EAST LYME — The region’s newest pizzeria brings New Haven-inspired pies to Niantic’s Main Street, with house-made sausage, and a savory potato pie.
Their signature dish, the Vincitori, starts with a naturally-leavened dough, “covered with shredded mozz and with dollops of fresh mozzarella and then we put the sauce on top with fresh basil, which is the best of all the worlds,” said chef Dave Reeves.
Reeves opened Vincitori Apizza with Eileen and Norman Birk, his aunt and uncle, in mid-November. It’s located at 294 Main Street, Niantic, the site of the former Eleni’s Pizzeria.
Reeves brings 16 years of experience working in pizzerias in New England and Portland, Oregon. Norman Birk, owner-founder of East Lyme’s Birk Manufacturing, manages the business end and brought his personal recipes for sausage and seafood chowder.
Birk grew up in Niantic and said he’s dreamed of opening a pizzeria for years. The staff is largely his and Eileen’s children and relatives. The name “Vincitori,” Birk said, dates back 15 years when he asked his daughter, who was 10 at the time, for ideas.
“She only thought about it for like ten seconds,” he said, “and then she said, ‘Winners!’ I said, ‘Winners? Why winners?’ She said, ‘Well that’s where you go when you win a soccer game. You go for pizza.’”
From her idea, Birk took the Italian translation: “Vincitori.”
‘Neo-Neapolitan,’ a modern twist on classic pie
The Birks said they were inspired by New Haven’s iconic thin crust, coal-fired Neapolitan pizza. His favorite is Modern Apizza, while she said she’s “a Zuppardi’s girl.”
Reeves described the Vincitori style as “neo-Neopolitan.”
“I use a lot of concepts from Neopolitan pizza that have been sort of Westernized. Typically a Neopolitan pizza uses a 900-degree oven and they’re about 60- to 90-second bakes. I use a 700 degree-oven so it’s a little bit slower. I like crispier crust where it has some structure to it.”
The pizza begins with a naturally-leavened dough, Reeves explained. “The only ingredients are flour, water, and salt to go along with the culture. It’s naturally leavened, and then we use super high heat… The sourdough is great because it’s chewy in the middle but leaves a nice crust on the outside.”
The kitchen staff use an electric Pizza Master oven with two bays, giving each pie between two-and-a-half to three minutes to bake.
“It works like a woodfire oven, but it’s electric so you don’t have to constantly stoke it,” Reeves said, “The way the elements are set up, you can set the oven to go to 700 degrees but you can also control the top and bottom heating elements to control that intensity.”
The sauce is made from fresh plum tomatoes from California while the fresh mozzarella is made in-house.
Reeves said one of his favorites is the potato pie — a white pizza with Romano cheese and a naturally-leavened crust that stands out in the absence of sauce. The russet potatoes make for a satisfying bite.
“I took that recipe from a Gordon Ramsey recipe that was a potato leek Gruyere rosti. It’s basically a Swiss hash brown. But instead of Gruyere we use a medium sort of cheddar with buttered leeks sauteed down, to soften them, along with shaved potatoes and Parmesan-Romano blend on the bottom, then the cheddar, leeks, bacon, and dollops of fresh mozzarella. I like that one a lot. It looks and smells amazing too.”
Sausage, chowder, tables made in-house
Birk makes his own fennel-flavored sausage, and adds onions and roasted peppers for the sausage combo pizza.
Birk starts the recipe by buying boned pork butt. “You chop it up and then put it in the freezer just to firm it up a little so that when it goes through the grinder it grinds really well,” he said. “Then it’s got about seven different spices and we mix it in a cup with some ice cold water then we work that into the meat.”
Also on the menu is Norm’s Seafood Chowder, which Birk makes from clams, scallops, shrimp, and lobster. It’s a dish, he explained, that seemed a fit for a restaurant by the water.
The dining room walls are painted red with large windows and a view of the oven.“You can sit in front of them and watch them make pizza,” Norman said.
Birk crafted the tables from cedar, cherry, and black walnut. “We wanted something that is clean but with style,” said Eileen Birk.
Vinctori’s is open six days a week, closed on Tuesday. Most of their 14” pizzas cost between $12 and $16.
“I’ve told people my whole life I love pizza so much I could live on it,” Norman Birk said. “There’s so many varieties. And it turns out you can live on it. We’ve been open almost three weeks now, and I’m not getting tired of eating it.”