Review: Campo Pizzeria adheres to Italian style, segue corso giusto

Henry Tucher, Author

I did not know what to expect when I opened the glass doors of Campo Pizzeria at 185 University Avenue for the first time four weeks ago. Yelp users give it three out of five stars, but my friend praised it. Because Campo lies on the corner of Emerson, across the street from Pizza My Heart at Lytton Plaza and just doors down from both Paxti’s and Round Table Pizza, it goes without saying that it must distinguish itself to compete. Through Facebook advertisements, Campo has begun to build its brand recognition. Since Campo Pizzeria opened in December, more than 780 people have liked its page, which is updated a couple times a week with photos of appetizing menu items.

“As far as distinguishing ourselves, Campo Pizzeria serves more traditional Italian food,” sous chef Tyler Morrish says. “Other restaurants in the area serve Americanized pizzas and toppings.”

As I stepped into the dimly lit restaurant, I was met by a greeter, who walked me past the bar area to my table. Because it was 5:30 p.m., the restaurant was fairly empty, but I was directed to a table right next to the only other diners.

I started my dinner with the antipasti platter ($15), a collection of head-on prawns, “chic pea” fries, cheeses, and anchovies and roasted peppers. The head-on prawns arrived sizzling and moderately spiced. The entire platter was good, but it would have been better if the spices and flavors were more robust. It was, however, well-presented.

For the main course I ordered the quattro formaggio pizza ($16). Campo prides itself on using a sourdough starter that comes from a small Italian island to make pizza crusts with a unique flavor. The crust, however, did not seem so special. I had to eat the pizza with a fork and knife because it collapsed when I tried to hold it. The four cheeses did not give the pizza the accented mix of flavor I had expected. The pizza as a whole wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t good.

The service, however, was good. My waiter was friendly, frequently checking on my table and refilling my water. But, he did ask me if I wanted a refill on my lemonade as if it would be free, but then brought me a new one and charged me another three dollars.

Campo definitely is not a teen hangout like Pizza My Heart is. Instead, Campo is a restaurant, open from Wednesday to Sunday, serving lunch and dinner. Although Campo is downtown, it is conveniently located near a few parking lots and structures, and is therefore easily accessible.

Just recently, I returned to Campo to try it a second time. Because it is a fairly new restaurant, Campo is still working out the kinks and changing its menu. Between my first and second visits, it had replaced four of its pizzas with different ones, and had changed other menu items, refocusing on its core ingredients.

“Campo Pizzeria buys most of its vegetables and several of its ingredients from local California farmers around the area between Watsonville, Half Moon Bay and farms in the North Bay,” Morrish says. “We also make our mozzarella in-house.”

He described the process to me:

“The mozzarella comes in cheese curd, which is what you get when you take milk and you add either citric acid or another acid. We get the curd already separated, and we heat it up in salt water, which softens it up. Then you just start stretching it like taffy.”

For my second time, I started with Italian tre stelle mozarella di bufala Campania ($12) from the mozzarella bar. It came with pesto, prosciutto and toast, and was excellent.

“Di Bufala mozzarella is actually flown in from Italy and made from water buffalo milk,” Morrish says. “It has a particular taste to it.”

I ordered one of the pizzas that had recently been added to the menu, grilled radicchio ($17). It came with bacon, peppers, and balsamic vinaigrette. Unlike the quattro formaggio of four weeks prior, the grilled radicchio did not disappoint. I still had to eat the pizza with a fork and knife, but the flavors were powerful, with the savory bacon offsetting the sweet taste of the radicchio and vinaigrette.

“I’ve been working on trying to include more powerful flavors,” Morrish says. “That’s also what the owners want. We’re tied to Osteria up in San Mateo, and we’re trying to match the heartier, powerful flavors [Osteria has] up there.”

Campo’s adherence to its Italian influences, use of natural flavors and attention to ingredients has put it on the right course to become a prominent restaurant in downtown Palo Alto.