In Indianapolis, pizza used to primarily mean national franchises offering arguably-not-much-better-than-frozen pies. There were exceptions, of course, but the norm was pretty sad.
While there are still Hoosiers who, inexplicably, opt for Domino’s or Papa John’s, our pizza palate has expanded to a point where there are multiple options even within narrow geographic areas.
In SoBro, for instance, you could opt for the Patachou spin-off Napolese, slide around the corner from the Jazz Kitchen for takeout from Bebop Pizza Kitchen, or try the latest addition, Diavola (1134 E. 54th St., 820-5100), all within about a mile.
Beyond easier parking on a weekend evening and cool signage, Diavola’s differentiators have as much to do with its atmosphere as they do with what it serves. Ambrosia owner Gino Pizzi has infused the former Zest/Twist space with a nice mix of coziness and vibrancy (plus cool light fixtures). It’s the kind of place where you can grab a solo bite and a beer at the bar or bring a gang of friends and do some pizza sharing while exploring the wine list.
The menu is simply divided into Antipasti, Insalate and Pizza. We started with Calamari ($10), a mixed platter more tentacle than body. Personally, I’m a fan of a mix, but your pleasures may vary. Polpette ($10) is just a prettier way of saying meatball, but Diavola’s version isn’t just another ground beef orb. This housemade version, offered in a row with pomodoro sauce and a gentle dash of Parmigiano Reggiano, makes a good case for the meatball as a solo item rather than a sandwich element or pasta topper. Other options include Burrata (cream-filled mozzarella with roasted cherry tomatoes), Polpo (charred marinated octopus), and daily Bruschette.
Not quite as creative as Pizzology or Napolese—and without a wood-fired aura—Diavola’s pizza nonetheless brought pleasure, with variations that
shouldn’t scare off those used to standard pie fare. The one-size pies proved a bit flimsy in the center, especially with a topping or three weighing down on it, so be careful of sliding if you attempt to pick up a hot slice (there’s no shame in using a fork for non-New-York-style pizza).
On the Maialina ($14), the small discs of pepperoni were charred at the edges and curled with pockets of mozzarella, while crumbles of sweet Italian sausage and peppadew peppers controlled the show. The Bianca ($10) made simple use of mozzarella, gorgonzola, ricotta (mercifully not overdone as some are wont to do) and parmigiano. Other pies make use of pancetta, artichokes, roasted eggplant, and the aforementioned meatballs.
These pizzas are best right out of the oven. If you have any doubt about whether to eat that last slice or take it home, my suggestion is to just go for it rather than worry about reheating.•