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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Interview with Anthony Mangieri

Posted By on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 at 1:56 PM

  • Natalie Knight/Una Pizza Napoletana
  • Anthony Mangieri
Natalie Knight/Una Pizza Napoletana
Anthony Mangieri
Una Pizza Napoletana's owner, Anthony Mangieri, started making pizzas at the age of 15, then at the age of 19 started up a bakery in Red Bank, N.J., where he sold naturally leavened breads baked in a brick oven. "It was a total failure, but a great learning experience," he says. A few years later, in 1996, Mangieri opened the first Una Pizza Napoletana in New Jersey, serving the same menu he does now. He moved the business to Manhattan in 2004, then to San Francisco this year.

For all the hype surrounding Mangieri and his purist attitude, when I interviewed him for this week's review I found him to be a pleasure to chat with. Here are a few extracts from our conversation:

SFoodie: So how did you decide on San Francisco?

Mangieri: I wanted to open here before I went to New York. That was my original, original plan. I had been coming out here for mountain-biking, and I really fell in love with San Francisco, one of the cities where the great outdoors is most accessible.

I got to a point in New Jersey where the pizzeria had a following but it was a following of 30 people. I wasn't making any money to live, and I had to make a change. But nobody knew about my place at the time, and I didn't have the money [to move out here]. So I thought, I'll go to Manhattan. It's an hour from where I live, and if it's meant to be it'll be a success. I'll make a name for myself and get out of here.

Over the course of reviewing restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco, I've eaten a lot of Neapolitan-style pies made by places certified by the True Neapolitan Pizza Association. They're all very different from yours. I'm curious about what you think of the differences.

I think that when then certification started in Naples, it was a good idea. They wanted to preserve their pizza style, like a sort of a DOC. In truth, though, the people who did start the association are big businessmen, very political.

Honestly, I was just in Naples two weeks ago with my wife, who was born and raised there. I didn't have any pizzas there better than what we make on our worst day. That's partially my own ego, but my wife will confirm it. She hadn't been back there in a year ― I was scared to go back there with her and have her taste the pizzas and say, "Oh, god, these are so much better than yours." But she didn't.

The pizza the association teaches is a consistent product, but it has no

magic. These guys haven't committed a lifetime to learning it. It is, however, a pretty accurate representation of what's being made in Naples these days. Pizza's nothing special there. I think that part of the reason is economics. Most of the older pizza makers were let go in the pizzerias. The restaurant owners don't want to pay someone who's 40, 50, 60, who's been making pizza for decades and demands a higher pay. In the old days, you wouldn't get to make a pizza for the first 20 years. You'd see an older guy at the oven, surrounded by younger guys. Economically, that's no longer possible.

What about you? You ever think about taking on apprentices?

Eventually, I'm going to have to do something. I've been talking about it for years, but I haven't gotten my head around it. It's got to be someone that I really trust. There are things I don't want to give away, you know?

Just physically, it's getting harder. I have developed wheat allergies. I can't eat wheat; I can only eat one pizza a week. Basically I have to eat vegetables and fish, and no sweets. That kind of stinks. In fact, [Legendary pizzaiolo] Chris Bianco isn't making pizza any more because of the flour and the oven, so his brother's runing the place now.

I got it really bad the last year that I was open in New York. I went for acupuncture, I tried everything. Then I got a grip on it, and when I closed the restaurant the problems went away. The third day after I opened here I lost my voice and my eyes were puffed shut. Changing my diet has helped as long as I'm strict.

What's the name of the fruity, fizzy red wine from Campania you serve? We ordered a bottle, but I forgot to write the name down.

Gragnano. What's cool about that wine, as well as a white wine called Esprimo that we also serve, is that these are the two original wines that were meant to be eaten with pizza in Naples. Traditionally, in fact, no one would eat pizza with wine ― you'd have water, coke, Fanta, beer. So it's cool to have those wines on the list. They really do complement the pizzas. They're like adult sodas.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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