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Kaos Pizzeria excels in the Neapolitan style

In Greek mythology, Kaos is the universe and Gaia the earth — and the two are lovers, intertwined counterparts that create the existing world. Kaos Pizzeria, which opened two years ago, is the counterpart of Gaia Bistro, the five-year-old restaurant on South Pearl Street owned by Patrick Mangold-White and Jon Edwards. The two eateries, located just one block from each other, certainly look similar: The awkwardly laid-out rooms of the former bungalows are brought together by warm lights and earthy hues, with lush patios and gardens out front that are the best places to enjoy a meal at either spot.

But whereas Gaia is a warm neighborhood restaurant that does a booming daytime business and is just starting to build up its recently added dinners, Kaos is a lively pizza joint busiest at night, when it's often teeming with a mix of families, neighbors and students lining up at the counter to order pies and then grabbing tables.

As those tables started emptying out one night a few weeks ago, I stopped by with friends for pizza, beer and one of the best salads I've had this spring. That salad also showed that the emphasis on seasonal produce had made the jump from Gaia to this venture. (The two kitchens share a garden.) Sweet, crisp slices of watermelon were backed by just-picked garden greens and creamy crumbles of tart goat cheese. Salted, roasted pumpkin seeds added crunch, and the mix was pulled together with a light coating of an ambrosial honey vinaigrette.

Kaos uses a wood-burning oven to cook its pizzas and adheres to a Neopolitan style, going so far as to import Caputo flour and San Marzano tomatoes to get as close to the Italian version as it can. The margherita was my favorite, the dough washed with a sweet and tangy crushed-tomato sauce, festooned with slices of fresh mozzarella and broad cuts of basil, then baked under intense heat until the crust bubbled and scorched. The result tasted light and pure, and I wanted to eat the entire thing — leaving my friends to the special BLT pizza that we'd also ordered. On that pie, a thin layer of shredded mozzarella covered slices of fresh tomato, thick lardons of smoky bacon and more basil over a base of oil and garlic instead of tomato sauce. It was a winning combo, just not as good as the margherita.

And just as I'd wanted to linger over coffee at my Gaia brunch, even after the pizza was gone, I would have been happy to hole up with my beer in Kaos's garden, letting the evening turn into a long, lazy night.

 
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