L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele — the century-old, acclaimed Naples pizzeria known to many fans as the charming pizza destination featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love — is adding a location in NYC.
Restaurateur Francesco Zimone, who spearheaded L’Antica’s U.S. debut in Los Angeles in 2019, is overseeing the expansion into the West Village, at 2 Bank Street, near Greenwich Avenue. Zimone is aiming to open the space in winter 2021.
“Everybody that came to me was like, ‘Dude, are you crazy?’” Zimone says of his NYC expansion plans. Those closest to him pushed Zimone to open new locations in California first, before making a drastic cross-country move during the pandemic, but Zimone wouldn’t budge. “I’m like, ‘Guys, I have to do New York,” Zimone says. “It’s New York. That’s where you have to bring the pizza.”
In Italy, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is a tiny shop that only sells two pizzas — marinara or margherita. It was founded in 1870, and drew praise for its thin, flavorful pies long before Gilbert’s nod in Eat Pray Love and the subsequent Hollywood appearance in the movie adaptation starring Julia Roberts.
When Zimone started working with the family behind L’Antica to franchise the brand in the U.S., he knew that he’d have to enlarge the menu to make the business work. Similar to the location in Los Angeles — which received mixed critical reviews — the NYC restaurant has a more expansive pizza menu, he says, but the basics are still the same. The dough for each pizza is double-fermented over a minimum of 48 hours. The restaurant imports its core ingredients from Italy, including Caputo flour, a type of flour typically used to make pizzas in wood-fired ovens, tomatoes, and Fior di Latte, a cow’s milk mozzarella produced on the coast of Amalfi.
“We have to import everything on the pizza. There is absolutely no way that I can make the same margherita with the local cheese,” Zimone says.
The restaurant’s menu also includes pastas, burgers, and steaks, which Zimone says are quite popular and make up about 50 percent of L’Antica’s sales in Los Angeles.
The West Village space design, too, will take plenty of cues from the Los Angeles location, a breezy hangout that looks more like a house than a restaurant. Formerly the home of sprawling tapas spot Macondo, the NYC outpost covers 5,700 square feet spread out over two levels. Plans for this location include a ground floor lounge featuring a specialty coffee bar and salumeria selling meats, cheeses, and wines; a main dining room anchored with a wood-fired pizza oven; and a subterranean, temperature-controlled wine cellar level with more seating available. There will be couches and spread-out, comfortable seating in an atmosphere that mimics a large living area rather than a commercial space. “I don’t believe in restaurants, I believe in homes,” says Zimone, who will be designing the space.
In total, including the outdoor space, the restaurant will seat around 200 people with plenty of room built in between tables. Zimone is hoping the spacious design will be a selling point for customers in a post-pandemic future. Plus, he admits, he never enjoyed the signature NYC experience of practically sharing tables with neighboring customers while dining out in New York before the pandemic. “I don’t want people to sit six inches from another person, whether there’s a pandemic or not,” Zimone says.
He is also keeping an eye on vaccination stats in the city. Zimone is confident that dining out will return in higher rates in the fall, after vaccinations are widely available to all New Yorkers. Currently, nearly 2.5 million people are vaccinated in NYC, according to state data.
Once L’Antica opens, it’ll join the ranks of an already-thriving pizza industry in NYC, which Zimone acknowledges — but he says he doesn’t see other pizza destinations that he admires, like Ribalta, Roberta’s, Lombardi’s, and Kesté, as direct competition but rather as colleagues.
“I believe that a good pizza is only a quarter of what I’m bringing to United States,” Zimone says. “I’m bringing the chance for somebody to sit on a sofa, in front of a fireplace, with a glass of wine, with their own friends, feeling great about the choice of having chosen my place because there is nothing more important than feeling at home.”