At the corner of West Lemon and North Concord streets in downtown Lancaster, there is a pizza oven. It was there in the ’90s when the restaurant was Napoli Pizza. It survived the cafe years when the building housed Fred & Mary’s, Dosie Dough and Pickle’s Cafe. And, most recently, it stood silent guard as Sapori Caffe came and went.
Now, Ramon Espino has sunk $2,000 into fixing that oven. He’s also purchased a second pizza oven – one he says is older and better. He is literally banking on the belief that the two ovens – combined with his nearly 20 years of experience working in pizza shops in New York – can turn the cozy corner space back into a profitable restaurant as Espino’s Pizza.
He may be right. I ordered the stuffed meat lover pizza with a side of tostones (sliced, fried, pounded and re-fried plantains), then watched Espino, his wife and various family members go to work.
Espino talked the whole time he built the pizza. Stories of food, family, business and recipes all merged into a multi-cultural narrative as he poked, punched and pulled the house-made dough into a thin disc, then dotted it with meat. I had only ordered one slice of the best-seller – which comes with pepperoni, ground beef, ham and sausage. No slice was available, so mine was made fresh.
When the prep work was done, Espino slid the half-moon of meat, cheese and ivory-colored dough (dusted with what appeared to be cornmeal) into the small, black “new” oven.
Espino is from the Dominican Republic, and half of the menu at Espino’s Pizza reflects his heritage. It’s food he knows because, he says, it’s in his blood. But his experience is international. He’s worked in restaurants that featured French, Chinese, Jewish and Italian foods. He claims to have more than 400 pasta recipes in his head. But he wants to start slow and “make it” before getting too creative.
The meat lover pizza was not fancy, but it was good. It did not drip oil. The cheese and meat were flavorful and proportionate, and the crust had both crunch and spring.
Tostones with ketchup may be my new favorite bar food – as long as they are steaming hot. Unfortunately, Espino’s doesn’t have a liquor license. But, the restaurant is open late, and Espino says he gets his share of the post-bar crowd.
If you really want the good stuff, you should order a Caesar salad. A debate with Espino over the use of capers in his dressing led to a small salad on my table. One bite in, I could tell that if his house-made dressing is any indication, the creative pasta dishes he hopes to introduce are going to rock. The dressing was the best I’ve had in years.
• 323 West Lemon Street, Lancaster; 207-9237
• Sunday-Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.
• Not wheelchair accessible, credit cards accepted, completely nonsmoking, reservations accepted, alcohol not served, takeout available