By Brian Garrido
Two and a half hours from Chicago and an hour outside of Indianapolis, pizzaiolo Damiano Perillo tosses freshly made dough into the air at his pizzeria in North Salem, Ind. He opened the shop in 2011 to make pies like those he had at home in Sicily, bringing a bit of culinary diversity to a town – population 464 – that is known more for sugar cream pie than the aromatic and savory Italian version.
The drive to North Salem takes visitors along a two-lane highway through vast stretches of green farmland to the northwest corner of Hendricks County. Red barns and lazy dairy cows dot the landscape, tractors rumble through cornfields and pawpaw and sugar maple trees shade the land. It is quintessential Indiana, so how does a classically trained chef who graduated from a culinary academy in Palermo, Italy, find himself in the Hoosier state’s rural countryside? Love, of course. Damiano’s wife is native to the area.
North Salem’s Main Street features two Mayberry-like blocks bisected by South Broadway. Turn west, and the white-washed brick facade of Perillo’s Pizzeria appears immediately. On a warm day under Windex-blue skies, the patio bustles with business. The more-than-100-year-old building once housed a doctor’s office; it then transitioned to a feed store and an apartment building. Perillo and his in-laws rehabbed the building, turning it into a destination that features his authentic Sicilian pies made with Indiana ingredients. Perillo sources ingredients from local farmers in Indiana who raise tomatoes and onions, making it easy to recreate his Sicilian recipes.
Biting into the sfincuni, a Sicilian-style pizza, diners realize the drive to get there and the effort Perillo’s puts into the pizza are worth every minute. Instead of a chewy dough like New York or thin and snappy with burnt bubbles around the crispy edge or cornicione (cor-nee-CHO-nay), a pie from Sicily consists of focaccia, the bread native to the region. The airy but thick dough – like a savory sponge cake drizzled with olive oil and flaky salt – holds sun-ripened tomatoes turned into a sweet, acidic sauce. In Sicily, a pizzaiolo places the cheese and topping underneath the marinara. Here, Perillo adds it to the top; that’s what Americans are used to. Guests can also choose toppings, if they like. Perillo’s also features calzones, stuffed pizza dough and New York-style pies that any straphanger would be more than happy to enjoy on Manhattan’s Broadway – or North Salem’s.
If you go: Note that Perillo’s is closed on Tuesdays and only accepts cash.