Frank Nattle is interested in authenticity.
“My family’s from Naples. And the flour I use, my tomatoes, my cheese, it’s all from Naples,” the restaurateur explained while he gingerly kneaded dough from behind the counter of , the eagerly anticipated brick oven pizza shop he opened at 249 Bridge Street on June 15.
Nattle‘s commitment to authenticity is such that, when decided to leave the now-shuttered –where he won a Main Line Today award for Best Margherita Pizza during his stint as its pizza chef–to strike out on his own, he imported not just a brick oven from Naples, but a pair of Neapolitans to construct it.
“There’s only a couple ovens like this in America," he said proudly.
"This brick and this stone; it’s all from Mount Vesuvius in Naples. It’s right out of the volcano,” he added, stopping short to tell a customer who came over to praise the pizza he'd just finished that he still had some of it on his face.
“You’ve got some cheese on your chin...no, not there,” Nattle advised, “okay, you got half of it...you got all of it.”
“I’ll be back dog,” the customer, now clean chinned and sated, promised as he walked out.
Nattle returned to the subject of the oven, and the preparation of a white pizza another customer had ordered.
“That’s how they make it in Naples. And even people in Rome don’t disagree, Naples has the best pizza in the world. Naples is the birthplace of pizza. And pizza in Naples is different from pizza anywhere in Italy.”
“It’s just different. It’s a different way to make pizza.”
As for Nattle’s pizza: he says his most authentic pie–and this is something like being the tallest member of the Miami Heat–is his mozzarella di bufala. Its ingredients include buffalo cheese, san marzano tomatoes, and caputo flour from Northern Naples.
“They grow them on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius,” Nattle said of his tomatoes.
Once constructed, Nattle slides the pies in his brick, wood-fired oven for about 90 seconds–the oven reaches an internal temperature of 1,100 degrees, which allows it to cook especially quickly–and voila.
“There you have it,” he said, as he removed a white pizza, crisp and fragrant, from the oven.
Though this is Nattle’s first foray into restaurant ownership he says he’s hardly a novice: food is in his blood. His grandfather owned the Trio in Phoenixville and, as a boy, he learned how to cook in the kitchen with his grandmother. Today, his entire staff at Vecchia is family.
“You want some pizza?” an employee asked a reporter, who politely declined.
“That’s my cousin,” shrugged Nattle. “[But] all of Phoenixville is practically my family.”