As a boy in Naples, Italy, Giovanni Gagliardi remembers dragging a chair up to the counter in his grandfather's kitchen. Though he was too short to reach the top, he was determined to make pizza without anyone's help.
This spring, Gagliardi, who helped open Ironside Pizza in Little River, plans to debut La Leggenda at 224 Española Way in South Beach. It will be the first U.S. outpost of his Naples restaurant. The eatery will specialize in Neapolitan-style pizzas paired with southern Italian pastas, charcuterie and cheeses, and desserts.
“We are all Italy, all the way," Gagliardi says. "La Leggenda is owned by Italians, our staff is Italian, our decor is Italian, and most of our ingredients are imported from Italy. It’s as authentic as you can get."
Though Gagliardi lives in Miami, his ties to Naples are strong. He left his hometown in 2012 to compete in the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas. He placed second in the competition’s traditional division, solidifying his childhood nickname of "La Leggenda," which in Italian means "The Legend." He began working at Ironside in 2014 and dreamed of one day opening his own restaurant in the States.
For years, Gagliardi has watched other pizzerias assert authenticity, but he believes no other restaurant in Miami is bona fide Neapolitan.
"No disrespect to others and how they make their pies, but real pizza is from Naples, and that is what we make," he says. "I think we’ll make a mark in this town because we preserve the tradition in every way. And the difference shows, especially in the dough."
According to Gagliardi, one must follow strict guidelines when crafting Neapolitan dough in order to create a light and airy texture that's easily digestible. At La Leggenda, the dough is made with salt, water, flour, and 3-year-old preserved Neapolitan yeast. There are six varieties of crust, including gluten-free and protein-packed. Each pie has a specific dough recommended by Gagliardi, but substitutions are allowed.
Gagliardi smears San Marzano tomato sauce and mozzarella onto dough baked in a wood-burning oven. The 840-degree oven, which resembles Mount Vesuvius near Naples, bakes each pie to a light crisp with a soft center.
La Leggenda's menu will include the STG Margherita, topped with San Marzano sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and basil; the Diavola, packed with pepperoni, fresh fior di latte mozzarella, aged Parmesan, and fresh basil; and the Pistachio, with mortadella, buffalo mozzarella, pistachio cream, and pistachio crumble.
"Pizza is a religion to us," he says, "and we treat it as such."
Besides pies, there's Il Gran Cuoppo Napoletano, a paper cone filled with an assortment of small fried treats such as mixed vegetables, rice balls, potato croquettes, dough balls, and mixed seafood; Frittata di Maccheroni, a pan-fried spaghetti pie layered with mozzarella and basil; and fried pizza, which is similar to an empanada, stuffed with cheese and a variety of other pizza toppings.
The restaurant will serve lunch and dinner daily from noon to 11 p.m. For more information, visit leggendapizzeria.com or call 305-763-8566.