on pizza or a main course, the Wood-fired Wings are a must-order starter. Our server suggested the spicy citrus garlic wings, and he was right. They were juicy, made from scratch. Blue cheese sauce seemed unnecessary to me, overwhelming the zest of the spicy citrus garlic wings. But my dining companion dipped wings into the sauce with gusto, saying it is an essential part of the experience. Mac n’cheese is irresistible, kid-and adult-friendly. Beneath lightly browned bread crumbs, traditional elbows enrobed in creamy white sauce made from a blend of four cheeses, one of which, I suspect is mozzarella.
The mains were seriously pleasing. Wood-fired Faroe Island salmon with capers and pine nuts sat on a bed of roasted multi-colored carrots, with a tumble of roasted fingerling potatoes. The chef changes the veggies up according to season and availability. Short ribs, braised in the oven for four hours, is also hearty and satisfying, with rich, spot-on flavors in the mushroom risotto and gravy. Those braised short ribs are also used in a sauce for rigatoni and papparedelle.
SWEETZ, as the menu calls it, end the meal. Wood-fired S’mores arrived in a casserole, looking like a present that has been opened (the graham crackers stood on the sides like flaps of an open box. Soft pillows of browned marshmallows, over a layer of melted chocolate, ahhhh, this is a dessert to be shared. SoNo Wood Fired is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, welcoming to all ages, serving ingredient-forward dishes at a reasonable price, prepared by a caring chef.
SoNo Wood Fired
59 N. Main Street
11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.