Oregano Pizzeria and Ristorante is located in the heart of downtown Newburyport. But step inside, and the mix of delightful aromas make it easy to imagine you’re in Italy.
This is exactly where owner Claude Elias hopes to take you with his authentic dishes and artisan pizzas, an homage to the exquisite cuisine found abroad (and a nod to his Sicilian wife Laura Elias). A large dome brick oven, imported from Genoa, Italy, dominates the back of the restaurant, producing flawless pizza at a temperature of 1300°F.
A true foodie, Elias, who is originally from Lebanon, finds inspiration for his menu during his travels and develops ideas in his scratch kitchen. Natural light pours through a series of large windows in the front of the building, which are lined with two-seat high-tops. Small tables fill the room, accompanied by a long bench nestled against one side of the brick wall for larger parties or family gatherings.
Even if you’re in for a midday meal, order a glass of Oregano’s 30 Italian wines, like one of their popular Pinot Grigios. Go for the house Kris or Santa Marina, or opt for something fancier with the Santa Margherita. Then try The Ugly Caprese Salad, with mozzarella di bufala, heirloom tomatoes, basil, and capers, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. “This is our number one selling salad in the summer,” says Elias. “It’s very simple, but yet, it’s a very, very tasty salad.
”The menu features a number of pizzas, including a build-your-own option. You can’t go wrong with the Margharita Di Bufala (made as a 9-inch pie at lunch), featuring the same cheese from the caprese salad, which comes from water buffalo milk imported from Italy. Most mozzarella used in the U.S., Elias explains, is made from cows, but the buffalo milk gives the cheese a dash of tartness combined with a creamy, buttery texture that melts in your mouth. Add in fresh basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, a light coating of extra virgin olive oil, and a base sauce made from crushed San Marzano tomatoes—harvested from a valley at the foothill of Mount Vesuvius—and you’ve got one mouthwatering meal. “All the tomatoes are grown in volcanic ash,” says Elias. “This is why, really, the San Marzano tomatoes are so unique. We use them for all our pizzas and all our pasta dishes.”
Another classic is the Wild Mushroom Pizza, a multi-layered pie starting with mushroom puree, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, red onion jam, shiitake, portabellas, and oyster mushrooms, and finished with diced scallions and organic white truffle oil. Don’t pass on adding the smoked duck sausage. The salt from the meat combined with the sweetness from the onion jam makes all the difference.
The Avocado Chicken Panini, grilled with sliced avocado, onion, and aioli avocado dressing is a best seller. Or opt for the Lebanese Falafel, which is served with pita bread, fattoush, olives, beets, pickled turnips, and pepperoncini, finished with a tahini cilantro lemon sauce. “Me being Lebanese as the owner, I have to have something Lebanese,” Elias laughs.
For dessert, consider sharing the Nutella Calzone, where strawberries and the chocolate-hazelnut spread are topped with fluff and strawberry sauce. You shouldn’t miss Oregano’s signature dish, however. “The one dessert that we made right from the get-go, that’s stayed with us this whole time, is our Pizza Cookie,” says Elias. “We bake it in the same pizza oven, that’s why we call it a pizza cookie. The cookie gets hot and crusty on the outside and is still moist and chewy and gooey on the inside.” It’s then covered with powdered sugar and a hearty scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!
Oregano Pizzeria & Ristorante
16 Pleasant Street