By Christopher Lux
There’s a joke around Cuenca that pizza is becoming the city’s comida tipica.
As a matter of fact, it’s not hard to find pizza in the city. But it is hard to find really good pizza.
When I tried Tutto Matto, I found it to be really good pizza. My family orders it regularly, sometimes twice in one weekend. Unlike other pizzerias I’ve tried, Tutto Matto’s pizza has a crust that is just right, delicious pepperoni, fresh ingredients, and an exceptional sauce.
Each time I called for pizza delivery, the same person took my order. She soon started recognizing me when I ordered and told me she hoped to meet me one day.
So, I took that as an invitation and headed down to their place on Av. Solano.
I walked in to find a true New York style mom-and-pop pizzeria. The walls are brick and decorated with large pictures of Central Park, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium, and Madison Square Garden.
Narcy Jaramillo, the owner, stepped out from behind a granite countertop. I knew it was her from her voice and I introduced myself.
“I’m so use to talking to you on the phone,” she said. “But I had no idea what you looked like!”
Narcy walked me back to the kitchen to introduce me to her husband, Olmes. The kitchen is always open for restaurant guests to stop in and see the cook. A window looks in so that you can see your pizza being made.
As soon as I walked into the kitchen I saw the makings of the pizzas I had been enjoying–imported canned plum tomatoes, fresh balls of dough, refrigerated pizza toppings, a spotless kitchen, and a brick pizza oven.
Olmes then explained to me why I like his pizzas so much. “I make my sauce from Italian plum tomatoes. Others use a tomato paste base, for example. And I never use frozen dough. Some places use par-baked crusts, but my customers know good pizza is worth the wait.”
Having spent more than a decade working in kitchens in the United States, I was impressed by the cleanliness and order of Olmes’ kitchen. I had to ask about the other employees who I assumed made this possible.
“There are no other employees. It’s just the two of us,” Narcy explained. “My husband is very clean. The health inspectors here are amazed when they come in.”
“I cook here just like I would cook in a restaurant the United States,” Olmes said. “I cook like I would for my own family.”
He had a finished pizza to pull out of the oven, so he opened the large door and slid the peel in to take the steaming pizza out. “I had this oven made,” he told me. “The bricks get very hot–600 degrees Fahrenheit. It makes the crust crunchy and crispy.”
Olmes started cooking when he was 14 years old in his family’s Brooklyn kitchen. Later, he moved on to banquets at the Roosevelt Hotel and the World Trade Center’s famed Windows on the World. Olmes cultivated a wide variety of knowledge in fine foods and wines through his 40-plus years of experience in high quality foodservice.
Narcy and Olmes met in Brooklyn at college. Narcy is from Guayaquil, so many of their vacations were spent in Ecuador. “When we opened our shop in Florida, we had low-seasons,” Olmes said. “So, we would close for weeks during that time and travel. Sometimes we’d go around the U.S. but a lot of times we came to Ecuador. We travelled around Ecuador. I told my wife that if I ever left the States I’d want to be in Cuenca.”
After running a successful pizzeria in the United States, they closed the shop and moved to Cuenca in 2012. Within a few months, they had to move to a bigger location to meet the demand.
“Everyone who has tried my pizza likes it,” Olmes says with a big smile.
I then left the kitchen so Olmes could do his cooking, and I sat at a table to order. I opened the menu to see that the New York pizza place was much more than pizza. Narcy took my order and returned shortly with a glass of red wine and hearty bruschetta for my appetizer. The fresh tomatoes, basil, onions, and garlic in virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar were piled on the slices of bread. Olmes bakes fresh bread three times a day.
Served with my lasagna was more of Olmes’ bread and another glass of wine. It was getting late in the afternoon and the lunch crowd had moved on. Narcy and Olmes soon came out to the dining area to join me. They brought a Berenjena Parmesana (Eggplant Parmesan) pizza for their lunch and offered some to me. My already-full stomach wasn’t able to stop me from adding more to my lunch.
On the table were glass jars of crushed red pepper and parmesan cheese for my pizza. Noting that these two toppings are a rarity in Cuenca, I asked about them. “They aren’t easy to get here,” Narcy told me. “We get the pepper from the States and the parmesan from the same people that do our pepperoni here in Cuenca. Some of the things we want we can get here, but they aren’t good quality so we don’t use them. My husband says he won’t sacrifice quality over quantity. We use the best cheeses, produce, and meats. If we wouldn’t want to eat it ourselves, I won’t sell it.”
Tutto Matto will deliver pizza or any other of their meals to your house. But their restaurant is a popular place to eat. Visitors range from travelers from Guayaquil and Quito to Americans who are looking for really good pizza in Cuenca.
Click here to see a map and more information about Tutto Matto in the directory