It’s been nine years since Anthony Mangieri was called the “Opus Dei” of Neapolitan pizza in New York City. At the time, his East Village pizzeria, Una Pizza Napoletana, was all the rage, and he was quick to trash all other Neapolitan pies, both here and in Naples, saying in part, “The pizza I make here blows away anything made in Naples.” To eat at Una Pizza was to submit to Mangieri’s will. “His is not a restaurant that makes apologies,” former Times critic Peter Meehan wrote in a glowing review.
Then, at the height of his success and pomposity in 2009, Mangieri decamped to the more relaxed, outdoor San Francisco lifestyle, bringing Una Pizza Napoletana with him. He again grew a fervent following in SF for his relentless commitment to perfection, in which he rests the naturally leavened, double zero flour dough overnight, sources impeccable toppings, and makes every single 12-inch pie — 130 a night — himself.
But that hardcore lifestyle started to take its toll, and Mangieri and his wife began talking about moving their daughter back to NYC to be closer to family. The bravado and trash talking from a decade ago is also gone.
“People that know me and care about me have been saying for years, ‘You gotta get someone to help you,’ and I was always like, ‘No, no, no.’ But a couple of years ago, I started feeling I just physically could keep doing the level and number of pizzas every night long term,” he says. “No matter how you slice it, as you get older you feel physically different. On my days off I felt ill.”
So Mangieri decided to consider ideas that he previously decried, like taking on partners and training someone to assist in the pizzamaking. That’s when he met Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske Valtierra, the chef-owners of Contra and Wildair on the Lower East Side, and felt they had the same “sensibilities, desires, and end results.” The decision was made: Una Pizza Napoletana would close in SF and make its return to NYC, but this time with a larger profile and concept. It will open on Monday, April 30 at 175 Orchard St. on the Lower East Side.
When Una Pizza existed in New York, from 2004 to 2009, it was a tiny, austere space that served pizza and only pizza. With this return, the ante has been upped in all regards. Stone and Von Hauske Valtierra are contributing small plates and desserts, the sleek space can seat 72 people, and — gasp! — Mangieri will let someone else touch the pizza, albeit under his close guidance.
Stone and Von Hauske Valtierra plucked chef Spencer Bennett from Contra, and he’ll be learning the Neapolitan ropes from Mangieri.
“We’re going to go very slow, and he’s going to spend a lot of time with me and get to a point where he’s comfortable. It’s not like we’re going to open and by next week I’ll be on vacation and someone else is making pizzas,” Mangieri says. “Even when we get to the point when we all feel comfortable with the pizzas, even if I’m not making them, I’ll be there.”
It’s a big concession for Mangieri, but one that’s come with a seemingly evolved outlook, one in which rather than name names and call other pizza “garbage,” he now praises the NYC and Naples pizza scenes in general terms and approaches his food from a more modest place. The number of higher-end, sit-down pizza restaurants in NYC has indeed exploded since Mangieri left, so he is returning to a changed landscape — though the places he disregarded before, like Luzzo’s and Keste, are still around and very well-regarded, too.
“A lot of the stuff that came out in the past was taken out of context about people. Honestly, I think that pizza across the board has been getting better and better,” he says. “I’ve been in business for 22 years, and I’ve been making pizza for 31 years. I’m not trying to stand out; I do what I do the best I can and hope that people love it.”
Those humbler sentiments aside, it’s undeniable that this scrappy, personal restaurant has spiffed up and gotten an image makeover. The industrial 72-seat space is split evenly between a big bar up front and dining room at the rear, where servers will wear custom Tilit uniforms.
None other than burger phenom Shake Shack’s culinary director Mark Rosati is an investor in this rebirth, according to public records. And the small plates movement that has swept the world, and that Stone and Von Hauske Valtierra have mastered, is being employed here.
Dishes and desserts include burrata with tomatoes in lobster oil, raw lobster with chickpeas and green peperoncino, and tiramisu, all food that Stone and Von Hauske Valtierra designed to complement, rather than sideline, Mangieri’s seven pizzas. Those pizzas — such as margherita, bianca, and a new one with three types of tomatoes, tomato paste, Parmigiano cheese, and parsley — will only be served in the dining room to ensure quality control, while the rest of the menu spreads into the bar area.
They also created an all-Italian wine list that focuses on natural winemaking — a lot of “cult favorites of Italian natural winemakers,” Stone says, all chosen to stay affordable. At the end of the day, Von Hauske Valtierra says they want the restaurant to “accommodate as many people as possible.”
With all the fanfare around these three, they understand what they’re up against.
“Sometimes the standard we hold ourselves to is always very high. That’s our craft and passion, and sometimes you’ll talk to people and they’re like, ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine,’” Stone says. “And you’re like, ‘You don’t understand. Everything has to be impeccable.’ That’s just the nature of what we do.”