Photo by Ruta Smith Ruta Smith Tolli’s Neapolitan-style pizzas are cooked in a 630-degree oven

Bringing the Heat

Pizza has been in Anthony Peluso’s family since 1934, and along with wife Giuseppinna and son Carmine, he’s bringing the family tradition to Johns Island with Tolli’s Trattoria, a modern Italian restaurant that quietly opened on Maybank Highway in September.

“We moved down here about a year ago,” Anthony said. “The growth potential is there — it’s not like back home. Within a 10-minute drive you can go to like 50 pizza places.”

Photo by Ruta Smith

Connecticut is “back home” for Anthony, a third-generation Peluso who started working at his great uncle’s restaurant, Tolli’s Apizza in East Haven, at age 16, learning how to make classic Neapolitan pies. Tolli’s roots date back to 1934, when Anthony’s great uncle Antonio Tolli owned a series of pizzerias in New Haven, Connecticut before eventually opening Tolli’s Apizza in East Haven in 1954.

Anthony eventually took over the renowned restaurant in 1978, running it with Giuseppinna, who he met a decade later, for more than 40 years.

“Some people know about New Haven pizza,” he said. “I’m more of a true Neapolitan-style pizza, so it’s kind of thin crust, but the difference is mine is really light.”

East Haven is located just outside New Haven, a city known for two things: Yale University and pizza. There are several famous pizzerias in the area, including Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, which has been around since 1925. According to the New Haven Register, Tolli’s Apizza, which will be operated by Anthony’s brother Andrew moving forward, “generally is one of the first pizzerias whose name comes up once you get past the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of New Haven joints.”

Tolli’s pies landed in the South thanks to Anthony’s son, Carmine, who trained to become a chef at the French Culinary Institute in New York City before working at celebrated New York restaurants like Oceana and Le Circo. But after several visits to Charleston, his wife Victoria’s hometown, Carmine landed a job at McCrady’s working under Sean Brock, later becoming Jacques Larson’s sous chef at Wild Olive.

Post-pandemic, Carmine decided to join his father’s new venture down the road on Maybank Highway, leading the kitchen as executive chef at Tolli’s Trattoria. The family-owned establishment specializes in those Neapolitan-style pizzas, which are cooked in a 630-degree oven, and also serves Italian favorites like arancini, penne alla vodka and baked meatballs, made in-house daily. For dessert, self-taught pastry chef Giuseppinna whips up a variety of specialty cheesecakes, baked goods and of course, tiramisu.

It’s truly a family affair at Tolli’s Trattoria — just ask general manager Kelly Stoner, who gets to witness the time and effort the Pelusos put into the restaurant every day.

“Anthony and Giuseppina are very grateful for the opportunity to show the community what they have to offer in their homemade food, as they are both self taught chefs,” Stoner said. “They have perfected their recipes over the years, and their son Carmine puts a spin on them and takes them to the next level.”