UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA
Location: 349 12th Street (East Village, b/n 1st/2nd aves.)
Nearest train: L Train to First Ave.
Hours: Thurs. & Fri., 5 p.m. until sold out of dough; Sat. & Sun., Noon until sold out of dough
Payment: Cash only
The Skinny: Get there early; proprietor Anthony Mangieri stops making pizza when the day's allotment of dough runs out. For now, it's BYO on the ALCO. No take-out, no delivery.
It took some convincing to get me out to Una Pizza Napoletana last night. I'd already eaten enough pizza for the week: an entire plain pie at Patsy's on Tuesday, then six slices at Patsy's again on Wednesday night. But when co-worker Honey P. reminded me of my plans to visit the new Neapolitan pizza shop that had just moved from Point Pleasant, New Jersey to the East Villageand offered her pleasant company for the excursionI knew I couldn't shirk my pizza-eating duties.
And, ladies and gents, I'm glad I didn't. Una Pizza Napoletana was amazing. We arrived shortly before 7 p.m., worried there'd be a line. This wasn't the case, but as we stepped into the small, warmly lit space, we didn't see an open seat in the joint. Lucky for us, though, a couple had just gotten up from a four-topper table, and the friendly waiter told us he could seat us immediately if we didn't mind sharing a table with a gentleman who was on line just ahead of us. Hey, we're friendly folks at Slice, so of course we didn't mind.
It turned out that this gentleman had been a longtime regular at Una Pizza Napoletana's former New Jersey location. He and several other regulars had made the pilgrimage into the city to get their hands on some of Anthony Mangieri's (left) pies. That they were aching for Mr. Mangieri's pizza after having been deprived of it during the relocation, well, we took that as a very encouraging sign. Our de facto dining companion told us about Mr. Mangieri's exacting standards, about his passion for producing authentic Neapolitan pizza, about his history as a bread baker before turning his attention to pies, and about how Mr. Mangieri often closed up shop for weeks at a time while he traveled to Naples to hone his technique. "His grandfather owned a popular gelato shop in Newark," he informed us. "So the food business is in his blood."
Indeed, Mr. Mangieri is hardcore. From his menu:
Pizzaa word known all over the world, from New York City to Los Angeles, from Paris to Tokyo. It is a word used to describe many products; deep-dish, cracker thin, stuffed crust, etc. However, the meaning of the word "pizza" has been misunderstood and misrepresented over the years. Pizza only means one thing. It is Neapolitanthe word, the definition, the product. The word is a slang Neapolitan pronunciation of the word "pita." The history of pizza possibly can be traced back to the very beginnings of man and fire. Certainly, the pizza eaten today in the backstreets of Napoli is linked directly to the flat bread baked in Pompeii 2,000 years ago. This said, all the square, round, thick, stuffed and over-topped pieces of dough may be to your liking, but don't call it pizza.
Honey P., our dining companion, and I all agreed that this single-minded focus on doing things right and not cutting corners was to be admired and was exactly what's needed in the New York City pizza world, whether you're a pizzaiolo striving for authentic Neapolitan style or for the more common New YorkNeopolitan style.
After about about 20 minutes of conversation, I ducked out to grab some beer at a bodega a couple doors down (Una Pizza Napoletana is BYOB for now, pending a license for wine and beer), and shortly after coming back to the table, our pies arrived. We had ordered the Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and sea salt) and the Filetti (fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and sea salt). A quick pre-consumption examination of the crust revealed areas of careful charringjust the right amountdistributed across an otherwise crisp golden-brown background. The Margherita itself looked perfect, with dots of creamy melted mozzarella floating atop a bright-red layer of sauce. Fresh basil leaves that appeared to be just-wilted from the wood-fired oven's intense heat were scattered across. The Filetti appeared much the same, except for a smattering of halved cherry tomatoes that promised a burst of sweetness upon bite.
As delightful to the eye as the pies were, we were hungry, so, picking up knives and forks, Honey P. and I dug in. Yes, knives and forks: True to the Neapolitan way, Mr. Mangieri serves his 12-inch pies whole, and it's up to the customer to cut them at table.
The pizzas were stupendous. The crust was crisp and chewy with a pronounced but not overpowering woody flavor that complemented the satisfyingly salty dough. Every bite yielded easily discernable flavors: sweet fresh tomatoes, mild creamy buffalo mozz, and an oil of such an unbelievably high quality that it tasted like liquefied olives.
Remember all the Franny's frenzy of a few months ago? We at Slice predict that Una Pizza Napoletana will garner such praise in the weeks and months to come. As Cindy Adams says, "You heard it here first, kids."
Now let's talk about prices. These pies don't come cheap. At $16.95 per pie, Honey P. and I got out of there after dropping $50 (that's with tax and tip and two orange-flavored sodas, not counting our BYOB bottles of Stella Artois). But, as Mr. Mangieri's menu says (click on the images at top for a larger view), "We have no quarrel with the man who sells a cheaper pizza ... he knows how much his is worth!" Whether Una Pizza's pies are worth the price is up to you to decide. We think they are; we just don't think we could afford them as often as we'd like.
FURTHER READING For more on Mr. Mangieri and Una Pizza Napoletana, read this story from the Asbury Park Press. Our de facto dining companion tipped us to it and told us that the reviewer is notoriously hard on local restaurants but raves about Una Pizza.
And, if you haven't done so, click on the menu images above to enlarge them. They contain a history of pizza and explain Mr. Mangieri's pizza philosophy.
Photos by Bob Bielk, Asbury Park Press.