DES MOINES, WA: Prima Margherita Pizza Cucina & Bar

UPDATE: Prima Margherita was sold less than a year after it opened. The new owners have done a bit of remodeling and reopened it as Via Marina. While taking a similar approach as the previous establishment, it is sadly not the same.  - Editor

A brand new restaurant in Des Moines, Washington is bringing authentic Neapolitan pizza to the area and adding to its growing local restaurant scene.
Prima Margherita in Des Moines
Prima Margherita Pizza Cucina & Bar opened on Monday, March 25 at the corner of Marine View Drive and S. 227th St., in the building that was previously occupied by now-defunct Barnacles, and Boston Pizza before that.
I popped in for lunch during the first week the restaurant was open and was genuinely impressed.
Vincenzo, a recent immigrant from Italy who had the idea of opening an authentic Italian cucina, brought in a wood-burning oven from Italy and turned the place into the kind of casual cucina you’d find overseas. As you might expect with any brand-new establishment, staff is still finding its feet in some ways, but in many other ways, they’re already hitting it out of the park.
I started out with a glass of Vandori Pinot Grigio from Italy’s Fruili region. It’s a pinot grigio that is more full-bodied than many of the same varietal, enabling it to stand up better to the stronger flavors of Italian food. It's also a wine that tastes far more expensive than it is.
The house salad was a nice arrangement of butter lettuce – not the ubiquitous iceberg variety – topped with pickled onions, slices of cucumber, and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
The namesake Pizza Margherita
For the main course, I had to try the namesake Pizza Margherita. While some establishments eschew the tomato sauce, that is not traditional nor is it to my taste. Prima Margherita uses tomato sauce to produce a pizza with a tangy deliciousness, along with fresh basil and imported mozzarella.
The pizza was cooked in Prima Margherita’s applewood-fired oven, which had a temperature of about 725° F on the deck and about 800° toward the top. All pizzas are made in the traditional Neapolitan way: very thin crust topped with genuine Italian ingredients, then quick-cooked to a crisp finish.
Because the pizzas cook so quickly, the restaurant has two people filling the orders. One makes the pizzas while the other tends the oven, as each pizza only takes about a minute in the oven to cook completely.
Vincenzo made a point of telling me the Pomodoro tomato sauce, the mozzarella, and other key ingredients come from his homeland. It’s more expensive, certainly, but they make pizzas that taste the way he’s used to them tasting.
Although he just came to the United States in November, Vincenzo isn’t new to cooking, nor is he going it alone. His uncle Peppe owns several restaurants in the area, including Verezzano’s in Federal Way, the Cliff House in Tacoma, Al Lago at Lake Tapps, and Copper Falls in Auburn, and is helping get this new venture off the ground.
Unlike the other venues, however, Peppe told me Prima Margherita isn’t fine dining nor does it pretend to be.
The vibe at Prima Margherita is definitely casual, much as you’d find in a cucina or trattoria in Italy. It’s a bit cozier than when it was Barnacle’s because Vincenzo took out several tables to make room for the oven and the pizza prep area, but it’s not quite as informal as an osteria, which often have no menus and seating is at communal tables.
Applewood-fired pizza oven
Like casual restaurants in Europe, guests at Prima Margherita seat themselves. If there’s an open table, go for it; don’t expect a hostess to usher you. Otherwise, guests are on the honor system; the first to come in will be the first to be seated. Depending on the weather and the staffing, an additional 40 seats are available on the patio, which is equipped with propane space heaters so patrons can dine al fresco.

On a side note, while al fresco means "outside dining" in North America, don't ask to dine al fresco in Italy. There, it's slang for "in jail".
Like a cucina, the menu is not huge, though it includes a variety of pizzas and pastas, salads and side dishes, desserts including tiramisu, wines by the glass or bottle, about a half-dozen beers on draught including an Italian bierra, and a handful of craft cocktails.
The menu is complete with the types of charming misspellings you’ll find on signs and menus in Europe that were written by people whose mother tongue is a language other than English; using the word “bare” instead of “bear” for example.  But that just underscores the message that this place is authentic.
The menu also offers a bit of lore. It notes that Italy’s Queen Marghertia was traveling through Naples in 1889 when a local baker was tasked with creating a dish “Fit for a queen.” As the story goes, he topped traditional Italian flat bread with red tomatoes, green basil, and white mozzarella to replicate to colors of the Italian flag, and the Pizza Margherita was born. 
It survives today, and thrives at Prima Margherita.
I encourage you to try it out for yourself.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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