888: It's More Than Great Pizza
By now, Allentown residents and Buffalo Rising readers have heard about 888 Main (a.k.a. Campieri's, Campieri's 888 Main and simply, 888). Opening this past winter after 2 1/2 years of construction, this Buffalo-style pizza joint has quickly gathered a group of loyal followers. Though the restaurant's interior still gives the perception of not yet being entirely done (it's rather dark, and the richly colored walls are free of art), the pizza is downright delicious.
What makes it better than the rest? The answer is owner Dan Campieri's secret dough recipe. It's my guess, that in this pizza-obsessed town, there aren't a lot of pizza restaurants that still make their dough from scratch. Many years ago it became a lot less expensive (when you consider labor and ingredients) to buy pre-made frozen dough balls from local wholesalers, and so that is what most local pizza joints do. Some of the worst places in town even take a shortcut there, opting instead to buy the frozen pre-made pizza crust that needs merely to be thawed. Sadly, this tragic excuse for pizza dough has become par for the course. At 888, that's certainly not the case. Campieri makes the dough himself, every day, from scratch. It's time consuming and labor-intensive, no question; but is it worth it? Absolutely.
888's pizza is, in fact, Buffalo-style--meaning that the crust is neither the thin, Roman style crust NYC is famous for, nor the deep-dish version of Chicago-fame. It falls somewhere in the middle. But the quality and flavor do not.
And before we go on, I should make it clear that there's no delivery and you can't get take out; substitutions and half of this and half of that aren't allowed either. You can add some additional toppings to the pizza combinations that already exist on the menu, of which there are more than 20. What's with all the rules, you might ask? You wouldn't be the only one. We've even had comments online from people upset that they can't get their new favorite pizza to go. “If I wanted to do it like that,” Campieri told me last week, “I'd have bought one of these cheap storefronts and been open in a month. But that's not what I want, that's not what I'm trying to do.”
Campieri explains to me that the quality of the pizza would be compromised if he had to produce too many too fast. He wants people to sit and enjoy the pizza piping hot, not after it's spent 10 minutes in a box on top of the oven waiting for you to pick it up and then drive it home where you won't take your first bite until 20 minutes later. I liken the passion he has for his product to that of Seinfeld's 'Soup Nazi', though he's much, much friendlier than that.
Up until last week the menu was limited to pizzas and a few side dishes, and Campieri--who makes it very clear that he is not a cook--was doing all of the work in the kitchen. “I know how to make pizza, and I know how to do it well, but I'm not a chef or a cook.” His new kitchen staff, headed by Chef Matt Davis, has developed an expanded menu featuring burgers, salads, sandwiches, pasta and entrees. "I'll still be making the dough and the sauce," Campieri said, "I can't trust anyone else to do that."
During my visit I enjoyed a sampling of a dish called Veggie Penne and some stuffed banana peppers. The simple but delicious pasta dish consists of penne tossed with creamy feta cheese and fresh tomatoes, portobella mushrooms and artichoke hearts which have been sauteed with garlic and olive oil. Other pastas on the menu include a penne made with hot Italian sausage, spinach and asiago and a shell pasta served with red or white clam sauce. The banana peppers were stuffed with sausage and three types of Italian cheese. They were well-prepared (in my experience they are often undercooked or taste of the walk-in refrigerator) and the stuffing was rich and tasty.
What else is on the horizon for Campieri's 888? A large, back patio with a strict non-smoking policy, and maybe some art for the walls. “I had someone that was anxious to hang their work here, but it didn't pan out,” Campieri said. With ceilings almost 14' high, and lengthy walls, 888 would be a great opportunity for any artist looking for a gallery. “If you know anyone that would be interested, just have them give me a call.”
Campieri's 888 Main
888 Main Street, Buffalo, 14202