And then I went to Marco’s. Well it’s not really called Marco’s. The actual name of the restaurant is Fiamma. But it seems everyone is calling it Marco’s so I’m calling it Marco’s.
And why are they and I calling it Marco’s? It’s because the restaurant is a total reflection of the owner. And restaurants that reflect the owner’s personality are usually very good restaurants.
Marco’s makes me think of other San Miguel de Allende restauranteurs: Antonio at Firenze, Eduardo at Rustica. Mario at Mario’s. Maybe the secret to being a successful restauranteur is having an O at the end of your name. Or maybe it’s having a feeling of joy yourself when you bring joy to the people who dine at your tables.
Marco is Marco Bruzzone. He hails from Pescara, Abruzzo, located about halfway up Italy’s Adriatic coast and Marco wears that town and that region on his heart.
A pennant from Pescara’s soccer team hangs in the dining room and, when you ask for a glass of red, it comes, of course, from a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Marco has style, showbiz style. Imagine Johnny Cash when Marco Bruzzone stands tall at your table. Leonard Bernstein as he orchestrates the ins and outs of the wood burning oven. Fred Astaire as he waltzes down the steps of the courtyard. Marcello Mastroianni when he dons his Felliniesque shades.
As very main-course Italian as Marco Bruzzone is though, there’s also a side of midwestern U.S.
“I spent 30 years in the restaurant biz in Chicago. But I’d had enough. I needed a better quality of life. No more chasing after 50 waiters. I wanted to walk to the market and pick my own tomatoes,” Marco told me.
“I knew next to nothing about San Miguel when I arrived but I fell in love…the antiques, the art, the poetry, music, films.”
As mentioned, the official name of Marco’s is Fiamma and it is appropriate, not only because it implies there’s a wood-burning oven, but arriving at Marco’s is like finding a bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
The restaurant is entered between what was, until recently, Dila’s and what was, until a while ago, the Longhorn and is now Don Lupe Grill. The word Pizzeria tops the arch and on a table out front sits a bag of Farina di Grand Tenero Tipo “OO”, the flour that lets any serious pizza eater know that Marco Bruzzone is making some very serious Neopolitan pizza.
To actually get to Marco’s requires a walk down a dark and dingy driveway. But when it ends and the space opens, there is a treed and tranquil open courtyard with seating surrounding a fountain.
There are nine pizzas on Marco’s menu. The reason they’re so good can be summed up with one word. Imported.
The quattri formaggio is the perfect example.
The dough for a Neopolitan crust is made with bread-making flour that has a high protein content. Flour is heavy. It costs a lot to ship it from Italy. But Marco uses Italian flour.
The standard for almost any pizza is canned, not fresh tomatoes. You can find good canned Mexican tomatoes but the gold standard in canned are the brands that use San Manzanos or Romas from Italy. Marco buys Don Gerardo and Bel Pomo from Italy.
There are no firm, set rules for what four cheeses you choose for a quattro formaggi pizza but “I couldn’t think of using anything but Italian”, said Marco, as he attempted a little harmony with Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma that was echoing from the small interior dining area. “I use mozarella, pecorino, parmesan and gorgonzola.”
Now there is a Mexican maker of gorgonzola that I buy at local supermarket Bonanza. But that gorgonzola is not as pungent, not as creamy, not as crumbly, and nowhere near as expensive as the genuine Italian that Marco Bruzzone showed me.
One last good thing about Fiamma’s quattro fromaggi pizza and it doesn’t have anything to do with using the best and most expensive ingredients. Marco tops his four cheese pizza with two things that may even be Mexican. They’re walnuts and oregano and, in two words, they work.
There are considerably more than pizzas on Marco’s menu including a caprese salad, A seafood salad, and a burrata and arugula salad.
I really liked the respect Marco showed for other chefs when I asked if he baked his own bread for his cheese plate or if he made the almond pastry.
“Not when somebody else can do it better. They come from Buonforno on Sterling Dickinson”, Marco said. “One hand can wash the other but it takes two hands to wash your face.”
The first time I went to Marco’s was with Bob Cooksey and Chef Nasim Insari, both guys who have a lot of meaningful things to say about restaurants and food.
“What I like most about this place”, said Nasim, “is the way Marco treats us.”
“Like family”, said Bob, “hey, maybe even better”.
There are three other restaurants in San Miguel de Allende with wood-fired ovens. Casa Papaya, La Cucina di Afrodita and Mivida all make very good Neopolitan-style pizzas. There are two things that separate their pizza from Marco’s.
The first is they only serve pizza on certain Sundays (and Wednesdays at Mivida). Fiamma makes pizza every day but Thursday from 1:00 to 10:00 pm.
The second way Fiamma is different is, simply, only Pizzeria Fiamma has a guy with an O at the end of his name; only Fiamma has Marco.
Fiamma is located between Salida a Celaya 10 and 12 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open every day except Thursday from 1:00 to 10:00 pm.