Field Report: Bufalina Pizza In East Austin Texas

A long, hard road.

That’s the path that Steve Dilley walked down as he attempted to open Bufalina pizza restaurant in Austin, Texas. Underground eaters began gnashing their teeth way back in 2011 when word circulated that East Austin was set to become the proving ground for a painstakingly authentic pizzeria in the Cesar Chavez barrio.

A barrio where 600sf bungalows go for a quarter million dollars, but a barrio nonetheless.

We began covering the buildout early on here http://chowpapi.com/bufalina-pizzaeast-austin-set-to-get-major-new-player-in-central-texas-pizza-game/

Back then we reckoned Bufalina would be up and running in time for southby 2012.

We were wrong.

Last week, the team behind the restaurant flung the doors open for friends and family in a series of food parties designed to work the kinks out of the operation prior to their official open.

On our visit, no kinks were evident, as we had one of our best meals of 2013.

The tomato salad arrives freshly plucked from the soil of Engel Farms in Fredericksburg. The Amish-simple dish features tommy toe-style fruit, halved and drizzled with a stunning olive oil of unknown provenance. Torn bits of fresh basil from Johnson’s Backyard Garden (our favorite of the Austin mom n pops) and housemade mozzarella wrenched from the udders of Mill King cows up in Waco, finish the plate. We ask for salt but the chef has lightly seasoned the plate so none is necessary.

Our years-long Scrumptious Chef charcuterie project has our nose tilted toward the heavens as we have a ridiculously high bar for cured meats hereabouts. Bufalina does not disappoint. If you’re not going to do it in-house, make sure you have your sourcing correct, and the chef has all the heavy hitters on speed dial: La Quercia (Iowa) provides the speck and the lomo while Olli (Virginia) is the source for the calabrese salami.

That meat would’ve made a meal unto itself with the warm loaf of Easy Tiger bread hot out of the oven that came alongside.

And only God himself knows how much money the Bufalina team dropped on that oven. Stefano Ferrara kilns out of Naples, Italy don’t come cheap. The massive furnace takes up a big hunk of prime real estate in the rear of the tiny restaurant. Part spacecraft, part sentinel, it’s an art project with nearly a hundred years of history backing its design.

You know your pizzaiolo is serious when you see one of these multi-ton apparati in the restaurant.

Serious.

Bufalina sources their cheese (the ones they don’t make in-house) from Antonelli’s up in Hyde Park. We’ll know Austin has hit the big time when a rival to the sainted Antonelli’s pops up. For now, no one has been brave enough to butt heads with these kingpins. Our plate, a meal in itself, features Chabrin from the Basque region of France; Pecorino Toscano Stagionato from Italy, and a punch-to-the-kidneys stout, Dunbarton blue from Wisconsin.

Hopeless gluttons, we segue smoothly to the pie part of the menu. Only 5 pizzas long, we quickly vector in on 2 that have a tractor beam-like pull on our gullets.

The calabrese, featuring salami from the Creminelli family of Utah, has historical antecedents stretching back to the 1600s! When Mussolini got the meat hook in Italy back in 1945, Ugo Creminelli was the chef to the Iron Prefect’s successor.

That alone is reason enough to go to Bufalina in our book.

But that pizza is fucking insane. San Marzano DOPs, mozzarella, roasted peppers, and that meat, that glorious meat, place that pie among the best we’ve ever eaten and that includes trips to Italy, Croatia, and New York. And Barbourville, Kentucky but that’s another story for another time.

Sausage pie arrives next and it’s another rigorous exercise in simplicity. Salt and Time meat, broccoli rabe, mozzarella and chile flakes straddle the airy, floury (Caputo 00) crust. Unfortunately a small  portion of pie real estate had lingered too long near the oaken fire and was rendered inedible, but the pizzaiola had his hands full with a packed house of hungry eaters so the occasional misstep is to be expected.

And about that oaken fire. Lockhart, Texas post oak, sixteen months old, is trucked in from Caldwell County to give flight to the menu. The Stefano Ferrara runs upwards of a thousand degrees allowing the pies to come out after only 60 seconds in its fiery bowels. We peered deep into the heart of this monster and were taken aback. It’s an inferno.

In spite of the packed house and a long line of hopeful, would-be eaters queued up against the wall, service is affable and efficient. Our waitress is a peach, and seems to enjoy the heavy throb of the room as the diners place repeated demands on her attention.

There are a dozen wines by the glass, if you’re into that sort of thing, and a half dozen Texas beers to choose from. We drink a ten dollar glass of organic Lioco Indica Carignan, and a five dollar pint of Austin Beer Works Fire Eagle. I showed the wine selections to a buddy who earns a good living in that industry, and he reports that it’s a thoughtful list with some good value afoot.

Bufalina is tiny. It’s that little neighborhood cafe that you can eat in a few times a month without breaking the bank or getting bored with the menu. Owner Steve Dilley has committed to sourcing seasonally so the menu will be constantly changing as Texas goes from Summer to not Summer and back again.

A pizza or 2 followed by a leisurely hang at Top Dawgs Sports Bar across the street would make for a fine night on the town in this new Austin we find ourselves in in 2013.

Hours  Wed – Sun 5:30 – 11:30

Address: 1519 E Cesar Chavez

Telephone (512) 524-2523

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About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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