After many years on a prominent corner next to the cinema in St. Remy, the restaurant La France gasped its last breath this winter…probably because locals avoided it like la peste. This spring, a well-known local couple—John and Laetitia Vergnaud -- took it over and transformed it into a lovely Italian restaurant called Da Peppe…named for Laeticia’s grandfather, Giuseppi. To run the kitchen, they lured chef Maurizio Scalia over from Sicily and chances are you’ll find him paddling pretty pizzas in and out of the vast, round Morello oven, the first thing you see when you step through the door. John calls the stainless-steel oven—fueled by wood and gas, operated digitally and equipped with a rotating stone “refractory” bedplate that holds ten pies at a time—“the Rolls Royce, the Bentley, the Ferrari of forni!”
“Quanto è costato?” I asked the chef, impressed by its gleam, its glowing controls and how cool it feels to the touch; Maurizio’s pizzas bake to crispy/chewy perfection at 380 degrees C (700-plus F) in just two to 2.5 minutes.
“Tres cher!” was all he’d say, with a big smile.
I also noticed the oven creates no smoke or smell, thanks to a serious system of venting. Obviously this is key when you decide to plant a spaceship-sized, fire-breathing behemoth smack in the center of your dining room. So I went to the Morello website to learn a bit more. “Never again lawsuit against neighbours and/or burning chimney !!!” the company proclaims proudly. "Morello Forni can offer antipollution-water filters enabling to clean wood oven smoke, stop chimney fire risks and mainly to avoid noising quarrel versus neighbours!!!!”
Noising quarrel versus neighbours in Provence? Never!
The menu at Da Peppe is a la carte only, with a lunch-time plat du jour priced at 13€. John tells me his best-selling main courses right now are the Risotto St. Jacques “a l'encre de seiche” (squid ink risotto with scallops) and the Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal with ham and sage, rolled up and cooked with white wine and butter).
But pizzas are far and away the most-popular choice, with the Pizza Nona--scallops, arugula, truffle oil, olives, crème fraiche, mozzarella—currently in the lead.
And for dessert? “Our Tiramisu is excellent, our guests’ favorite dessert by far,” John says. “We make it the right way, with not a lot of liquid underneath, and very-nice Pavesini biscuits from Italy.”
My friend Lorraine and I shared a Pizza Decima (tomato, fresh buffalo mozzarella, gorgonzola, cherry tomatoes, basil, olives), a Pizza Settima (tomato, gorgonzola, pecorino, fresh ricotta, olives) and the Salad Burrattina (tomatoes, Burrata cheese, arugula, pine nuts, balsamic syrup). I thought all three were terrific. And Lorraine, who happens to be a bit pizza-obsessive and has always been staunchly loyal to Pizzeria Brun in nearby Maussane, proclaimed everything bellissima e molto bene! Or something very funny-sounding that meant that.
The atmosphere in Da Peppe’s dining room is warm and welcoming; the staff young, handsome and professional . (Don’t be surprised to see Jean-Pierre Ricci, the owner of nearby L’Áile ou la Cuisse, helping out; he’s Laetitia’s father.) The vibe is casual—jeans are fine—but in the evening the crowd makes an effort to kick it up a notch, clothes wise. Dining all around us I saw dating couples, young families, foreign tourists, familiar local faces and a large gaggle of girlfriends sharing pizzas, carafes of wine and laughter. Da Peppe has a handful of sidewalk tables and a terrific rooftop terrace too, with views of the Place Republique (that sounds so much better than saying ‘the big parking lot,’ no?) and our enormous church, with bits dating to the 14th century.
Da Peppe is a much-need addition to the dining scene in St. Remy and I’m so happy to have them in my quartier. All hail chef Maurizio, the new Prince of Pizza in Provence!
Prices: Pizzas are 12.50€ to 14.50€. Meat and fish main courses: 19€ to 22€. Pasta and risotto: 12.50€ to 23€. Desserts: 7€. There’s a small selection of Italian specialties and sweets for sale at the door. Hours: Open for lunch and dinner every day but Tuesday; dinner is served from 7 to 11 pm. Parking: On the street or on the Place Republique. And as always, please tell them I sent you…
Da Peppe, #2 ave Fauconnet (next door to the cinema), St. Remy, 04-90-92-11-56, email@example.com, no website.
Photos: John and Laetitia Vergnaud; tucking into a Pizza Prima; at Da Peppe you can eat indoors, on the sidewalk or on the rooftop terrace.