Just a hop, skip and a jump from the concrete buildings and towering eagle memorial at the Department of Defence in Russell is the headquarters of the Department of Pizza.
The charming little pocket of a place has been a hit since opening in August last year, wowing with their sourdough bases and hard to find wines.
Set up in the bustling Campbell Shops, simplicity is key for the venture, which pegs itself as a pizza and wine bar. Inside is warm and minimal, with an uncluttered long narrow dining area with table and bar seating available.
There is a simple paper menu with a choice of 11 pizzas, three starter options of flatbread, a salad and a few sweet treats to end the meal with.
The drinks menu features Capital and Peroni for beer drinkers and a pared-back but thoughtful wine list showcasing Italian varieties of grapes to match the flavours coming out of the high-tech rotating pizza oven.
The trio of owners – Emily Johnson, Ricky Cole and Matt Muller – are no strangers to achieving pizza perfection, having run The Pizza Trailer for many years. As mobile caterers covering the festival, fete and pop-up bar scene in Canberra, they worked hard to perfect the dough which now features at the Department of Pizza. It is uniquely and lovingly prepared daily using a 35-year-old sourdough starter.
“Due to the success of The Pizza Trailer, in early 2020 we decided to bite the bullet and open in a permanent location and the Department of Pizza was born! We opened in August 2020 and haven’t looked back,” Emily said.
“Our philosophy is traditional and simple, allowing each ingredient to shine. The dough is the most important ingredient and is prepared using a sourdough (yep, no yeast) which has been in the family for over 30 years. We accommodate all preferences from meat-eaters to vegan and are always happy for pizza variations as everything is made to order.”
We arrive for our dinner reservation. Upon entering, we are warmly and enthusiastically greeted by Paolo. Not only does he run the front of house, but Italian-born Paolo features his mother’s traditional recipe for tiramisu on the menu.
For a taste of simplicity at its best, we opt for the Margherita. The version the Department of Pizza dishes out is faultless, the dough, tomato base, fior di latte and basil are all high quality, fresh and very tasty.
We follow it up with a salami, mushroom and olive pizza. Also served with a tomato base and fior di latte, it features hot sopressa salami that gives it a nice spicy kick. Both pizzas come out piping hot from the shiny oven – the result is perfection, with it being charred on the bottom while remaining chewy on top.
The accompanying salad we order (because, you know, it is all about balance) is a generous serve of roquette, cherry tomato and parmesan cheese with a balsamic dressing. Again, it is simplicity done well. The ingredients and execution are spot on.
To end, we could not go past the tiramisu, which is a favourite with locals. Over many weeks, Paolo tested different versions of the recipe on regulars.
First, he offered his own take of the dish, then his sister’s and finally his mother’s, which he says is the most traditional recipe of the three. And as I like to tell my teenage daughter, it turns out mother knows best, as it was the crowd favourite. Thinking we were too full after our main meal, we opt to share it and literally inhale the dish as soon as it hits the table. It is a classic for a reason. It is really satisfying with the different layers, and you can taste the freshness of all the ingredients used.
The Department of Pizza ticks all the boxes for a place to keep returning to: casual and easy-going with friendly service, informed advice on both drinks and food, plus some of the best pizza in town.
Department of Pizza is located at 12 Blamey Place, Campbell, and is open Tuesday to Friday for lunch from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm, and dinner from 5:00 pm, and on the weekends from 5:00 pm.