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Pizzeria Owner Proud Of ‘Ferrari of Ovens’

SANTA FE, N.M. — “Even though it was in pieces that we assembled, it just barely fit through the big skylight,” Lino Pertusini said of the wood-fired oven that makes the product of his namesake Pizzeria da Lino rare in Santa Fe. Most other so-called wood-fired ovens are supplemented with gas, he said.

“If it’s not from a wood-fired oven, it’s not real Italian,” he said. “We’re strictly, 100 percent, wood.” His pizza is real Italian, he said, even though he does offer green chile as a topping.

“This is New Mexico,” Pertusini said with a shrug. “You have to.”

Pizzeria da Lino
204 N. Guadalupe St.

The small-fronted boutique pizzeria on North Guadalupe Street opens into a 2,500-square-foot restaurant with brick floors and Venetian-plastered walls that seats about 70 customers. Looming at the rear of the big room is the oven – faced with ceramic tile, floored with stone and built of cement brick with three layers of insulation, including a layer of sand. It can bake eight individual pizzas at a time, and it’s easily the biggest thing in the room.

“It’s like the Ferrari of ovens,” Pertusini said.

A retirement plan?

Pertusini, who owns and operates Osteria D’Assisi on Federal Place, turned 50 in February. He’d been thinking about semi-retirement, he said, but an old dream to own a pizzeria (“to justify the pizza in this town”) was stronger than the impulse to relax. Last year, he opened Pizzeria da Lino and, largely because he owns the building complex where it is located, the place is still open, although he recently cut back to “winter hours” of 4 to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

Between his two restaurants, Pertusini provides 44 Santa Feans with jobs. He employs 12 people at the Pizzeria and about 32 at the Osteria.

“The important thing has been to strike a balance. I wanted an affordable restaurant downtown, one that would not draw customers away from the (relatively upscale) Osteria,” Pertusini said.

He’s satisfied that his pizzas are not like any others sold in town. “They are artisanal,” he said repeatedly. “They are better than anything you’ve had before.”

The Lino pizzas are individually sized – no 24-inch monsters here – in the two basic Italian styles: thin crust, the more popular, and the softer Napoli (from Naples, the home of pizza). The sauce is homemade with rosemary, basil, oregano and sage he grows in the courtyard of the complex.

Toppings are varied, although Pertusini definitely subscribes to the Italian “less is more” sensibility. His favorite, “Lino’s Pizza,” is made with fresh figs (butternut squash in winter), spinach, gorgonzola, mozzarella, pesto and walnuts.

A popular pie is the “Quattro Stagioni,” or “Four Seasons,” pie with tomato sauce, mozzarella, artichokes, Italian ham, mushrooms and olives. Some people prefer the “Pera con Tre Formaggi,” a three-cheese white pizza with caramelized pears and onions and chopped hazelnuts.

The restaurant also offers salad and pasta dishes, plus house-made tiramisu, canoli, panna cotta, chocolate mousse cake and apple pizza as “dolci.” Pertusini is promoting the tranquil building next door, which he also owns, as a banqueting space for office Christmas parties and other occasions. Colorful paintings by his artist friend Carlo Gislimberti decorate the walls.

You can call him Sir

He bought the Guadalupe Street building complex in the ’90s, when the rents on his then business, the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, were going up faster than he thought they should.

“I was going to move the Palace here,” he said. “When I saw the courtyard with the mulberry trees, I knew it would be perfect. But then I sold the Palace instead.”

He’d already opened the Osteria – the two Italian restaurants overlapped briefly. Pertusini’s manager and brother had a gallery in the Guadalupe space for a while. At this point, the next-door building is not being used, except for private parties, but Pertusini is sure he’ll think of something by next summer. An espresso bar? A gelateria? A teahouse?

Pertusini was born in the small village of Nesso, on Lake Como, in Italy on the border with Switzerland. The Pertusini family has been employed in the fine hotels and restaurants in the region for centuries. Lino went on to formal training for several years in Bellagio, Switzerland, France and Germany. By 21, he was assistant manager at a private restaurant in Geneva before being offered positions at the Park Hotel, in Bremen, Germany, and the Dorchester in London.

He spent time with a Bahamian cruise line and the Café de Paris in Fort Lauderdale before moving to Santa Fe in 1976 to join fellow Italians opening Michelangelo’s and then to join The Bull Ring. He also spent time back in Europe and in California before returning to Santa Fe to buy the Palace in 1984 with his far-flung brothers, Carlo Bruno from Mexico and Nino Pietro from Hawaii.

Pertusini bought The Stakeout Grill and Bar near Taos in 1989, sold it in 1992, recently re-bought it and is planning to reopen the landmark in April.

In 1997, Lino Pertusini was awarded the Croce di Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Reppublica Italiana by the then-president of Italy, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. At the ceremonies held at the presidential palace, Scalfaro said Pertusini was being knighted as an ambassador for the preservation of Italian gastronomy and culture in the world.

Sir Lino returns to Italy every year to check in with fellow chefs and restaurateurs on the latest trends and to sample innovations in the basic cuisine.

Use knife and fork!

“Mr. Ambassador” bemoans one thing Americans do with their pizza – they cut it in wedges and eat it with their hands.

“In Italy, it is a meal. You eat it with a knife and fork, like a steak,” he said. “It is elegant. You are having a meal. I even bought serrated knives for the table settings, so people might take a hint.

“But no-o-o-o,” he said with a comic grimace.

He cried uncle on that one early in the pizzeria’s life. As his California friends had warned him, customers faced with a whole pizza didn’t pick up their knives and forks and eat it. They simply sent the pies back to be cut into wedges, they way they were used to. It slowed down the table service.

“We gave in fast,” he said. “What can you do? So now we cut the pizzas into wedges unless the customers ask us not to. Ah, well. At least they are eating the best pizza.”

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