The power of the new Flour House restaurant in San Luis Obispo rises from its commitment to authentic Neapolitan cuisine. For proof of that, just bite into one of the thin-crust pizzas, savor from-scratch pasta dishes or sample a daily special of braised osso buco served over risotto Parmigiano.
Envisioned by the husband-and-wife team of Alberto and Gessica Russo, the vibrant Higuera Street eatery occupies the former location of Vieni Vai Trattoria and carries on that restaurant’s legacy. It’s a place Gessica Russo knows well; her parents, Giuseppe and Debra Silvestre, owned and operated the trattoria for 18 years.
Flour House opened at the end of May after a five-month remodel. White brick walls and earth-tone floor tiles bring a clean, sleek look that gets a touch of vintage from stylish lighting fixtures.
“We wanted to reflect an urban feel — as if you were in Naples or New York or Soho,” Russo said.
Seating is available indoors at several tables and banquettes, or on the comfortably sophisticated outdoor patio in back. Spots at the bar are also popular thanks to sliding doors opening out to the sidewalk — a holdover from Vieni Vai that augments the European vibe.
A full bar provides the basis for an inventive lineup of cocktails, such as a refreshing Aperol spritz or a classic Negroni. Beer and wine options include bottles, but select beers and local wines are also available on tap.
Gessica Russo met her future husband in his native Italy; she was teaching an English class at a food packing company where he was working. After getting engaged, the couple moved to San Luis Obispo just as the Silvestres were pondering retirement.
The young couple stepped in to run Vieni Vai for two years, “but we realized we had a different vision,” Gessica Russo explained.
In addition to a new look, the Russos wanted to concentrate on serving the cuisine of their families — the cuisine of Naples, Italy.
“At the beginning, we were just going to do pizza,” Alberto Russo said. “Then we decided to expand our work with flour and do pasta too.”
Depending on the season, the from-scratch pasta dishes might include pappardelle with porcini cream sauce and prosciutto, ravioli stuffed with gorgonzola and walnuts or fresh fusilli with housemade fennel sausage and butternut squash cream sauce.
As for the pizza, it’s specifically pizza Napoletana. Italians take this pizza style so seriously that the specifics of crafting it are defined and protected by law under “denominazione di origine protetta,” or, protected designation of origin.
“There are a lot of rules you have to follow,” Alberto Russo acknowledged.
Here in San Luis Obispo, that translates to staying as close to the process as possible.
“All the ingredients are exactly what they use in Naples,” Gessica Russo explained. “We use the highest quality Italian ‘00’ flour and ingredients such as the mozzarella di bufala and San Marzano tomatoes (that are imported from) the Naples/Campania area.”
Perhaps the most crucial element of pizza Napoletana is the crust. Baked at very high temperatures, it should be slightly raised and crispy at the edges yet still elastic and chewy in the middle.
To achieve that, the Russos went all in on a 6,000-pound, wood-fired, handcrafted Stefano Ferrara oven from Naples. It flash-bakes the pizza in just a couple minutes, giving it that crispy/chewy hallmark of pizza Napoletana.
About 20 pizza options are available at Flour House with rossa (red), blanca (white) or verde (pesto) sauces. Favorites include a classic Queen Margherita with buffalo mozzarella and basil and a modenese with gorgonzola and speck (Italian smoke-cured pork).
“Pizza is really a social food, and it’s a food that matches with wine, with beer, with cocktails,” Alberto Russo noted. “It’s very much a part of Italy — you go out with friends, have some pizza and socialize!”
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hours: Dinner 3 to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 3 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. (Restaurant opens for dinner at 4 p.m. starting in mid-December.)
The scene: Sophisticated, urban vibes layered with a warm, welcoming ambiance.
The cuisine: Classic flavors of Naples, Italy, such as wood-fired pizzas, housemade pastas and seasonal daily specials (gluten-free options available, but the kitchen is not dedicated to gluten-free).
Expect to spend: Starters $10 to $20, pizzas $15 to $20; entrées start at about $20.