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1 6 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t FLOUR POWER AMONG THE BEER-SOAKED college bars and cowboy-grub joints of leafy and always sunny San Luis Obispo is arguably the best pizza in California. You'll find it at Flour House. Walking into the airy modern space, one is overcome with a warm calm: the smell of garlic and baking dough, and lighting that seems to make every- one look a little tanner, a little more healthy, whether day or night (one patron was overheard saying the light- ing and space made him feel rich). The next thing you notice is Alberto Russo, the co-owner and primo pizza chef, zipping between the tables. He is a whirlwind of energy, always a smile beaming above his black apron that is perpetually doused with flour. If you happen in for lunch, watch him as he slices through the sun's rays and you'll see a faint, dusty wake of flour. Alberto and his wife Gessica, who handles front-of-the-house, opened this, their first restaurant, only months ago, and it has already become a hit among locals. This is no small feat. Home of Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo—or SLO, as it's called—has no shortage of pizza places and only a handful of upscale restaurants. Flour House is an amalgam of both, with its wood-fired, single-serving pizzas going for upwards of $20 and a strict policy of disallowing "create your own" pies. The reason the hostess station and spacious bar—which has a large and eclectic apertivo-driven cocktail menu—are teeming every night with people waiting for tables is Alberto's authentic pizza Napoletana. The term "authentic" gets thrown around far too much, but because Flour House follows the actual Italian law on pizza Napoletana (don't you just love Italy; it has a law for pizzas), it's allowed to boast "authentica" on its menu. The oven and the dough are es- sential to the classic light and chewy Naples style, says Alberto Russo, who made pizzas in the Italian city after moving there from Sicily. "I always make the dough, the day before, to ferment, which allows the yeast to burrow holes and pockets into the dough," he says. "Then the oven is designed with a tiny opening, to retain heat, and will cook all the way through in a matter of minutes." Put it all together—the purity of the ingredients, the airy dough and light- ning fast cooking, and you're served a pizza that can be eaten whole, yet without the gut-bomb lethargy that follows from most standard American pizzas, which are often made with same-day dough. "This is very important," says Russo. "We would say in Naples that you should be able to eat a whole pizza Napoletana and still be able to take a walk . . . and if you're with your husband or wife, you know, do what husbands and wives do at home." The Napoletana Wood-Burning Oven Authentic Napoletana food is what holds the charm at Flour House. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF FLOUR HOUSE To adhere to Italian law on pizza Napoletana, Albert and Ges- sica Russo imported a Stefano Ferrara wood-burning oven from Naples and only use double-zero Italian flour, DOP San Marzano tomatoes and DOC Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. They then top it with the bountiful ingre- dients plucked fresh from the many nearby farms. KITCHEN TRADITIONS Alberto Russo, co-owner of Flour House in San Luis Obispo, CA. r A SLICE OF NAPLES IN SAN LUIS OBISPO AT FLOUR HOUSE by Mike Dawson ■cr

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