There’s a comforting effect that takes hold right away as you enter Dimitri’s, most likely brought on by a tidal wave of sensory warmth: caramelised aromas, a dark room alive with activity, red neon splashed across the entrance like opening credits by Ridley Scott. If you’ve been a fan since the Surry Hills days, maybe what you’re feeling is a sense of relief washing over you – hallelujah! They’ve retained all the charm of the OG Crown Street pizzeria and found room for a little more.
Inside, tattoo flash sheets, tapestries of Sydney Harbour and the aesthetic candy of the Grifter Brewing Co’s branding melt into the brick walls like mozzarella – but your eyes will most likely be fixed on the mammoth wood oven. Clock the team dressed in competition-grade white uniforms, and the chef up front rescuing pizzas from the fire with a pole-vault-length peel. It looks intense, and hot. A glass of Grifter’s Serpent’s Kiss watermelon pilsner is a frosty, fitting way to cool down.
A bunch of single-sheet menus are dropped on the table. Some of them feature drink specials, wines by the glass and just as many ‘Not Pizza’ items listed as pizzas. You might need something to nibble while you study up, so consider starting with some house bread, butter and garlic oil. It lands on the table looking like a freshly erupted volcanic boulder finished with a light snowfall of Parmigiano-Reggiano, with charry leopard spots on the outside and chewy, tangy sourdough within.
Keep a plate of white and Ortiz brown anchovies on hand, too. They’re submerged in good oil and lined up like a little zebra crossing. For something a little fresher, consider a bright, swirly kaleidoscope of ripe heirloom tomatoes, housemade stracciatella and pickled fennel. The fresh curd sits in an unapologetically ragged bundle on top, ready to be torn apart, and melts through zippy green basil oil to coat every bite.
But what of the pizza? The pies themselves are a relaxed riff on the Neapolitan style. The gooey, rich and intensely-flavoured mouthfuls are best handled by pinching and folding slices over themselves, using the wide perimeter of bubbly, charred outer crust as an anchor point to allow safe passage away from your plate. If the toppings slide off, you have failed. Pinch harder.
Although it may raise an eyebrow (or an EpiPen), it’s a safe bet to opt for the famous Bee Sting. Tapping into the same part of the brain that loves the combo of bacon and maple syrup, the way the honey permeates through meaty sopressa and creamy fior di latte is pleasing, to say the very least. Do not stop at one pizza. The Cream of Korn might be a blasphemous departure from Italian standards, but it’s bloody excellent. The intensity of the corn’s sweetness is amplified by scorchy times in the oven, and matched up with bright pickled jalapeños.
Reward your smart order with a bottle of something fancy – they don’t charge through the roof for good drops, so treat yourself to the breathtakingly saline and sour-candy flavours of Cantina Giardino’s skinsy Sophia. It’s a cult natty wine for a reason. Or perhaps keep it local with something fresh from young Aussie makers like Borachio, Ephemera or Mada.
The staff are helpful and energetic, keeping to the oven’s speedy tempo with gusto. And nothing beats the type of service that twists your rubber arm towards a made-to-order doughnut (with a glaze that changes almost daily) and a scoop of housemade ice cream, just when you thought you were done.