"Stefano’s offers New York-style pies with an enviable crust
Stefano’s, the former Cio’s Pizza off I-69 in Fishers, bills itself as a purveyor of “New York-style Italian food.” But just what notion of the Big Apple they’re going for is anyone’s guess. The menu depicts a glittering pre-Sept. 11 skyline of Manhattan with the World Trade Center emblazoned above the Brooklyn Bridge. A bit dated, perhaps, but who wouldn’t want to go back to such a time for America’s largest city?
The décor at Stefano’s doesn’t exactly scream East Coast pizzeria either, with its color-washed walls, exposed ductwork and exterior views of parking lots and glutted highways. Gone is the more casual order-at-the-counter approach of the old joint, replaced by table service and a much larger selection of pastas, salads, beers and wines (though the liquor license was still in transit the night we dined). But with nothing to greet us at the front but a stack of menus and a basket of silverware wrapped in napkins, we were left to wonder if we still had to serve ourselves. Thankfully, a waiter finally arrived to seat us. Nonetheless, the place is caught somewhere between strip-mall pizza takeout and date-friendly Italian trattoria. A soundtrack of half Pavarotti, half Doobie Brothers doesn’t help.
Not until your gargantuan pie arrives from the kitchen and you sink your teeth into the yeasty, chewy outer crust with just the right crunch do you remember your last slice of pizza in New York, so big you had to crease it to get it in your mouth. If anything, Stefano’s gets its slices right. And for Hoosiers stuck on the other side of the planet from the brick ovens of Sicily and Naples, a truly good slice of pizza is more than worth the drive to Fishers.
Stefano’s gets some other things right as well. Mussels Fra Diavolo ($8) in a kicky tomato sauce spiked with pepper flakes is a surprising appetizer here. Slightly meatier mussels might have been nice, but the sauce was perfect for mopping up with the pizzeria’s famous garlic knots, fat little twists of pizza dough baked with a sweet touch of garlic.
Salads are also a grade higher than what you’d expect. A side Caesar salad had a quite creamy and rich dressing with a nice tang and spice to it on top of chunked romaine that seemed not to come pre-cut from a bag. A small Stefano’s salad ($4) was a quite respectable antipasto salad of sorts with little rolls of paper-thin ham and provolone, plenty of crunchy cucumbers, roasted papers and a big slice of salami on top. A tangy but not overwhelming house Italian dressing didn’t drown the vegetation. At the other end of the spectrum, the cannoli we had for dessert was one of the creamiest and luscious around, despite just being assembled in house.
Area pizza-gentsia who have followed this place from its original 96th Street location up a few blocks north and now to its new incarnation have long recommended it as “the” place to get truly authentic New York pizza within the greater metro area. But somehow I hadn’t made it there yet, a bit puzzled by the changing names and locations. Now owned by original Cio’s Chef Steven Enriquez, whose New York accent is unmistakable despite his nearly 15 years in Indiana, Stefano’s seems to have taken root for the foreseeable future at its current spot, where Enriquez hopes to see it grow. New salads and pastas are definitely on the horizon.
Right now, the pastas are one of the few liabilities of the place. Maybe we should have taken our waiter’s advice to get the chicken parmigiana. The bowties Bolognese ($9.45) was far from stellar, basically a pile of pasta to which some ground meat, peas and a sauce very similar to that on our mussels had been added.
With such an eye-popping pizza on the table, however, we hardly cared. Our pie, dressed up with sausage and eggplant, was supposed to be a 16-incher ($15.59). Short of pulling out a measuring tape to size up the leftovers, we guessed it pushed 2 feet in diameter. The eggplant was, strangely, already breaded — perhaps borrowed from the eggplant parmigiana? Sausage was a touch sweet. Indeed, toppings were appropriately restrained, though things got a tad soggy nearer the middle. Make no mistake, however, the crust — the true foundation of a great pizza — contends for one of the best in the city, one that would even make a New York pizzeria proud.