More than Pizza
Laurienzo Brick Oven Café Tempts all the Senses
Walking down Main Street in Downtown Mount Airy, it’s hard to imagine that just six years ago it was ravaged by a fire that destroyed and displaced six businesses. Today, the street is bustling with families, shoppers and diners, a mix of visitors and locals buzzing up and down the rebuilt, historic and trendy shopping district.
Laurienzo Brick Oven Café sits in the heart of the rejuvenated spaces, two units up from its original location before the 2007 fire. Two brothers, Bruce and Jay Laurienzo, own the popular Italian café and love the small town, family friendly vibe in Mount Airy; it’s why they chose to open their restaurant there despite being longtime Damascus residents.
The rebuilt restaurant space has a distinctly warm and welcoming feel, with arched ceilings, winecolored walls, dark-stained hardwood floors and rough-hewn barn wood family style tables mixed in with traditional two-tops and four-tops. Restaurant manager Victoria Julian, explains the concept: “Bruce and Jay come from a family of eight, and since many of the recipes are from the Laurienzo family, they wanted to carry the family theme throughout the restaurant. The ‘farm tables’ are one example—they’re meant to feel communal, to give a space to eat casually with others, family style.”
In the back of the restaurant sits a large wood-fired brick oven, the cornerstone of the restaurant’s kitchen. Red oak from Knill’s Farm Market in Mount Airy is the only wood used to fire the oven, and it gives a wonderfully light, smoky air to the dining room. The oven hovers around 700 degrees and cooks one of Laurienzo’s famous pizzas in about four minutes. “We don’t just use the oven for our pizzas, though,” says Julian. “We also fire our baked pastas, roasted vegetables, croutons and beef medallions.”
Laurienzo Brick Oven Café pizza is a thin variety, with a slight char that can only be found on a true wood-fired pizza. All pies are 14 inches and start at $12, with each topping adding $2 more. “Our pizza is a true customer favorite, especially with the caramelized onion topping,” says Julian. “It’s unique; no one else offers that.”
But while Laurienzo Brick Oven Café might be best known for its pizza, the menu is actually quite vast.
Customer favorites include Lobster Ravioli ($20), which comes with sautéed shrimp in a tomato-basil cream sauce, and cavatappi ($14) with grilled chicken, mushroom, onion, Roma tomatoes and garlic oil.
The broccoli spaghetti ($14) is a signature family dish that was passed down from Bruce and Jay’s Italian grandfather, along with many other recipes used at the café. It boasts strips of grilled chicken and large pieces of broccoli atop spaghetti, tossed with light garlic oil. Large flakes of shaved Parmesan cheese float on top. “There are lots of entrees, with a wide range of prices,” Julian explains. “You can come and enjoy an inexpensive pizza with your family outside on a nice evening, or go a little more upscale and reserve a spot in our Phoenix Room upstairs.”
Until recently, Laurienzo Brick Oven Café was the only brick-oven pizzeria in town, but even with competition, Jay and Bruce intend to remain a customer favorite. In 2010, they opened the second floor of the new building, remodeling it into the Phoenix Room which is mostly used for private dining and parties. Admittedly, the Phoenix Room isn’t kid-friendly like the downstairs, but the restaurant is OK with that contrast; having a separate “adults only” atmosphere upstairs allows for quiet warmth that’s unmatched downstairs, even with all its dark wood and rustic accessories. Velvet couches flank the front end of the Phoenix Room, along with deep red luxurious floor-to-ceiling curtains. The majority of the upstairs tables are comprised of different colored woods, finished by Jay and Bruce themselves, and topped with winding wrought iron accents containing amber glass votive holders.
The Phoenix Room accommodates 50 people comfortably, and can be booked up to two months in advance. When it’s not occupied by a party, rehearsal dinner or baby shower, Julian opens the space up to daily diners. “We’ve been known to host an impromptu ‘dinner and movie’ upstairs,” says Julian. “Guests arrive and we give them the option of eating upstairs where one of our movie selections is playing through the projector onto the screen that’s otherwise hidden behind the curtain.”
Once a month, Laurienzo Brick Oven Café also hosts a dinner where wines from local vineyards are paired with a special menu. When these wine dinners are scheduled, the marketing is a grass roots effort among regulars, spread via word-ofmouth, and they have become quite popular.
Local Rachel Kelly eats at Laurienzo’s often, both with her family of four and not. “Pat loves the shrimp, and Mads loves the salads,” Kelly says of her children. “And everyone eats the pizza. It’s definitely a family place, but also the place [my husband] Brian and I go when it’s just us.”
No visit to Laurienzo Brick Oven Café is complete without trying the white wine sangria ($7.50), made with Grand Marnier and brandy. It’s their signature, and a favorite of Sharon Hook’s, who has worked in Mount Airy for more than 10 years. Hook says, “Their homemade sangria is the perfect complement to the pasta Bolognese. … They make it with seasonal fruit and it steeps in a giant bowl. Delicious.” With happy customers like Hook, it’s no wonder they go through 10 gallons of the White Wine Sangria per week.
Look for a second Laurienzo’s to open in late spring in Hyattstown. The new location will be strictly a pizzeria, but with a similar concept and two brick ovens. It will also offer beer and wine—and hopefully the white wine sangria.
Rooted in History
Laurienzo Brick Oven Café is ensconced with history, from family photos on the walls to other accents throughout.
At the front of the restaurant, next to the hostess stand, sits a large barrel. Inside, patrons will find an almost endless supply of root beer candy in clear cellophane wrappers. Grandpa Laurienzo used to carry those root beer candies in his pocket, so they have become a way for Jay and Bruce to pay homage to him—aside from the family recipes they use.
Upstairs in the Phoenix Room (aptly named after its rebirth from the fire in 2007) there is a wall on the right side that is lined with small glass tiles. Upon close inspection, you’ll find they look almost identical to the same root beer candies Grandpa Laurienzo loved so much.
Kids love Laurienzo Brick Oven Café because of special touches like keeping the root beer candies stocked, and they are just one example of why their customers keep coming back. It aligns with the small-town charm the Laurienzo brothers savored when they chose Mount Airy for the original restaurant in 2006.
Laurienzo Brick Oven Café
114 South Main St.
Facebook: Laurienzo Brick Oven Cafe
Open every day except Monday.
Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.