Do not be fooled by the quaint brick building and steep steps that sit back off the street as you drive toward Newport on the Levee on Monmouth Street; Strong’s Brick Oven Pizzeria is not just another pizza joint. Although the exterior doesn’t stand out with screaming colorful signs or a decked-out front entrance, the inside is equipped with a state of the art pizza making machine hailing from Italy — one big brick oven.
What used to be a bagel shop, then a vacant space has transformed into a restaurant with two dining areas plus a patio spacious enough to handle plenty of diners in the row-style building. The most important piece, the heart of the factory, is the brick oven. It’s the first thing you see when you walk inside — cooks milling around it, feeding it pizzas. There is no shame in enjoying watching the oven swallow the food, cramming every morsel inside its fiery belly.
Of course our group sat on the patio since the weather permitted us to enjoy a nice cold beer and pizza outside. There are a few two-tops outside, but I really liked that I got to sit at a picnic table that comfortably seats six people. The two dining areas inside are clean, and the exposed brick adds some nice color to the rooms.
The beer and wine list are nothing to write home about, lackluster at best considering the caliber of their pizzas. We chose Peroni, as the other options seemed less inspiring (ahem, Miller Lite). Luckily, the booze menu didn’t foreshadow the onslaught of deliciousness that was about to ravage the table.
The menu offers a few appetizers: Caesar Salad ($4.25), Garlic Pesto Cheesy Bread ($5.99), Spinach Artichoke Dip ($7.45) and some other items that looked promising as starters for a pizza entrée. To be honest, we just wanted to give this fire-breathing tank from Italy a run for its money, and the Caesar salad was not going to cut it.
We ran the gamut of the menu, trying as many pizzas that we thought best represented the menu, which meant three 16-inch pizzas from their Gourmet Pizza selection ($16.95 each). They do offer an array of toppings for the picky patron, but we thought we better leave those decisions to the experts. The server, a lovely and very helpful woman, told us the pizzas would come out one at a time as they were ready. Perfect.
Let’s get one thing straight about this style of pizza: the crust is serious. For people who make their own dough at home, reading all of those books and doing anything to get your oven above 550 degrees (like using the oven’s self-cleaning lock), this crust is for you. The dough is thin, with beautiful crisp air pockets that bulge out of the pizza. It is golden, charred and chewy. The toppings are tossed on top, deliberately, but asymmetrically, rustic in every sense.
The first pizza to kick off our dinner was The “Cosentino.” This straightforward mixture of sausage, tomato, red pepper and garlic with gooey mozzarella cheese screams simplicity, but the combination is an effortless gemstone.
The next one, a favorite at our table, was the 3 Cheese Pizza Bianca. The presentation won everyone over. The ricotta cheese was smeared on like oil paints on a palette. The mozzarella and Romano cheese spread out in a thin layer covering the whole round of dough except for a sliver of the edge. It was salty, sweet and tender. The server initially warned us that the pizza does not come topped with a sauce, but to our delight, it didn’t need it.
The last pizza to join the group was the Pizza Alla Vodka. This goldmine of flavors combines sweet and creamy sauce with mushrooms, spinach and Prosciutto. The thin slices of meat provide the extra salty flavor to give the mouth a break from the creamy sauce and bitter greens.
As appetizing as the desserts sounded, the Hot Apple Pizza ($8.95) loaded with cinnamon, sugar and topped with chocolate and raspberry sauce or the Heavenly White Pie ($5.99), a white chocolate Pizza, their fantastic pizza leaves little room for such indulgences.
Strong’s Brick Oven Pizzeria
GO: 336 Monmouth St., Newport
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
ENTREE PRICES: $9-$18