Flour House: A Slice of Naples in San Luis Obispo
Formerly Vieni Vai Trattoria for 18 years, Debbie and Giuseppe “Joe” Silvestre have handed over the keys to their daughter Gessica and son-in-law Alberto Russo. The husband-and-wife team now own and operate Flour House—the hippest new joint to open up on Higuera earlier this year. Their speciality: authentic Napoletana pizza, scratch made pastas, and a cocktail program that takes a cultural nod to the Italian version of happy hour.
Flour House is the real deal. In fact, the Russos own the only imported Stefano Ferrara wood-burning pizza oven between Los Angeles and San Francisco, an oven specifically engineered for replicating authentic Naples-style pizza. “There are two wood-burning ovens in the world: regular wood-burning ovens and pizza napoletana wood-burning ovens. The latter has a certain type of brick, stone, overall form, and opening. It has a smaller than usual opening in the oven because the heat has to be concentrated because the pizza has to cook quickly,” explains Alberto, the Salerno transplant. According to the European law, the pies must bake between 60-90 seconds at 900°F. Yup, you read that right, pizza laws! Similar to the wine industry and the cheese industry, names are officially protected in order to maintain integrity of the product, e.g. if it’s called Champagne, it comes from Champagne, France. “To claim pizza napoletana on your menu you have to use certain products and use a certain technique. We use 00 flour from Italy for our dough, we use San Marzano tomatoes for our sauce, and we use mozzarella di bufala (buffalo’s milk mozzarella from the pastures of Campania, Italy) for our cheese. The only things that we use here in the United States is water and basil for the pizza. After that, we use so many local products from San Luis Obispo to put on top of the pizza.” Flour House sticks within these pizza parameters and offers their own modern twist by offering three different sauces: rossa, a San Marzano tomato sauce base; bianca, a fior di latte (cow’s milk cheese) base; and verde, a pesto base. Innovative topping combinations include: gorgonzola, speck, and balsamic reduction; or olives, Spanish anchovies, garlic, chili flakes, pecorino, and basil. They even cater to the gluten-intolerant crowd with gluten-free pizza dough and select gluten-free pastas. “The time to make one gluten-free pizza takes about 5x longer as a regular pizza; it's really a long process to stretch the dough because there is no gluten to act as elastic. It takes longer to stretch it, but when you eat it there is no difference. I’ve had a lot of Italians come in here and taste it and they couldn't tell it was gluten-free, which is where I get a lot of satisfaction,” boasts Alberto. [Writer’s note: I tried the two pizzas side-by-side and was unable to detect the difference. Bravo!]
Flour House prides itself on being part pizzeria and part pastaria. Every place mat includes a history and description about their pasta shapes and sizes, as well as accompanying illustrations for some fun tableside reading. “The majority of Italian restaurants here only serve dry pasta and maybe one in-house, like gnocchi or ravioli. Some restaurants will claim that their lasagna is homemade, but the sheets aren't. Yes they compile the layers of lasagna at the restaurant, but it's not homemade. All of the pasta we make is made from scratch and you can really taste the difference,” says Gessica. These two have serious passion for fresh pasta and rightfully so—their pillowy homemade pastas make most guests weak in the knees. Their lineup includes fusilli, spaghetti, pappardelle, ravioli, risotto, gnocchi, and scialatielli two ways (Sorretina style and Amalfi style)—all of which are married with their fresh, from scratch sauces.
Gessica, Italian by blood, and Alberto, Italian by birth, knew they wanted to bring yet another touch of authenticity to their restaurant through their drink menu. In Italy, it’s common for cafeterias—think French brasserie; or a coffee shop with full bar and small bites—to serve Italian apertivi (cocktails) with small complimentary snacks. “We do an Italian aperativo hour, our version of American happy hour, every Monday through Friday, from 3-6 pm. We feature popular Italian cocktails at discounted prices, we also discount our wine on tap and our well, and you get a complimentary small plate with purchase of a drink!” says Gessica. Wet your whistle with refreshing cocktails like Campari & Soda, Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco, soda, orange wedge), or their signature “Made in Italy” (vodka and crodino—Italian orange herbal soda); and wash it down with complimentary small plates like melon and prosciutto, or crostini with arugula and cherry tomatoes. *Clink* Italians are masters at la dolce vita, take advantage of this tradition any day of the week, post-work, pre-dinner.
Exciting changes are still in the works: a new menu for winter based on what is seasonally available at the market, a revamped patio featuring a secondary bar, and industry night highlighting local musicians. Plus the couple is expecting their first bambino—who perhaps one day might carry on the family tradition as a third-generation restaurateur!
Flour House is now accepting reservations for holiday parties, learn more at flourhouseslo.com.
Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country
Holidays 2016 · Issue 16