Pummarola Pizzeria Napoletana opens in Fort Lauderdale
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Pummarola Pizzeria Napoletana opens in Fort Lauderdale

Nov 14, 2023

In the Neapolitan dialect of southern Italy, "pummarola" means tomato. That was the nickname given to Rosa Donna Rummo's red sports car, which she was known for driving around Naples in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Now, in South Florida, four of her seven grandsons have paid homage to their matriarch by naming their boutique brand of eateries Pummarola Pizzeria Napoletana, after the trattoria she founded in Italy back in 1968. The latest location — which is the eighth — has just opened behind the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, at the foot of the drawbridge on Avenue of the Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

"Many customers asked us to open here," says one of her grandsons, Loris Mele, a certified pizzaiolo and the pizza master for the new location. "Now when (they) enter, they say, ‘Thank you, thank you so much.’ That's why we started very good delivery, too, because the people need good Neapolitan pizza here."

The other South Florida locations are in Boca Raton, Miami Beach, Midtown Miami, Kendall and Coral Gables. There are two in Spain, in Ibiza and Barcelona. In each, you will find a sawed-in-half Fiat 500 mounted on the wall, a nod to their nonna.

Says co-owner Davis Mele: "In Naples on Sunday, the tradition of the Neapolitan family is to cook … So you cook for your family, your neighbors, even those people who pass by. She was cooking with the windows open, the smell of tomato was attracting the tourists and she used to drive a Fiat 500 … So all the people would pass by and were like, ‘Oh my God, what is this delicious smell?’ And they see the car parked in front of her window and they say, ‘This car looks like a tomato.’ Everyone would say that.

"And she said, ‘You know, everyone is saying that. I am going to open a place and I’m going to call it Pummarola.'"

The Mele brothers have landed chef Pasquale Mormile, who just won the Pizza Napoletana Division of the pizza-making competition staged in March at the 2023 International Pizza Expo & Conference in Las Vegas.

"This competition is the most famous in the world," says Davis Mele. "We met before he started the competition. We closed the deal before, and then he won."

Davis Mele says that he and his brothers knew Mormile would be a good fit for Pummarola right away.

"We saw that he was very humble, and for us it is one of the most important things," he says. "The secret of Pummarola — of course the product has to be good, most of our product is imported from Italy — but it's really to work hard and be humble."

Mormile, who is of French and Italian heritage, recalls the moment he was crowned "il sovrano" (the king) of Neapolitan Pizza.

"I’ll be straight with you, I felt like Rocky, you know what I mean? I was such an underdog. I was really happy," he says. "People come from all over the world to be at this competition. It was a real privilege to be there (for) the first time."

Mormile, who is in the process of obtaining his work Visa, says he feels "like I am home" with Pummarola, and looks forward to doing mobile oven catering and teaching pizza-making classes.

"We talked about business and we have the same view of it. We want to make a good product … and stick to the traditional methods," Mormile adds. "That is really important to us. The energy, the positivity make things fun."

Aside from the Fiat, the other focal point in Pummarola is the pizza oven, placed right behind the counter and in front of the kitchen. It is a Stefano Ferrara oven, crafted by three generations of the same family.

"It cooks pizza in one minute. That's really important for Neapolitan pizza," Loris Mele says. "We use wood and gas in this new location. The one we used before used only wood. Now we do gas and wood, something new, so that the pizza every time is the same, the same quality."

Mormile adds, "This kind of oven has been used for like 500 years, same style."

That oven and almost everything — and almost everyone — at Pummarola are Italian imports.

The Meles have a SoFlo reputation for legitimate Southern Italian fare including calzones, panuozzi (street food sandwiches), minestrone soup, as well as pasta dishes such as gnocchi alfredo, tortellini with butter and parmesan, spaghetti pesto, fettuccine bolognese and more.

Side dishes range from a large homemade meatball to fried calamari to truffle fries. For a sweet finish, there's tiramisu, Torta Della Nonna (pastry cake with lemon zest, powdered sugar and slivered almonds) and several Nutella desserts.

They aerate the pizza dough differently so that the crusts are puffed — and that oven's intense heat gives the pizzas and calzones Pummarola's (and Naples’) signature char and crunch.

"Everything we buy in Italy, the oven, the car, the machine to do the dough, the flour (double-zero), the tomatoes, the mozzarella," Loris Mele says. "Everything you see here, we buy in Italy."

"It all goes back to my grandmama," says Davis Mele. "When she used to cook, she would do it only with love."

Pummarola Pizzeria Napoletana is located at 620 W. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. For more information, visit Pummarola.us or call 754-276-5965.

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