All photos by Peter Larson
This morning, John Sweeney is kneading pizza dough while chatting about his newly-opened Lakewood restaurant, Harlow's
(14319 Madison Ave., 216-712-6502). He's been here since 6:30 a.m. and, except for a lunch break with his kids, won't leave until late into the night.
Sweeney says the goal, before he and fiancee Emily Flamos even opened the spot, was to perfect the dough and menu and come up with the best product possible. So first they traveled to Italy to find out how to make traditional pies.
"It is just
pizza," Sweeney admits. "But you know, we went to Naples and we went to New York and we went to Toronto, and we felt that west side was missing out on a certain style of pizza. So we’re sticking to traditional Neapolitan recipe here."
The 12-inch pies, which Sweeney makes individually himself, are made with fresh ingredients and precision. The menu
only offers five of choices — Marinara, Margherita, Bianca, Salami and Leonardo — and no substitutions are allowed. Once assembled, the personal pizza is popped into the mouth of the 800-degree wood-fired oven for 60 to 90 seconds. The pizza is then meant to be eaten immediately (although the spot will do carryouts).
Harlow's, which is named after the couple's daughter, also offers a small selection of wine, beer, spirits and sodas.
Regarding the Mexican-style decor and open-air atmosphere of the small 1,000 square-foot place, Sweeney says, "We didn’t want you to walk in and hear Frank Sinatra, and we didn't want it to look like other old-school Italian shops."
After a few weeks up and running in Lakewood, Sweeney says the feedback has been positive, although some wait times have grown quite long on busy nights. But he says he's not willing to compromise quality for speed.
"I can see people, it’s the head nod when they take that first bite. That's everything," he says.