The wood fires are burning at Second and Lombard Streets, as Stephen Starr's crew prepares for the Sept. 29 opening of Pizzeria Stella. (This may be a build-out speed record for the notoriously fussy Starr, as he's opening only five months after signing the deal.)

Workers-- under Starr culinary director Chris Painter and Stella chef Shane Solomon -- are refining the pizzamaking, learning how the dough behaves under certain conditions. The search for a pizzaiolo seems to have been suspended.

They're going for an assortment of Neapolitan pies, basing the recipes on months of research. (You need to read Rick Nichols' story about one of Starr's two long-distance fact-finding tours.)

I got a look-see Saturday night. Among Painter's goals is getting pies with perfect leoparding on the bottom. That's pizzaese for those ever-so-slight burn marks on the underside. (This being a Starr restaurant, I'm sure there will be some cougaring, as well.)

Painter is aiming for a thin, somewhat crispy bottom crust -- one that withstands the weight of toppings -- and a light, flaky, bubbly outer crust.

A few words on Stella's decor: Simple, slate-topped tables, wooden chairs, tile on most walls, open kitchen with seats at the marble counter where you can watch the pizza guys in action, large mural of Venice behind the line. For Stella's outside seating, Starr bought up two-tone-leather folding chairs whose backs are stamped with the name of the old Philadelphia Civic Center; in Starr's previous life, he was a concert promoter, and one of his great coups was Bob Marley's last Philadelphia appearance, at the Civic Center in 1979.

(And yes, because I'm sure someone will bring this up, "Stella" means "star" in Italian.)