From Playground to Pizza―NEApolitan, New in Laguna Beach

Orange County’s Neapolitan-style pizza pantheon continues to grow. The newest contender is NEApolitan, with Frank DeLoach, former sous chef at Playground in Santa Ana, at the helm of the imported Italian wood-fired oven.

At a recent media preview, DeLoach slung some great pies, including an unusual blackberry and ricotta with lardo, cured pork back fat sliced delicately thin ($14). Pork salumi paired with fruit—figs with prosciutto,  for instance—is a classic, and the intensely flavored house-made berry compote is a strong foil for the rich fat and scattered ricotta curds. I love crunchy greens on a pizza, and, out of the oven, this blackberry pie is finished with lightly dressed wild arugula.

Its name is a clue to the inspiration for the New Haven ($18)—the famous clam pies of that Connecticut city. NEA’s is a white clam pizza, with garlic, Calabrian chile, mint, and a smattering of pecorino. “I think a clam pizza should taste like the sea,” DeLoach says, and his New Haven sure does—the clam topping just bursts with briny freshness. Sardinian oregano is sprinkled over at the end, and though oregano is not usually my favorite herb, it’s so good with clams.

DeLoach also offers small plates and salads, with an emphasis on local and sustainable. You’ll recognize some NEA suppliers, like Alegria Fresh, and VR Green Farms. The bar in the comfortable, indoor-outdoor space is stocked with microbrews and boutique wines, and the restaurant parking lot is conveniently accessible from PCH. Do take a gander at the aforementioned oven, encrusted with gorgeous Italian red glass tile and fueled by olive wood, and say hey to chef Frank, who’ll be hard at work slinging pies.

NEApolitan, 31542 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-499-4531

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