There’s no lack of pizza styles in Greater Boston — wood-fired, Neapolitan-inspired pies; South Shore-style bar pizza; floppy New York slices; Detroit-style “squares”; New England Greek (think [insert town here] House of Pizza); and even beach pizza. But Si Cara, a restaurant opening early this summer in Cambridge’s Central Square, is giving the region a taste of something a little different: canotto-style pizza, a Neapolitan offshoot with an extra-puffy, airy crust. (The name means “dinghy.”)
“It was created by this younger generation that wanted to leave their stamp on Neapolitan pizza-making,” says Si Cara chef and owner Michael Lombardi, who is also partner at the acclaimed South End Italian restaurant SRV, which primarily draws inspiration from Venice and elsewhere in northern Italy. (He’ll stay onboard as partner at SRV, but Si Cara is his first solo project; it’s not under the umbrella of SRV’s parent company, the Coda Group. His team at Si Cara includes general manager Nicole LeClair, formerly of Hojoko, JM Curley, and Townsman, and chef de cuisine Jess Ngo, formerly of SRV.)
True Neapolitan pizza is famed for its strictly enforced definition, which includes a very specific process and ingredient list, so in a bit of rebellion, offshoot styles like canotto are becoming increasingly popular worldwide.
“[Canotto pizza] cooks quickly, like Neapolitan pizza does,” says Lombardi. “I like the freshness of it. It’s essentially like eating a loaf of bread fresh out of the oven, with fresh toppings.” He notes that the style isn’t hugely dissimilar from a traditional Neapolitan — the difference really comes down to the size of the crust, “which is achieved through a few technical changes.”
Lombardi landed the Cambridge location a year and a half ago after looking for his own restaurant space for years. While he grew up near noted pizza city New Haven, Connecticut, Lombardi found out about canotto-style pizza — an entirely different style than New Haven “apizza” — somewhere along his home pizza-making journey. “I was making a lot of pizza and studying it a lot and eating it as much as I could,” he says. “This is the food that I’d eat on a day off, if I was having people over at my house.” As such, wine and salads round out the menu at Si Cara.
Making Si Cara’s dough takes two to four days, and the process begins with a sourdough starter. The pizzas are baked in a gas-fired Marra Forni pizza oven. There will be a classic margherita on the menu, and diners might also see options like a pizza inspired by the traditional Roman dish pasta alla gricia (similar to carbonara but without egg). That pizza would have a pecorino sauce with guanciale and black pepper. Other pizza possibilities: shrimp and zucchini with salsa verde and Meyer lemon; burrata with spinach and speck; and pepperoni with onion and oregano.
Overall, the menu will be very vegetable-heavy, says Lombardi. “That’s just how I like to cook and eat.” And — as the emphasis on Neapolitan-ish pizza suggests — don’t expect a strict interpretation of Italian cuisine. Where SRV focuses on a particular region of Italy, Lombardi sees Si Cara as more about “the inspiration of pizza” in general, “not necessarily being extremely Italian in everything we do.”
That said, the snack-y first section of the menu will definitely lean Italian, including an antipasto platter (cured meats, cheese, and pickled and marinated vegetables); arancini with pancetta, corn, and miso; and fried mozzarella with an ’nduja bagna cauda dipping sauce.
Also on the menu will be some shared plates and salads, such as bitter melon panzanella with tomato, cucumber, and peanut; charred eggplant with pine nut and ginger salmoriglio; and baked meatballs with bechamel, cherry tomato, and basil.
Si Cara has a full liquor license, but natural wines will be the focus, with selections from Italy and beyond. While alcohol will be available for dine-in customers all day, lunch service and dinner service will have a decidedly different feel: Lunch will be counter-service, with slices on display, salads, and focaccia sandwiches for dine-in or takeout. Dinner, on the other hand, will be full-service (takeout will be available, too.) Lombardi expects lunch to begin within the first two weeks of the restaurant’s opening, pending any staffing issues.
Si Cara will seat 55 inside and 30 outside, with outdoor dining available right from the start. The interior will be “somewhat raw,” says Lombardi, with exposed ceilings, concrete floors, and wood tones, with lots of shelving showcasing the wines and an open kitchen with the pizza oven in view. “Pretty minimal with a sense of character,” he says of the space.
The restaurant’s name means “yes, dear” in Italian, inspired by what Lombardi describes as that Italian-American relationship between grandparents and grandchildren and the hospitality that it entails — going over to your grandparents’ house and they always have food ready and always say yes to everything that you ask for.
“I grew up in a place where I could have a full meal and show up to my grandparents’ house and they didn’t care that you just ate,” says Lombardi. “They had food; they were ready to serve you and you couldn’t leave without having something.” Lombardi recalls nights eating dessert…and then more dessert. “My parents would never let that happen, but grandparents just do. They always said yes to their grandchildren.”
As Si Cara gets closer to opening, watch Instagram for updates, and start planning some pizza nights. “It’s about the pizza and the wine,” says Lombardi. “That’s really what the whole space is about.”