Saturday, July 6, 2013

Restaurant Review: Da Legna Cucina Rustica


About a year ago a new pizza restaurant opened on State Street just a few doors down from the famous Modern Apizza.  I heard rumors that they were making vegan pies and I couldn't wait to stop in to give them a try.  Unfortunately, shortly after opening, a fire caused them to shut down and I thought this new addition to the New Haven pizza scene was history.  Fortunately, they have rebuilt and reopened, and I was excited to finally visit.

Now, I won't get into the debate over who has the best pizza in New Haven, because essentially, whether you're in the Sally's, Pepe's or Modern camp, nobody is going to convince you to switch teams.  So when a newcomer enters the scene, it's tough to say where they rank, but as a vegan I'd declare Da Legna by far The Best simply because they not only have veggie toppings that go beyond the standard mushroom and peppers, but they have Daiya cheese.  Oh, and the pizza is really, really good.

This is reason alone to celebrate.  And it's nice too that they have a separate vegan menu to let you know which selections are free of animal products.  One note, however, is that the gluten-free crust option is also listed on this menu, but it is made with eggs, so it is NOT vegan.  Keep that in mind before getting TOO excited!

I neglected to take a photograph of the vegan menu and the online menu does not include all of the vegan pie combinations, but there was enough of a selection to make ordering a little bit of a time-consuming process.  A 12" pie is $8 and a 16" pie is $13, with toppings $2 each.  Among the substantial selection of veggies such as broccoli, fresh tomatoes, basil, arugula, black olives, mushrooms and onions, they also have vegan chicken, meatballs, and pepperoni.

One of my dining companions created a small pizza with broccoli, spinach, and vegan chicken.  It was the first to arrive at the table, and we all stared at it with gaping wide mouths making gurgling noises.  I apologize for torturing everyone by making them wait while I took photos.

I shared a large pizza with arugula, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, onion, and black olives.  It arrived steaming hot and, although slightly charred around the edges, was still delicious.  The wood-fired oven toasts the dough and lends a smokey flavor to the crust, which is thin and crisp with a good chew around the edges.  A small pie is firm enough to pick up a slice in your hands, but the large pie suffered with a bit of limpness in the center and needed to be eaten with fork and knife.

There is a decent amount of flavorful sauce underneath all the toppings, and the gooey creaminess of the Daiya cheese really made this pie taste and feel authentic.  I know this is a small thing to get excited about, and when most people go out for pizza they just think of it as an ordinary meal, but for me, to be able to walk into a pizza place and be able to eat a pie like everybody else... it's pretty spectacular.

Sure, it wasn't gluten-free, and for health reasons I know I can't do this every day.  But once in awhile, a what a treat!  But if Da Legna ever masters the gluten-free vegan crust, I think I probably would make this a weekly ritual.  For now, I'm looking forward to going back to try their Gazpacho and Raw Vegan Cauliflower "Couscous" Salad one of these steamy summer nights.

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