Pizzabella: Straight From the Hearth

Kansas City’s Pizzabella offers old-fashioned pizza in an ultra-mod venue that’s a feast for the senses.

It’s not easy to stand out in a marketplace oversaturated with pizzerias. In Kansas City alone, there are well over 200 places to order a pizza, but none quite like Pizzabella. This could be due to the fact that it’s owned by former Bluestem chef Quillan Glynn whose culinary creations – and we’re not just talking about pizza – are cooked right out in the open in wood-fired ovens.

In 2010, Glynn bought Pizzabella from its original owner, Rob Dalzell (creator of 1924 Main, Souperman and Chefburger), who opened the restaurant three years prior in the Crossroads Art district. Based on the success of its flagship location, Glynn and his wife, Hilary, opened a second restaurant, Pizzabella South, this year in the Mission Farms area of Overland Park, and with the help of the architects at el dorado Inc. (who designed the first Pizzabella) somehow made it even more gorgeous than the original locale.

Story by Kathryn Jones. Photos by Mike Sinclair.

The restaurants feature two-toned gray walls with exposed ductwork and conduit for an industrial effect, which juxtaposes beautifully with the built-in seating, ceiling treatments and slatted wall screens all made of Ipê, a rich Brazilian hardwood.

“The overall strategy is simple and straightforward – bomb the raw space with a warm, dark color leaving ductwork, conduit, everything just where it needs to be to be the most economical. Then, carve warm dining pods out of the dark space with expertly crafted slat walls, ceilings and benches,” explains David Dowell, principal at el dorado and mastermind behind both branch designs.

Pizzabella South is nearly twice the size of the flagship restaurant, but el dorado was able to achieve the same degree of intimacy with its dining pods or “pleasure cocoons” as Dowell describes them, formed by strategically placed slatted Ipê screens. These give diners a sense of privacy while still being able to watch chefs operate the wood-fired ovens, which are the restaurant’s “key to the perfect chorizo and pesto pizza,” he remarks.

“It’s amazing what my husband can create in those ovens,” Hilary Glynn adds, noting that the restaurant doesn’t have a single gas line running through it. Wood-fired mussels and Brussels sprouts with pancetta, cranberries and almonds are among the restaurants most-talked-about non-pizza items. “We pride ourselves on using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients on our menu as much as possible,” she says. The menus themselves are locally sourced having come from Hammerpress.

In Overland Park, Muuto pendant lamps dangle overhead from bright red cables lending a sense of whimsy to this ultra-sophisticated restaurant where black glass tiles adorn the chic, dimly lit restrooms, and its beer, wine and cocktail menu rivals those of a posh, underground lounge.

The particular branch also features a private dining room with two 14-person tables, one planted firmly on the ground and the other securely suspended from the ceiling to create a unique overhead light display. These tables are made from Southern yellow pine rather than Ipê and were salvaged from an old maintenance building on the KU campus. It’s befitting, Glynn says, because Lawrence is where her husband began his culinary career.

Pizzabella South offers the unique indoor-outdoor dining experience that patrons enjoy at the Crossroads location. Eleven-foot-tall aluminum sliding doors lead to an outdoor seating area with the same, durable built-in Ipê and steel furniture. “Clever planning and permitting approaches were required to overcome a few self-defeating city ordinances and make the outdoor dining experience possible,” Dowell admits.

“We were warned that bugs, temperature and humidity would conspire against us, and that a populace used to indoor dining wouldn’t embrace the idea. Thankfully, the solution we developed in collaboration with the inspired – and trusting – ownership group has trumped any negative preconceptions. We blame it on the ill effects of winter hibernation dulling our collective memory of just how enjoyable eating outside can be.”

“Line of sight” was a top priority for the Pizzabella South’s design, as well, according to Dowell. As soon as patrons walk in, they should be able to easily spot “the big three” – the restrooms, the bar, and of course, those wood-fired ovens. The restaurant itself is highly visible from I-435, which presented the el dorado design team and the Glynns with a unique opportunity for signage. When the eco-friendly shades are drawn, it bears the word “Pizzabella” in large lettering that can be seen all the way from the highway.

Glynn says that’s just one form of unconventional advertising that sets Pizzabella stand apart from other pizzerias. She plans on using social media to spread the word about various events the restaurant is hosting that will benefit the community at large. For instance, she will host a wine-tasting event the first week of October with proceeds going to the Waywide Waifs animal welfare charity. “Technically, Pizzabella is in two different communities, but we think of Kansas City as one big community,” she says, “and the best way to support the community is to get involved.”