Peter’s Blog, November 8th, 2011
Meanwhile, I’ve been ruminating all week about the two extraordinary pizza experiences I recently had in San Francisco at Una Pizza Napoletana and also at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. The reason I can’t stop thinking about these places is because they are so totally different from each other yet each represents a level of excellence and artistry that is extremely rare in the pizza world (though the list of pizzerias operating at this level is growing by the day, to the benefit of all of us). These two places, though, are the yin and yang of artisan pizza. Tony’s features eight different styles (see last week’s Peter’s Blog), all executed at at benchmark levels, while Una Pizza Napoletana makes one style, a unique iteration of classic Napoletana but with a wild yeast crust, created and crafted by Anthony Mangieri in a small, almost zen-like fashion, on a small work station with a beautiful blue tiled oven at his back.
One can’t help but be awed at both places, yet in very different ways and for different reasons.Tony Gemignani’s ambitions make it impossible for one person, Tony, to make all the pizzas himself so he is dependent on a team of personally trained cooks (he also runs a pizzaiolo certification school next to the restaurant) who must also make pasta, his legendary meatballs, and many other classic Italian-American menu items. His restaurant is an emporium, a massive statement on a grand stage in the heart of San Francisco’s most famous neighborhood, North Beach, across the street from the church where Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, around the corner from City Lights Bookstore where Allen Ginsberg and the other beatnik poets dominated the literary landscape, and just blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf. In one of our early webisodes with Tony we went to the top of a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, looking back on the city of San Francisco as if it were the Emerald City (which it is, as anyone who has ever lived or visited there knows). I asked him how it felt to be the newest star on the biggest stage and Tony, who is no stranger to acclaim and cheering crowds, seemed awed himself as he took in the immensity of his striving. It was a defining moment for each of us, I think. In future webisodes we’ll get to explore a little more of the fire that burns in his belly, that drives the desire to climb to these heights. He is the George M. Cohan, the John Wayne, the Michael Jackson of the pizza world and we’re delighted to be able to give you a glimpse of his artistry.
I’m hoping we’ll be able to go back to San Francisco in the near future and explore in an equally deep manner the fire that burns in Anthony Mangieri’s belly because, while Tony’s is like a grand Broadway musical, a “Phantom of the Opera” playing to 2,000 people a night in a majestic theater, Anthony’s place is like a small off-Broadway theater playing The Fantasticks to a 90 people a night (btw, “The Fantasticks” ran for about 30 years in that tiny theater — not sure if Anthony will want to do it for so long, though).What I’m trying to say is that I really want to get inside that monkish complexity I experienced at Una Pizza Napoletana; the oven itself was so clearly like, in a purely metaphorical way of course, a The Holy of Holies of the ancient Temple, a consuming, transformative fire that transmuted dough, cheese, and sauce into a new something, into a a one of a kind pizza. I’m just dying to know how much of that design was conscious and intentional and how much simply an intuitive stumbling into the mystic. That’s what’s on my list for my next trip to San Francisco because experiencing Tony’s and Anthony’s pizzerias on two consecutive nights reminded me that there are many paths to the Holy Grail; soulfulness can manifest in St. Peter’s Cathedral and also in a desert monastery or in a lonely mountain top and, in the end, the only thing that actually matters is that it inspires us and touches us in the center of our being. Two paths, two distinctively personal quests, but one ultimate destination, sought after and celebrated night after night after night. As we’ve said before, the quest never ends….
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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.
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