It seems as though Jutes Templo's fate lies in the hands of delicious, delicious food. Graduating BS Management Engineering at Ateneo could have laid out his career track in banking and finance, yet in 2004, he saw himself with his other half, Cello, open a doughnut shop most famous for its fluffy dessert in flavors of chocolate, cheese, and oreo. Later on in 2009, Jutes developed an insatiable appetite for a certan kind of pizza, and would frequently drive all the way to another province to get his hands rolling on those long strips of thin crust pizza stuffed with fresh greens. Much was the Templos' love for this dish that the couple found themselves making their own versions at home, and becoming open to the idea of putting up their own panizza place. But this thought evolved into welcoming another kind of pizza into their lives: the Neapolitan. While we waited for our lunch to be served, he goes on, sharing how he developed a love affair with pizza, and dedicating his entire restaurant, Gino's Brick Oven Pizza, to this delicate, delicious–and sometimes delirious–art form.
Gino's Brick Oven Pizza, right beside Cello's Doughnuts & Dips in Katipunan Avenue
Jutes later on discovers a list that would elevate his fondness of the Italian staple to so much dedication and love, that it's best described as a devotion. "I was just researching on the Internet on potential flavor combinations. Then I saw an article: '25 Best Pizzas in America.' And out of the 25 listed, around 20 were Neapolitan style," he shares. And that got him curiouser and curiouser, deep into reading and research about this pizza variation. Not only was it hailed as the favorite type of many, it also was quite alien to Manila, a food hub witness to endless permutations of crust, toppings, and flavors. I wondered why not a lot of places serve Neapolitan pizzas here, considering it's what people love out there. Jutes tells me that back in 2010, there was a surge in Neapolitan pizzas in the US, growing a big pizza community pretty much like how we are embracing all the ramen shops and katsu restaurants right now. So why didn't Manila pick it up? "It's super hard to learn," Jutes explains.
"We researched a lot, we read books, we did all the things on our own–we didn't attend classes," Jutes says. "Before the dough, it started with the oven." I learn through the restaurant owner that their brick oven, super-hot compared to typical ovens, is oftentimes temperamental–it took about a week to cure the oven upon purchase to make it reach its hottest levels, its temperature fluctuates easily when the weather changes, and it favors certain areas inside, so one must find its sweet spot to have a perfectly cooked pizza. "And we also discovered that not all ulings are created equal," Jutes shares. Apparently, there are certain types of trees that produce a hotter type of charcoal compared to others. Even the charcoal's size and cut is crucial in the formula of perfect brick oven cooking!
The highly frustrating process of perfecting the pizza dough, made from scratch, was next in their itinerary. "It was like: fail, fail, fail, fail. Then on the one hundredth try–boom, success!" he recalls. According to him, the Neapolitan pizza dough should be fermented for around twelve hours or more to be really delicious. Their dough took about two months to perfect, then up next was the cheese. "Oven, fuel, dough, and the cheese," Jutes enumerates the essentials in pizza making, "and in these famous pizzerias where the owner himself makes the pizza, they usually make their own cheese." And so, cheese-making it was, too, for Gino's Brick Oven Pizza. "Siguro mga one hundred liters din kami before we got it. 'Di man lang perfect!" he laughs. But this time around, they were more confident with perfecting cheese, having reached success in both their brick oven and dough.
Freshly Made, With Lots of Love
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Since they make their own cheese using fresh carabao's milk, it was easy to introduce their very own burrata into their menu. "Have you tried burrata?" Jutes asked me, and proudly shares that they serve theirs fresh–some Italian restaurants, as they import these Italian artisanal cheese, need to transport it to the country frozen. It's rare that you find restaurants in Manila serving this fresh, and even more seldom will you find it at a reasonable price. I suggest that before you stuff yourself with Gino's pizza to try their Burrata (P245) served with bread and olive oil. You can also accompany it with Salami Milano (P365), Prosciutto (P365), or Speck (P365), as cured meat and cheese have always proven to be the best of friends. The blob of succulent, milky, and decadently soft house-made burrata makes my heart flutter–be still, my cheese-loving heart! It was difficult to part with my appetizer, but I must move on to the meet the main event: pizza.
Burrata with Salami Milano
Call Gino's before your visit to reserve your burrata cheese
For those unfamiliar with the Neapolitan style of pizzas, the experience of eating a slice can be described in two words: simple and clean. A Neapolitan pizza at Gino's exhibits beautiful restraint, refreshing in the bustling pizza community of Manila where unli-toppings, fancy crusts, and flavorful dips can often be bells and whistles. "It's simpler," Jutes explains, "it focuses on few ingredients that are done properly. We have this five toppings rule at the most." A classic example of this is the Margherita (P280) with three toppings: sauce from Italian tomatoes, their own kesong puti, and fresh basil. Another simple and clean pizza is the Prosciutto (P280), a visually arresting pie of greens, reds, and browns. At first sight, you can name all the ingredients showcased on the pie: a coat of tomato sauce laid first, melted chunks of kesong puti next, followed by sheets of prosciutto, then with fresh arugula gently resting, stems slightly overlapping.
Best drizzled with their Spicy Honey for sweet and hot flavors that is distinctively Gino's
Another characteristic of Neapolitan pizzas is its quick cooking, as the oven reaches higher levels of heat. So in less than two minutes, pizza is cooked without making it dry. The crust, which is midway of thick and thin, and between crisp and chewy, is just right. It puffs on the edges, an imperfect oval of bubbly warm bread that is handled to a minimum (no rolling pins, just hand tossed). The small burnt edges are trace evidence of the brick oven's scary hot, high heat. Jutes shares that he himself has experienced the angry heat of their oven–he tells me that he burnt his arm once.
Our next pizza at Gino's, still adhering to the five-topping rule, is the BOMB (P310), named so for its four toppings: balsamic onions, mozzarella, mushrooms and blue cheese. And just like its name, a bite into this juicy, warm pizza is an explosion. A big bite into this is a kaboom! of flavors and textures, each twist of tangy, turn of sweet, and zing of cheesy the perfect accompaniments to the crisp, the crunch, and the chewy. There's no meat in this, and you will absolutely not feel the need to look for it, as its current assault of flavors will not leave your palate unsatisfied. The pizza's crust is done right, with enough heft to hold the toppings, not overwhelming the mouth with too much bread in every bite. Make your pizza feast at Gino's the best experience by using your hands. Don't be shy, put away the fork and knife. Pizza done right should be eaten right–and worry not, as the pizza is not greasy.
Do you fold your pizza?
If Jutes had it his way, his perfect pizza world would have his restaurant serve Neapolitan pizza and that alone. He names restaurants in America and Italy, even citing that pizza place in the film Eat Pray Love as examples on how one has mastered the pizza and need not offer anything else. About a year into operations at Gino's, though, there was demand for other items. We have a large community of restaurants serving that inseparable pizza-pasta combo, after all, so the search for pasta in Gino's menu by customers was pretty frequent. 'Our approach for pastas is that we did not want to have anything regular,' Jutes explains, "we want customers to see something special, and eat something special." With beautiful pizzas, beautiful pastas must be presented to the customers as well. Just like their pizza dough, Gino's Brick Oven Pizza makes their own pasta dough, and each pasta dish is well-researched.
Our pasta companion for lunch that day was Pesto (P175), which is said to be the most ordered by female customers. A single handmade raviolo is placed on a shallow pristine bowl, and making it more photogenic was a dollop of white cream, shaved cheese, and fresh arugula. Pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil complete its headpiece. Slicing the thick and firm pasta pocket right in the middle expels even more fragrance and flavor. Little bursts of cream and pesto peek out here and there as you poke and spear yourself a slice of the raviolo and savor the freshness of quality ingredients and down-to-earth, simple flavors. Expect lots of love in the restaruant's pastas as much as their lovely pizzas.
Make room for dessert!
Gino's Brick Oven Pizza has built a cult following through time, with pizza lovers claiming it's the best and the freshest in the metro. Some South-based customers even brave the Katipunan traffic just to have a piece of that pie–a slice of fresh, crisp, chewy and clean. It takes special kind of dedication to do these kinds of pizzas perfectly, and Jutes Templo has mastered the delicate art of balancing crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings to create a Neapolitan pizza so delicious and welcoming to my tastebuds (and I sure do hope yours as well). This special love for pizza is probably why the restaurant is named Gino, after their son; both Ginos are his babies, after all. "People started calling me 'chef,' eh nagbabasa lang kami ng libro," he shares with a chuckle. And why not, Chef Jutes? With unadulterated passion and respect for his food, it is easy to give the proud pizza geek that title.