Unlike many young cooks these days, Vincent Morelli doesn’t talk much. In fact, getting him to open up about his vision for Cent’s Pizza was a bit like pulling mozzarella: a bit laborious. No, Morelli prefers to show rather than tell, both through his meticulously organized interior and carefully prepared food. The benefit of such an approach, as evidenced by the awe-inspiring look on the faces of guests upon arrival, is to foster an experience that outlasts the slices.
Duck into Cent’s, which is located in an unassuming brick building on the Ohio City / Detroit Shoreway border, and you’re immersed in a world of Morelli’s construction. This world is a tangerine-colored painting that literally envelops diners, who have to walk under and through a modular shelving assembly kit. These shelves are filled with artistic and eclectic products such as imported food, clothing, household items and independent magazines, items that cater to the artistic whims of the owner. The space in the wooden frame is reserved for a DJ station equipped with turntables and the like. This equipment combines with a projector and retractable screen system to produce an overall audio / video experience.
As a former visual merchandising for a street fashion brand, it’s no surprise that Morelli is branching out into interior design. But it was the stint at Roberta’s in Brooklyn that ignited her passion for pizza served in a lively and unconventional atmosphere. Like this pioneering pizzeria, Cent’s revolves around a wood-fired oven. And while the food is unmistakably serious, the vibe is anything but. This is the kind of place where diners can get a little drunk, be a little rowdy, and not worry too much about offending the table next door.
When Cent’s opened in August, it did so with the increasingly familiar format that required customers to order at the counter, grab a digital card, and sit inside or outside. . This system has given way to a more traditional system that uses servers taking orders with portable devices. This structure will make even more sense when the restaurant obtains its liquor license in the coming weeks and waiters find themselves ordering drinks. (For now, Cent’s is BYOB, with a service charge of $ 5 per person.)
People often describe a pizza crust as being so good that it can be enjoyed on its own. At Cent’s, this is definitely the case, where the Wonder Bread ($ 6) appears on most tables. After a quick passage in the wood-fired oven, a ball of dough turns into an almost spherical steamed bread. Of course, it tastes even better when sprinkled with house-grown butter ($ 2) or ‘nduja ($ 10), a funky and fiery free-form sausage. Other entrees include homemade stracciatella, duck prosciutto, pickled vegetables, and an assortment of canned fish like octopus, sardines, and white anchovies ($ 10), which are seasoned with olive oil, of lemon, capers and herbs.
Morelli’s Caesar Kale ($ 12) is stacked with vibrant greens and drizzled with Parmesan and lemon zest. Another salad mixes endive and curly with fresh herbs in a vinaigrette with Aleppo spices.
Regarding the main event, Morelli also opposes the convention. Although shaped by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven, the pies can only be vaguely described as Neapolitan. They are larger, more evenly round, and lack the medium, wild crown typical of the genus. At the top, Morelli artfully weaves bold ingredients like speck, white anchovies, cream cheese, and even Luxardo cherries into cohesive arrangements that surprise as much as satisfy. Even so-called staples like meatball pie are reworked into more elegant and enjoyable creations. Cent’s version, called Sunday Gravy ($ 18), is lightly gravy and sprinkled with bite-sized meatballs, heaps of sliced garlic, and a burst of pecorino. The Pepperoni ($ 16) features a sea of melted mozz topped with a flotilla of clean-rimmed ‘roni’ cups. In addition to a stable of a dozen pies, the restaurant offers specials like Phat Parm ($ 20), a seasonal arrangement with pancetta, Brussels shavings and parmesan cream.
Tables are set with a stack of ceramic plates, silverware, glassware, and a pitcher of ice water. When the pies arrive, they’re not placed on the predictable recycled tomato boxes, but on smooth, chunky wooden pillars of varying heights, proving that almost no detail has been overlooked.
In some ways, Morelli’s little Lorain stretch is reminiscent of the 2008 Wild Bushwick that drew Roberta’s owners. It’s south of the action in Detroit Shoreway, west of Ohio City and still sparsely populated with restaurants. Like his former employers, Vincent “Cent” Morelli is a pioneer in pizza making ready to usher in the next wave of development.
Cent’s Pizza + Merchandise
5010 Lorain Ave., Cleveland