BELFAST — Take a seat at Meanwhile in Belfast, the new pizza restaurant that opened here in March, and you’ll discover that pizza is a sensual meal – a feast for all the senses. There’s the heady fragrance of fresh dough and the occasional whiff of garlic wafting from the kitchen and enticing customers (or passersby) to slow down and inhale; the sound of owner Alessandro Scelsi slicing prosciutto and bantering with young cooks working nearby; the sight of lightly browned, puffed circles of sourdough being pulled from his blistering hot, wood-fired oven; and the taste and touch of Scelsi’s pizzas – which are flavorful and crisp and moist and hot and intensely fresh and satisfying. Tearing into one is very nearly a carnal experience.

A waitress described one of the evening’s specials, a spicy broccolini and sausage pizza ($22) as a 12-inch pie, but it looked larger (and cantilevered far over the edges of the white plate she brought to the table.) The crust was dimpled and golden with a few edges that were appealingly charred, the dough thin and slightly crunchy, yet still soft and steaming inside. The crust was hot enough to burn my fingers, so I set the pizza down and waited a few seconds (no easy task), then took another large bite. If the toppings hadn’t looked so good, I might have made a meal of crust alone.

And the toppings were good: spears of broccolini, thick rounds of sausage, pools of barely melting mozzarella and an enthusiastic scattering of red pepper flakes. The peppery broccolini was particularly fine – the florets tasted (and sounded) as if they’d spent only seconds in the oven – and the sausage was salty and so abundantly juicy that I kept reaching for my napkin. The combination was delicious.

“I come from Turino in northern Italy and have been cooking with my mom and in kitchens in northern Europe for years,” says Alessandro Scelsi, who opened Meanwhile with his life and business partner Clementina Senatore after running a pizza pub in London. “Neapolitan pizzas, like the ones we make here, start with a slow-rising and very soft, hydrated dough. That’s why they’re so moist.” There’s no standard recipe, Scelsi says. “I’ve taken time and research to come up with my own recipe … small variable changes with the flour and water to get the crust I like.” And what makes the toppings so flavorful? “The entire pizza must be cooked for just about a minute – no more than 90 seconds – so that the ingredients taste good but nothing overcooks or melts like crazy.”

His Formentera pizza ($16) is scattered with artichokes, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil pooling on the edge of the pie. The creamy cheese was barely warm enough to melt into the tomatoes, which retained their summer sweetness and brilliant red color. You could always order a salad at Meanwhile (a daily fresh salad is listed on the Small Plate menu), but why bother? The Formentera was a fresh salad and a crispy pizza in one.

The Cote d’Azur ($18) was more like a sandwich – a hearty sandwich covered with slices of Prosciutto di Parma, sugary sun-dried figs and fresh fior di latte mozzarella. (Scelsi hopes to find the time to make his own cow’s milk mozzarrella for the restaurant, but for now buys it from a cheese maker in Connecticut.) “Did you notice that we don’t slice any of the pizzas with a cutter?” the waitress said. “You can use your fork and knife to make slices, or just fold up the whole thing into quarters and eat it like street food.” The crust was thin enough to do just that, and not a single fig got lost in the process.


Meanwhile opened March 19, and still feels like a new venture. The low-ceilinged dining room is filled with a colorful combination of pastel-colored stools, wood and metal chairs, and simple wooden tables. (In the summer, there are also four café tables on a tiny patio outside.) When we asked for extra plates, the waitress brought out a black-and-white polka dot set, setting each one down near the turquoise wire basket that contained the silverware. She was new, too, having joined Meanwhile two weeks ago. “I was working at another really nice restaurant nearby, but I wanted to come here – the place has great energy,” she said.

Both Scelsi and Senatore are obviously energetic, working in the restaurant five days a week (“We first came to Maine to vacation, and I would like to rest a little more,” Scelsi admits) and tinkering with daily specials and the drinks program. Currently they offer a selection of wines from Italy and France, plus a long list of beers – some of them gluten-free. Scelsi says he’s also considering a gluten-free pizza, “but I haven’t gotten to a point where I’m satisfied with the crust.” (He has standards to uphold: He’s certified by Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the “True Neapolitan Pizza Association,” founded to insure the quality of traditional Neapolitan pizza internationally.)

Meanwhile in Belfast offers a few salads, one or two daily specials, and at least one sweet for after dinner (when I visited it was tiramisu [$10], prepared by Clementina’s mother, who was helping out for a few weeks), but pizzas are the obvious draw and the core of the business. The fare may be simple (Scelsi’s favorite meal is the simplest – a Margherita pizza [$12] with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil), but it’s seductively good.

James H. Schwartz has covered food, travel and architecture for The Washington Post, Downeast, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines for more than 30 years. Long a commuter between Portland and Washington, D.C., he retired from his job as vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2013 and relocated to Maine.

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