While much has been written about the unique connection LUPO (aka Pizza LUPO), a new Italian eatery in Butchertown, has to the local music scene, I want in looking more for a quality dining experience than the novelty of musicians running a restaurant.
The tiny adjacent parking lot is a bit of a pain (I learned after the fact there is ample parking just across the street), but the second I walked in the door, looked around at the cozy eatery, and then was almost immediately greeted with a smile, I knew there was much more going on than a gimmick.
Since I was dining alone, I took a seat at the bar, where I was then greeted with yet another welcoming smile by a bartender named Eric. I was seated just across the small bar area from the kitchen, and it didn’t take long for some delicious smells to make their way to my nostrils.
I added to my notes that the word “cozy” was invented for places like LUPO; cool-looking, teal booths, wood floors, exposed brick, Italian movie posters, and a general homey feel made me feel immediately at ease.
And no TVs meant it’s designed to be a place to dine and converse.
As I studied the menu, I found a concise but interestingly diverse menu, backed by a selection of Italian wines, some signature cocktails, and a succinct but effective craft beer selection, including four draft options.
LUPO’s menu is better designed for sharing, with signature pizzas front and center on the menu, along with several appetizers like porchetta and sardine tartine. I went in looking for a small appetizer to start with before moving on to a full entrée.
I briefly looked at caponata, a Sicilian eggplant-based salad appetizer, until Eric mentioned the evening specials: lentil soup, potato noki, and a fried smelt appetizer. The smelt sounded intriguing, so I started my meal with that.
A few minutes later, six medium-sized smelt were placed before me, along with a mild lemon aioli for dipping. The small fish were cooked without the heads, but the tails and spines remained, so I ate around those.
The fish was lightly fried, and had a bright, mild flavor, making my appetizer very much like a Friday fish fry in miniature. I could have eaten another order.
For my meal, I was set on trying one of the pizzas, although dishes like chicken liver cappaletti and ricotta gnocchi (made with lamb) certainly intrigued.
A basic margherita pizza is available, but pies like the Bitter Pig (a margherita that adds country ham), the Delicata (squash, smoked tomato, ricotta, mozzarella), and the Moonchild (taleggio cheese, sweet potatoes, Moroccan olives, and more) made choosing tough.
In the end, I ordered a Sting Like a Bee, topped with tomato, fresh mozzarella, soppressata, basil, and spicy honey.
Much like my smelt, the pie came out surprisingly quickly – no complaints here, as I was pretty hungry – a roughly 12-inch pizza cut into six pieces, with an ultra-thin and crispy crust with thick, light edges. Eric set me up with some house-made cayenne pepper sauce and chili oil.
With my first bite, I got a quick taste of delicious, fresh basil, and the next bite revealed the honey, which was an odd ingredient for a pizza. Again, no complaints, because it worked, especially with a few dashes of the hot sauce to balance the sweetness.
The soppressata, a type of salami, played the role pepperoni would normally play on a pizza, adding depth in its saltiness and light spice. Along the way, I dipped my leftover edges in the chili oil for an added dimension to the meal.
The spicy honey on Sting Like a Beer could possibly stand a bit more spice, but I suppose that’s why the pizza was delivered with hot sauce. All in all, it was a positive dining experience made better by the atmosphere and friendly staff.
Pizza LUPO, located at 1540 Frankfort Ave., is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.