Totes McGoats

Fresh, raw spinach and tangy goat cheese blanketed the melted mozzarella on the Toates McGoats. (Elizabeth Keyser, Special To CTNow / April 10, 2014)

For such a little pizza place, Stanziato's has created some buzz. The recipient of many "best of" awards calls itself the "Best Pizza in the Universe." But before you choose your pizza, Stanziato's wants you to know a couple of things.

Despite its unprepossessing exterior in a dingy strip mall in Danbury, Stanziato's is not where to come for a slice. They make one size, 12-inch artisan pizzas, which they fire in a wood-burning Italian oven. And many of their products are made from scratch, grown at local farms or produced locally.

The dough is mixed from flour imported from Naples. It's fermented for three days to develop flavor and texture. The first thing you see is the glowing red hearth of the pizza oven. There's something youthful and barebones about the place, with old cement floors and a dining room with a pizza hall feeling.

They expanded and added a bar room a year ago. That's where we like to sit. A funky iron chandelier with red shades and crystal beads hangs from the ceiling. There are lots of textures of reclaimed wood.

The smell of fresh basil fills the room – a pizza delivered to a group of business people seated at a booth. At the bar, skinny young hipsters in plaid shirts sport mountain-man beards. Our bartender, a full-bearded young man with heavily tattooed arms, loves the food. He heartily recommended the mussels, the best he's ever had anywhere, steamed with garlic, shallots, fennel, white wine and herbs. He loves the wings cooked in the wood oven. The special sandwich was pork belly banh mi. Tempting, but we had come for pizza.

The menu features seven red pizzas and seven white, and a daily special pie, and, of course, you can choose toppings. We go for the classic Margherita. It arrives with big fresh basil leaves scattered over melted pools of mozzarella. The tomato sauce had a lot of garlic in it. The crust was light, crisp, well-salted, with a good flavor of char. The center was of the pie was soggy.

It wasn't easy to choose from the white pies. Our bartender loves the new addition to the menu, Brusseloni Danza, with smoked gouda, Brussels leaves, bacon, caramelized onion, hazelnuts and saba, a thick, sweet sauce made from reduced grape juice.

We chose the Totes McGoats. Fresh, raw spinach blanketed the melted mozzarella, and tangy goat cheese was crumbled over the spinach. It was finished with a squirt of lemon. It was a fresh, bright pizza. The crust wonderfully speckled with char, but again, the center had a soggy crust.

Holbrook Farm organic salad was bountiful with a variety of lettuces, fresh herbs (parsley, dill) and thin slices of watermelon radishes. Alas, it had been drenched in sweet balsamic vinaigrette. The salad grew soggy as we ate it, and when we reached the bottom of the bowl, we found a substantial pool of dressing.

Stanziato's has a rotating selection of well-chosen craft beers on tap. They do a lot of takeout, but as the staff will tell you, pizza tastes best right out of the oven.

>>Stanziato's, 35 Lake Avenue extension, Danbury, is open Monday from 4 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday 12 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday 12 to 10 p.m.; Saturday 4 to 10 p.m.; and closed Sunday. Information: 203- 885-1057 and stanziatos.com.