How Una Pizza Napoletana Somehow Manages to Get Even Better
Anthony Mangieri wanted to move back to New York pretty soon after he landed in San Francisco. That was nine years ago, when he closed up shop at his East Village pizzeria, Una Pizza Napoletana, to open a new location on the West coast. But, “it’s hard to get a grip on time out there because it’s kind of like today’s weather year round,” he says, referring to one of the first beautiful spring days in New York. “So it’s hard to get angry and make a move. Out there you’re like, I’ll wait until tomorrow. Here, you can just get things done.”
When he finally did move back to NYC, where he just opened the newest iteration of Una Pizza Napoletana, it was ultimately to be closer to family. Mangieri is from New Jersey, his wife is from Italy, and New York is home. But, as they say, there’s also something in the water here.
Anyone who’s followed this revered pizza maker, starting with his original spot in New Jersey two decades ago, knows that he’s constantly working at his craft. So the constant churn of New York City? It works.
“I change it every day of the week,” Mangieri says about his pizza dough. His partners in the new restaurant, Food & Wine Best New Chefs in 2016 Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra of NYC’s Contra and Wildair, chime in immediately and in unison: “It’s true.”
“Every single thing you think could change, changes,” von Hauske continues. “It’s a crazy thing. It’s like seeing a person have a conversation with a piece of dough. He just knows exactly what it’s going to do.”
Una Pizza Napoletana might be the most anticipated return to New York City in recent memory, but that doesn’t stop Mangieri from continuous refinement.
“There’s no such thing as this perfection,” he says point blank. “I’m just trying my best. I just think it’s a life’s pursuit.”
Mangieri had already been contemplating the next move for the pizzeria—L.A. was on the table—when he met Stone and von Hauske. Stone had long been a fan of Una, as he calls it, and when he visited San Francisco soon after Mangieri had relocated, he made sure to hit the new restaurant. “I went out there, and I was like, ‘It’s getting better. Somehow, it’s getting even better,’” he recalls.
Years later, the three met through Danny Bowien at a Mission Chinese pop-up, and the rest is history—in the making. About Stone and von Hauske, Mangieri says, “I felt like what they were all about as people and their way of cooking was very similar to what I do, even though Contra and Wildair is not pizza at all. But the actual path to get there is very similar.”
“For me,” he continues, “it seemed like the only logical next thing for the pizzeria. I felt like the pizzeria could evolve, but still kind of be the same.”
An important part of that evolution is the addition of a new pie, which features four kinds of tomatoes and is named the Concetta after Mangieri’s aunt, who was known as the cook in the family. Stone and von Hauske have also developed a roster of Italian-inspired small plates, a first for the restaurant, that will be light enough to be served before or alongside pizza, or alone as a snack. Though pizza is served in the dining room only, the lighter dishes will be available at the bar, too. After only ever serving pizza, and famously, only until the dough ran out, these new dishes are a big deal, but one that makes sense if you know Mangieri, the chef stresses.
In the same way that he was inspired by Naples but has created a pie that’s all his own, the new dishes have Italian roots but are wholly original. Think, burrata (from Di Palo’s around the corner) with semi-dried tomatoes (from New York state) in lobster oil, or andouille and mascarpone, whipped up like a spread with turnips and nasturtium.
“We try to do an Italian sensitivity, but I think everything speaks to being in New York right now,” von Hauske says.
There’s a time and place for precision and replication, Stone acknowledges, remembering how water baths and molecular gastronomy ruled so many kitchens when Una Pizza was originally open in the East Village. But “consistency has a big price,” he cautions, “because you just can’t have true consistency without getting rid of a lot of the things that bring a lot of reward.”
For this kitchen, that means that never-refrigerated, naturally leavened dough that’s “so alive and always changing,” Stone says, and a wood-fired oven made in Naples—the same one Mangieri used in the original NYC location. And it means following two of Mangieri’s sayings: One, “What Anthony always says, he uses the words, ‘pushing it,’ von Hauske says. “It’s about understanding something for what it is and not trying to tame it—seeing how far you can take it by understanding it.”
The second? “The magic is in the magic, which doesn’t make sense,” Mangieri laughs. But when you see the chef back in New York and taste his signature charred crust, it’ll probably make all the sense in the world.
“You have to ride the line of a disaster or two,” he says. “If you play it too safe, you don’t get in that little pocket where real magic happens.”