Those who know me, know that I’m a pizza fanatic. My infatuation with this amazingly simple dish began at a young age, which was easy with Italian immigrant parents who owned a pizza shop. You could say it’s in my blood.
So when I met someone equally enthusiastic about pizza, I may have shed a tear. When talking with Bufalina owner Steven Dilley, his passion for cooking is very apparent. With every return visit, I continue to be be amazed.
Some might place Bufalina in the up and coming category of Austin restaurants. But with its atmosphere, service and pizza combinations, I think it has made it to the big leagues.
Now, don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t tried Bufalina yet. But do yourself a favor and go eat there. Immediately.
Austin Legend in the Making
Born in Austin, Steven Dilley is not your typical restaurateur. With no formal restaurant experience, Dilley took his passion for cooking and channelled it into creating one of the best pizza joints in Austin. He spent several years in New York, where the thing that kept him most grounded were the hours he spent cooking and experimenting with new flavor combinations.
Dilley made his way to Italy. There, despite language barriers, he was determined to learn all there is to know about Neapolitan style pizza. And he did just that. After just a few months in Italy, now armed with an authentic wood burning oven from Naples, Dilley returned to Austin to share his love for cooking and pizza.
The Key Ingredient
According to Dilley, the key to amazing pizza is all in the dough. I tend to agree. What seems so simple can make or break a pizza. And with just four ingredients, you would think there isn’t much room for error. So can someone please tell me why I am not eating amazing pizza every day from every pizza joint in Austin?
Dilley explained it perfectly. There are a number of nuances and conditions which bring new challenges for pizza makers and their dough every day. Nuances as simple as the brand of flour, and unforeseen conditions such as weather changes. When you think you have the dough recipe down to a science, the good ol’ Austin humidity kicks in. “With the dough,” Dilley commented, “you’re never there. You’re never done perfecting it.”
When you actually take the time to do something right, you take something so simple – bread, cheese and veggies – and make it into something extraordinary. That’s what the folks at Bufalina do every day.
Located on the corner of E. Cesar Chavez and Comal, Bufalina recently made it onto my top five list of pizza joints in Austin. I stand by my decision to include Bufalina even more today than I did three months ago, which I didn’t think possible. But every time I eat at Bufalina, it’s better than the last. That’s not to say the previous time was bad. It’s more to say that when you think Dilley and his team have perfected their product, they go and make it even better.
Bufalina is located in the most unassuming building at 1519 E Cesar Chavez. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll drive right past it. That is, of course, unless you go anytime during business hours Wednesday-Sunday between 5:30-11:30 PM, as there is always a line out the door.
When you arrive, you’ll notice the simplicity of the space. The decor is that of an old Italian cafe with paint peeling off the walls. But this is contrasted by the super sleek bar and tables. And center stage is the beautiful wood burning oven.
On my most recent visit, I ordered wine while waiting for a table, enjoying the unique aromas which filled the air. I didn’t have to wait long and my party was seated at a communal table.
Come to think of it, we didn’t wait long for anything. We weren’t rushed, but we weren’t waiting for hours either. Just think about it. When you’re baking in an oven that is 700 degrees, it only takes a few minutes to cook a pizza. So your decision on what to eat will literally take longer than baking your pie to perfection.
One of my favorite pies from a previous dinning experience was the anchovy pizza, which is no longer on the menu. When I asked Dilley specifically about this pizza, he honestly explained he could no longer get the brand of anchovies he wanted and wasn’t going to serve a sub par pizza. In the meantime, the Napoletano pizza is the closest substitute, playing up a spicy and sweet flavor combination.
Along with the Napoletano, we sampled the Calzone, the Brussel Sprouts, and their newest pizza highlighting their take on summer veggies. And then we had dessert.
Did I mention we ate it all?
The calzone was the first thing to come out, and boy did it set the tone for the night. Topped with sage, the beautiful aroma filled the table and reminded me of the simple Italian dish Gnocchio al burro e salvia (gnocchi in butter and sage sauce). It wasn’t too heavy and the flavors danced in our mouths.
Everything else afterwards was a blur. Pizza after pizza. Devouring each and savoring their unique flavors at the same time. I can’t choose a favorite, but I will say you should order one pizza per person and share.
Bufalina’s Plans for the Future
Later this month on July 18th, Bufalina will celebrate its one year anniversary. In recognition of this milestone, I asked Dilley if he has any major plans for the future. Other than toying around with the idea of lunch hours on the weekend, he’s content with the mom and pop feel of the business.
What other restaurant can boast that everyone who was there on day one still works there today? When you get people together who enjoy what they do and are passionate about food, particularly pizza, you can’t go wrong.
What’s your favorite pizza combination?