Cold weather days won’t stop anyone from celebrating February’s best events: Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, and my favorite, National Pizza Day.  That’s right, National Pizza Day.  February 9 has been deemed the official day pizza is venerated.  However, as any pizza lover will agree National Pizza Day could easily be celebrated any day of the year, especially when it’s made authentically in the Neapolitan tradition. Merriam-Webster's Definition of Neopolitan: a native or inhabitant of Naples, Italy

“Pizza originally came from Naples and that’s the style I make.” said Chef Frank Bongiovanni, the pizza master at Cibare Italian Kitchen at River City Casino & Hotel. “It’s the best. There’s nothing else like it.”  And Chef Frank should know since he learned the art of pizza making in his native Italy before immigrating to the US in 1969.

Soon after Frank arrived he opened his first pizza operation in O’Fallon, Missouri. That was back in the day before the mega pizza chains dominated the market and the best pies came from small pizzerias. In opinion they still do - pizzas made from scratch and to order in the old world style. Hand tossed and baked traditionally in wood fired ovens, as those Chef Frank still creates.

“There’s nothing like a real Napoli style pizza.  But to make it you have to have the right ingredients and we have them here. We import all the flour and the tomatoes from Italy. We make the sauce, sausage and use a special whole milk mozzarella cheese. And we bake the pizza in a wood oven.  We do everything just like in it’s done in Napoli.  The only thing we don't do is chop the wood.

The wood fires Cibare’s copper-clad pizza oven that was custom-made and installed with a combination wood burning and gas element. The oven helps create a superior crust while imparting an authentic mild wood flavor.

The wood of choice is oak, which helps fuel the oven in reaching its 720 to 750-degree internal temperature that bakes the perfect pizza in less than five minutes. And that’s a good thing considering Chef Frank will hand toss over seventy-five pizzas for customers alone on a Friday night. 

“Frank is an expert, a master pizza maker,” said Cibare’s Chef de Cuisine Chef Pierpaolo Pittia. “ He knows the tricks and the details on how to make the perfect pizza because he has the old school know-how and knows how bake with a wood oven just like they do in Italy.”

When asked what’s the secret to a great pizza Frank said, “Not too much and not too little toppings. It’s got to be just right and look good. My favorite pizza here is the Cibare because it has a little bit of everything on it.”

Customers can order pizza and calzone, which I call an inside out pizza – ingredients stuffed and folded in pizza dough.  Order it anyway you like. As Frank said, “Anything you want I’ll do. I want to make people happy. That’s way I enjoy my job. I make people happy with my food. I want them to love my pizza as much as I do.”