‘Life by the slice’

Fresh ingredients, same recipe for owners of Pomodoro Pizzeria in Bethany Beach

Date Published: 
May 5, 2017

Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert Rose and Brian Conte hold up a white spinach with ricotta, fresh garlic and olive oil pizza in their new pizzeria in Bethany Beach.It was an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

After purchasing a home in Millville By the Sea six years ago, the search had been on for the Naples, Italy-born couple turned lifetime restauranteurs in all things Italian cuisine, Rose and Brian Conte.

After the success of Café Palermo — the Wilmington-based establishment that they had owned and operated together for 13 years — the Contes had been searching for the right location to introduce the cuisine of their home country to what they were hoping to make their new home, in Bethany Beach.

But after trying to find that perfect location for more than five years, it finally found them instead, on a boardwalk day last spring.

“We just happened to be walking around on a Sunday, and then we saw it. When we saw this spot, I said, ‘Brian — this is it.’ I knew right away,” said Rose Conte of the now official location of the Pomodoro Pizzeria, next to Dickey’s Frozen Custard just off the Bethany Beach boardwalk.

“It was perfect. It was exactly what we had been looking for.”

It wasn’t long after that that the Contes made their own not-to-be refused offer on the space, leaving Café Palermo behind and finally making the full-time move to the beach to open the doors to their latest of a lifelong-line of pizza-pie pursuits last month.

With Pomodoro, the Contes are aiming to now put the focus on their famous-sized slices (each a sixth of a 20-inch pie) while offering easier options for beachgoers, such as salads, cannolis, calzones, stromboli, cooler drinks and a wide selection of full-sized pies as well.

But while scaling back from fine dining may be a concept as fresh as the ingredients that the marinara-married couple has long-prided themselves on, the secret family recipe for everything from the hand-rolled dough to the signature sauce is one that’s been passed down for generations.

“It’s how we do it at home. It’s how I grew up. It’s how my mother grew up. It’s how my grandmother grew up,” said Rose Conte. “My grandmother used to tell my mother to go into the garden and pick tomatoes to make the sauce.”

From Italy, with love

While it was Rose Conte’s “Nonna” that inspired both her early love for cooking and the Pomodoro name (pomodoro meaning “tomato” in Italian), it wasn’t until she arrived in the United States in 1968 at the age of 12 that her passion for pizza turned into her inevitable career.

“July 14, 1968 — I’ll never forget that day. We landed in Brooklyn,” Conte recalled, going on to explain that she had arrived by plane and not by boat. “My famous uncle Sal sponsored my whole family to come here.”

It was in Brooklyn-based pizzerias that her two brothers perfected the art of the pie-toss, eventually opening up their own shop in Wilmington in 1970 and calling on their younger sister to help out with the family business.

“I was the only one that spoke English,” Conte recalled with a laugh. “So that’s when I began — a 14-year-old going to school and working with my brothers.

“That’s where we learned how to make everything the way we still make it. It’s always been the same recipe since 1970, and we’ll never change it. I guess you could say I have some experience.”

Eventually marrying her first husband, whom she had known back in her home town of Naples but who hadn’t arrived in the states until 1975, Conte took a break from the pizza shop that they owned together in New Jersey to raise her own family — two sons and a daughter.

While she still helped out at the shop during those days, it wasn’t until years later, after her first husband passed away, that she moved to Philadelphia to open a new shop and met Brian, “another pizza-man” and native Italian. The two would marry and go into business together for now going on 17 years.

“He was another pizza-man,” Rose Conte said with a laugh. “I guess I take them home.”

Together, the partners in pie make for a perfect team. Rose makes the sauce, Brian makes the dough — both of them handling the art forms that they’ve mastered through the years.

“We work together. It’s the family way — Mom and Pop,” said Rose Conte. “I know how to make the dough and he knows how to make the sauce, but I don’t even attempt to do the dough. You have to know exactly how to do it. I don’t know — maybe it’s us that’s picky.”

“It’s not being picky — it’s an art form. The dough has to be the same every single day you make it,” added Brian Conte. “I can give the ingredients to anybody, but I don’t know how they’re going to work with it. The way we do it, we have our own secret.”

From the oven,
with toppings (and without gluten, upon request)

While customers are sure to find Italian favorites — including Margherita pizza with fresh tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella; White Spinach with ricotta, fresh garlic and olive oil; and Pizza Al Pomodoro, served with fresh marinara, garlic, basil, and olive oil; Pizza al Pesto; White Chicken Brocoli; and the Pomodoro Special, touting almost every ingredient on the menu — Pomodoro is also serving up some American-inspired pies with an authentic Italian twist.

There’s the Hawaiian with pineapple and ham, the BBQ Chicken, White Buffalo Chicken and Meat Lovers, with bacon, ham, pepperoni and sausage, and plenty more.

There’s also a variety of calzones and stromboli to go along with grab-and-go salad options, such as antipasto, Greek salad and Rose’s specialty chicken Caesar, which will make their way to the menu by the time summer is in full swing.

All the pies are available with a gluten-free dough, and all the ingredients come from the fresh local produce and hand-cut meats and cheeses that the Contes have hung their hat on since the beginning.

“We make everything from scratch,” explained Rose Conte. “Brian gets in at 8 a.m. just to make the dough. It has to be just right. We use whole-milk buffalo mozzarella cheese, Italian peel tomatoes, fresh toppings — we do them all ourselves — 100 percent you can taste the difference when you make your own.”

“It’s the best pizza around. It’s more like New York-style pizza — thin crust,” added Reagan Bennett, who’s been stopping in at Pomodoro for lunch since their first day in business. “And Rose and Brian are just great people, too — super-nice.”

From the old country,
to their new home

Since setting up shop, it hasn’t been only loyal pizza-patrons making the Contes already feel like they’re at home.

Local businesspeople from all around town have been stopping in to welcome them to the neighborhood, try a slice and wish them luck.

“I’ve never met people so nice in my life — I’m not kidding,” said Brian Conte. “The people are really nice down here. It’s unbelievable. It’s a dream to retire at the beach.”

“Everybody has come in here with open arms and welcomed us. The people here are beautiful,” added Rose Conte. “It’s so nice down here. It’s so relaxing.

“It reminds me of home, where I grew up. I walk to the bank and I feel like I’m back in Italy, walking down the street, because I’m next to the beach. In Italy we have beaches everywhere. I walk to the bank and think, ‘I am really working today?’ This is our home now. We’re at the beach and working at the same time.”

While the Contes “retirement” will consist of keeping the shop open seven days-a-week for at least 10 months out of the year — with plans to visit family in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Seattle and even back home in Italy when the close up shop for January and February — one day, they’ll be ready to pass on their secret family recipes to a new generation of Pomodoro pizza-people just starting out in what has always been a family business.

“I have eight grandkids,” said Rose Conte with a laugh. “They’re the only ones we’re going to share the recipe with. One day, they’re going to learn.”

Pomodoro Pizzeria is located at 101 Garfield Parkway, next to Dickey’s Frozen Custard, in Bethany Beach.

The shop is currently open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with summer hours extending in the upcoming weeks.

For more on Pomodoro, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pomodoropizzeriabethanybeach. To order for pick-up, call the shop at (302) 537-1359.