Anthony Mangieri is one of those rare sorts of the restaurant world known for devoting his life to a single noble pursuit: In his case, making the best pizza he can from the best ingredients he can get. He has chased this seemingly simple but elusive goal since 1996, when he opened his first pizzeria in his native New Jersey, followed by ever more prominent stints in Manhattan’s East Village and San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. After having come to some realizations about himself and the Bay Area, Mangieri has returned to New York, where next week he opens the newest iteration of Una Pizza Napoletana on the Lower East Side.
“I just never fit in in a way that I felt like it was my home,” says Mangieri of San Francisco, even though his sojourn allowed him to indulge his second passion in life, mountain biking. “It’s different when you go somewhere to live as opposed to visiting for a few days, and hanging out and eating burritos and drinking coffee, and you’re like, ‘Ah, this is the life.’ When I wasn’t in the outdoors, I’d just be like, ‘I should go back.’” That opportunity arose when he was introduced to Jeremiah Stone, co-chef-partner of Contra and Wildair and an old Una Pizza fan, by mutual friend Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food. Stone and his partner, Fabián von Hauske Valtierra, had been entertaining options for various kinds of expansion in their Orchard Street territory, and the relocation of Mangieri’s pizzeria felt like a natural fit.
“It’s such a perfect thing already,” says Stone of Mangieri’s wood-fired pizza, which is known for its chewy-tender, delicately charred, super-flavorful crust and minimal, best-of-class toppings. “What could we add to this?” Also, how could they make Mangieri’s almost monastic practice — serving only pizza, just four nights a week — viable in today’s challenging restaurant climate? As it turned out, the pizzaiolo was ready for a change, too: “It had to evolve in some way,” he says. “This seems like it’s the next step.”
The new restaurant was designed to combine the three principals’ strengths and styles. From Mangieri, the six-pie menu he offered out West, including the new-to-New York salami-and-egg Apollonia and the arugula-strewn Ilaria, plus the brand-new, quadruple-tomato Concetta; from his new partners, a selection of Italian-inspired small plates as playfully creative as their work at Wildair — refined bar snacks intended to whet pre-pizza appetites, not ruin them — plus unfussy Italian desserts like gelato and tiramisu. These menu additions will be available throughout the 72-seat space, but pizza will only be served in the dining room proper so that Mangieri, who will be working the hand-built Neapolitan oven six nights a week, won’t get overwhelmed. While customers wait for their table or their pie, they can snack on things like Umbrian chickpeas with raw lobster, or a riff on tomatoes and burrata. “We went a little crazy semi-drying tomatoes at the height of the season in August,” says Stone. “We kept them all in lobster oil.”
And about those pizzas: Mangieri is still obsessed, but surprisingly not with the Naples pizza scene. “I have not looked to Naples or cared about what is done in Naples for many, many years,” he says, explaining that deteriorating pizza quality left him disenchanted long ago. But things are changing. “The world is so on this pizza kick, and it actually has spread back to Italy. You go into pizzerias now in Naples and they’re trying to use the best tomatoes; they’re trying to use really great olive oil. Five years ago, you were getting the lowest-grade ingredients.” During his California tenure, Mangieri experimented with lots of different flours, some locally milled. “I’m not opposed to ingredients from anywhere, but they need to be the best,” he says. Despite the open mind, he has found no domestic products that equal or surpass Italian tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. “California olive oil was the only ingredient that you could get away with and the pizza was still great,” he says.
Mountain-biking trails and Napa olive oil aside, New York has one advantage over Mangieri’s last place of residence. A year ago, the chef flew into town for a pop-up at Mission Chinese, and noticed certain nuances in the dough he made there with impromptu ingredients and baked in an unfamiliar oven. “I feel like there must be something in the air and the water here,” he says, “even though I’ve always been against that.”
175 Orchard St., nr. Stanton St.; 646-692-3475
This post has been updated to reflect a last-minute menu addition.