Calling Bettolona (3143 Broadway, between La Salle Street and Tiemann Place) a mere pizzeria is a grave, serious injustice. In Morningside Heights, a neighborhood where "pizza" usually means droopy, greasy slices from Koronet, expectations for pizzerias remain strictly collegiate. Not just another college town pizza joint, the newly opened Bettolona and its wood-burning brick oven serve as a temple to bubbly, crispy pies painted with tomato and adorned with mozzarella. Sebastiano Cappitta, owner of Upper West Side restaurants Bettola and Acqua, presides over this temple as high priest of quality Italian fare. Outfitted with warm filament bulbs, Bettolona's interior feels welcoming and open, a spot to linger over pasta without hurry. Brown paper bags abound—when in Rome, bring your own—Italian conversation saturates the air, and dough whirls about the pizzaiolo's hands. With prices that permit daily indulgence—pizzas and pastas max out at $12.50—customers wander in off Broadway after little deliberation. For just having opened last Friday, Bettolona serves remarkably well-developed food. Carciofi, an appetizer of fresh artichoke hearts roasted in garlic and olive oil is lovingly coaxed to tenderness and dressed with lemon. The dish's aroma of sweet, thick garlic entices pedestrians loitering on stoops as far as a block away to investigate. Perched on a simple salad of mixed greens and marinated tomatoes, grilled calamari is similarly alluring. Whole grilled squid, minus tentacles, appear distant from the typical frozen fried-ring variety. Sumptuously yielding, the calamari alla griglia merits a try even from ardent cephalophobe. Bettolona makes all of their own pastas, setting an entirely new standard for competitors around Columbia. Springy and delicate spinach fettuccine mingles with sweet sausage, peas, and tomatoes, all covered in a luscious cream sauce. Although penne Siciliana usually features hard ricotta cheese, Bettolona makes the soft variety work in their interpretation of the classic dish. Bettolona's vibrant tomato sauce shames jarred specimens, rivaling well-worn family recipes. Pizzas at Bettolona begin life as a ball of elastic dough. Once stretched into a disc, the dough takes on sauce and toppings before finishing in a roaring oven. Emerging blistered and infused with char and smoke, Bettolona's pizzas taste surprisingly light. Of course, Bettolona may not serve the best pizza in the city—ever-so-slightly soggy centers and unfortunately chewy cheese separate Bettolona from hotspots like Keste and Motorino. Nevertheless, no other restaurants anywhere near Columbia offer better. The Affumicata pie features smoked mozzarella, hot sausage, and cherry tomatoes on tomato sauce. Raspy and dark, this creation whispers sultry nothings into the pizza lover's ear. Diametrically opposed to the tomato-laced Affumicata, the Bianca includes mozzarella, Parmigiano, mushrooms, and truffle oil. If it only received more for its intense truffle oil dosage, the Bianca might achieve serious crave-ability. Food-savvy students and the entire Morningside Heights community can enjoy and take advantage of this affordable restaurant. Visit Bettolona before the few tables comfortably crammed inside its friendly walls fill up for good.
Christina Phan for Spectator