In Sharon, Caro Caffe Serves La Pizza Divina
In what passes for bustle in bucolic downtown Sharon, Caro Caffe is now serving fresh-made, locally sourced, authentic Italian country fare in the small side-plaza space off Route 41 that once held Jam Food Shop (now thriving across the street at the Sharon Farm Market). Transformed this spring by chef-owner Caro Bonci into a rustic Tuscan takeaway shop — from the trio of mismatched café tables near the artfully sponged blue door to the tempting menu of locally sourced soups, salads, and rustic pane paesanella – Caro Caffe offers splendid artisanal pizzas that have already earned a fervent local following.
Bonci was the culinary force behind the late, lamented Café Lally in West Cornwall, a hub of homegrown soup, pizza, music, and poetry readings frequented by celebrated locavores such as Michael Pollan. The decade or so since it closed found her managing a country inn, creating the hot lunch program at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Columbia County (her son was a student there), and selling her justifiably renowned focaccia at various local farmers’ markets. But, she recently declared, “I really needed my own kitchen again.”
Despite its compact dimensions, this particular kitchen’s open design gives the illusion of being spacious, with a convection oven for bread, pastries, and focaccia, and a tiny double-tiered deli oven she laughingly refers to as her ‘easy bake,’ since it only fits two pizzas at a time. Propped nearby is a large painting of a saintly androgynous being – maybe Jesus, maybe not – who casts a benign gaze over the hand-printed menu, which typically includes lentil salad with fiddleheads, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and feta; a choice of tomato feta, pear gorgonzola, or roasted tomato and gorgonzola focaccia; and a gleaming display of delectable mini apple pies that go perfectly with cappuccino.
Bonci, who studied classical guitar at the University of Connecticut and has a Master’s degree in creative writing from Wesleyan, says she has always worked and cooked in restaurants. She grew up in New Haven surrounded by arguably the best pizza in the land. “I’m not trying to replicate that, but I understand it deeply,” she says with a smile. “What I make is kind of a synthesis of Wooster Street [pizza] and hippie whole grain. It has the same sensibility, but with an organic, multi-grain crust.”
Whatever the provenance, Bonci is turning out la pizza divina, be it a traditional, meltingly perfect Margherita ($12), generously festooned with fresh basil, or any of her other creative vegetarian combinations, which range from asparagus with chevre, roasted garlic, pine nuts, and mozzarella to sage and red onions with pumpkin seeds, parmesan, and mozzarella (up to $14). The whole-wheat crust (a gluten-free version is also available) is thin and crispy enough to be eaten neatly in a car or on a picnic; this is the kind of pizza that happily survives the journey home for a quick reheating.
“My philosophy is that food should taste good,” Bonci says. “I use as much organic produce as I can, and as much locally sourced produce as I can, but the bottom line is, does it taste good?”
It does — so much so that after a summer of positive word-of-mouth, she is adding another ‘easy bake oven’ to keep up with demand for her divine pizzas.
Caro Caffe is at 9 Calkinstown Road, off Route 41, near the entrance of the Sharon Country Inn. Prices range from $4 for a loaf of pane paesanella, to $6 and up for salads and focaccia, and up to $14 for the caffe’s artisanal pizzas. Tarts and other desserts average $3 to $6, and are homemade, delicious, and recommended. You can also purchase a bottle of Bonci’s own salad dressings, ginger/garlic/soy or balsamic vinaigrette, for $6. Bonci opens early enough in the morning so you can grab a pastry and a cappuccino; at noon she begins making pizza to order. She stays open until 6 or 7 p.m., though pizza may not be available during her afternoon break, usually around 3 p.m. (Bonci often gets in at 5 a.m. and says these brief but restful pauses keep her going until evening.) You can also phone in your orders ahead of time. — Divya Symmers
9 Calkinstown Road, off Route 41
Wednesday - Saturday morning (opening time varies) until 7 p.m.; Sunday until 6 p.m.