The pandemic’s impact on the local dining scene is perhaps most evident at outdoor food courts.
Dining restrictions and the cold weather have turned these communal spaces into ghost towns after dark. At 6 p.m. on a recent Saturday, I was the only customer at Green Jeans Farmery, the city’s first dining complex assembled from shipping containers. The few establishments still open were huddled together in a small space off the patio.
Set against this dispiriting scene, the aromas wafting into the space from the red-tiled, wood-burning oven at Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria were reassuring.
Amore Pizzeria is the passion project of Gabriel and Kim Amador, the city’s unofficial pizza laureates. They met, fittingly, in Naples, Italy, birthplace of the Neapolitan pizza, and proceeded to dive headfirst into the art of pizza-making. Their efforts culminated in 2013 with the opening of the first Amore Pizzeria in Nob Hill. That location eventually moved to Green Jeans Farmery. Two more outlets followed: one in west Downtown and the other in Tin Can Alley, the new shipping container complex at Alameda and Interstate 25. The west Downtown location closed this summer, a victim of COVID-19 and the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.
Along the way, the Amadors perfected their craft, so much so that they became the only place in town certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana as authentic Neapolitan pizza. The rules are pretty strict. You start with a simple dough of just four ingredients, use sauce made with San Marzano plum tomatoes from Italy and top it with fresh mozzarella cheese. The pie must be cooked briefly at a very high temperature.
The fruits of all this labor are found in the dizzying selection of pizzas on Amore’s menu, ranging from the classic Margherita to the ABQ Duke, a pie topped with green chile and barbecued sausage from SA-BBQ, the barbecue joint next door to Amore that Gabriel Amador co-owns. There’s a build-your-own option too.
The pizzas are organized into three categories: traditional, specialty and New Mexico style. The Zia pizza ($10.95), one of the New Mexico-style pies, is big, bright moonscape of melted mozzarella crisscrossed with corn and green chile over a cream sauce. The sweet corn and cream sauce helped balance a green chile that was the hottest I’ve had in a long time.
Underneath it all was a superlative crust, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle, with just the right thickness to backstop the toppings. The rim was left charred in spots from a visit to a stone oven where temperatures rise to more than 1,000 degrees. There was not so much as a splotch of grease on the underside.
Almost all the pizzas on Amore’s menu are available in gluten-free versions for a $3 surcharge. The pizza chefs take pains to avoid cross-contamination, using a separate prep area and dedicated utensils and cooking the pie on a pan in the oven.
Of all the foods commonly served in restaurants, pizza may suffer the most from going gluten-free. A typical gluten-free crust has the taste and texture of a saltine cracker. Not at Amore, though. We tried a gluten-free Trophies of the Garden ($16.95) with a mozzarella and tomato-sauce base covered with roasted red peppers, artichokes and mushrooms. The sauce, made from San Marzano tomatoes, was tangy and sweet, and the crust was only a slight downgrade from the regular version. Amore Pizzeria stands with Paisano’s as one of the city’s standard-bearers for gluten-free pizza.
Outside the pizza realm, the menu offers a few appetizers, including caprese salad and truffle toast ($6.95), crostini soaked in garlic- and herb-infused olive oil and served with truffle cream. The thick truffle cream was the star of the dish, the cream cheese rounding out the pungent, earthy truffle flavor.
The four salads on the menu include Amore’s version of the Waldorf salad (half $7.95, whole $11.95) with spring greens covered in dried cranberries, honey-roasted pecans and thin slices of apple and dressed with tangy honey vinaigrette. Lumps of Gorgonzola cheese provided a respite from the sweetness. Two slices of Italian bread were jammed unceremoniously beneath it all.
Ordering and paying was done online, and it took about 20 minutes for my food to come out. There’s a Nitro Fog Creamery ice cream shop across the way if you want dessert.
The Amadors’ devotion to the art of making a pizza makes Amore Pizzeria a worthy contender for best in the city. The quality of their gluten-free pies is an added bonus.