Brick walls, industrial piping and stamped metal bar backing greet you when you enter Red Vespa in Solon. The vibe of the place is chic, cozy rather than cramped, with an open kitchen that lends a comforting transparency to the inner workings of the pizzeria. The telltale aromas of tomato and mozzarella mingling with basil made my mouth water instantly.
Two lady friends went with me to give Red Vespa a shot, and we started with a couple of cocktails. They were, not to put too fine a point on it, freaking awesome. The Italian Cosmo had a raspberry agent that cooled the usual bite of other, lesser Cosmopolitans. The Peach Mule, a specialty cocktail not listed on the menu, was recommended to us by our very attentive server. It was a sweet, but not overwhelming, twist on your standard Mule, and I enjoyed it so much I had two.
We started our meal with the Meatballs al Forno and the Vespa Caprese. Both were insanely delicious, and sizeable starters, even for three chicks who can put away an impressive amount of food. The mozzarella was a revelation. I haven’t had Italian this authentic since I lived in Chicago. In fact, Red Vespa’s menu states that they are the “first pizzeria in the state of Iowa to be certified by the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani.” They add that “the finest San Marzano tomatoes, housemade mozzarella, dough made with Italian ‘00’ flour and sea salt form the foundation of our pizza experience.”
This sounded impressive to me, and I was curious how impressive it truly was. Hailed by the the Dallas Observer as the New Italian Arbiters of Pizza Greatness, the APN certifies the pizzaiolos who pull the dough, shape the pie and ultimately complete the cooking process. The Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), the APN’s predecessor in certifying authentic Italian pizzerias, certified the business, spending just an hour in a restaurant to make sure they had the correct equipment and ingredients. Under the APN’s model, it’s harder to get certified. The representative spends a full day with the pizzaiolos in question to ensure that each step follows the process exactly, making these chefs extremely valuable and the food 100% authentic Italian.
This authenticity showed in every bite I took at Red Vespa, and notably on the menu. If you are not up on your authentic Italian ingredients you may spend some time Googling their dishes. It’s a bit intimidating. And while they have a kids menu, they told us they were pretty strict on enforcing the (plainly listed) under-12 rule.
As we finished what we could of our 12” pizzas—the Margherita, the Filleti and the Marinara—our server was gracious about splitting our bill, and encouraged us to check out the patio before we left (we did; it looked darling) and everyone else thanked us and saw us out with warmth and gratitude. Ultimately, everything about this place was great, though maybe not for pickier eaters.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 207.