Anthony Mangieri Is Pushing Pizza Boundaries Again, and Inviting Friends to Help
Even in the iconoclastic world of chefs, Anthony Mangieri stands out as a lone wolf. His Una Pizza Napoletana got its start nearly three decades ago, in 1996, on the Jersey shore. This first pizzeria was different from the start — the physical manifestation of one man’s fervent, uncompromising view of what great pizza should be: stripped to its bare essentials, just a few ingredients, with little to no flourish.
That hyperfocus only increased when Mangieri brought his talents to Manhattan proper in 2004, with what was seen as a nearly monastic devotion to his craft. It hardly diminished when he switched coasts, resettling in San Francisco for seven years, although he deigned to add a couple pies and a few bottles of wine to the menu.
His most recent iteration of Una Pizza — the sixth — is downright decadent by comparison. There’s a solid roster of Italian natural wines. One special pizza per week. (Spring onion, garlic, basil, pine nuts, provolone, breadcrumbs and Calabrian pepper was a recent selection). You can even add anchovies and pepperoni to your pie.
So it was only plausible he would do as chefs do these days, and invite a handful of fellow New York chefs to collaborate in his current Orchard Street digs, in a series of special one-night engagements this spring. It’s an impressive lineup: The first, on March 14, featured James Kent of Crown Shy and Saga, one of the city’s most visible chefs. That will be followed in May by Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau of the lauded omakase spot Shuko, and then Esther Choi of Mokbar and Ms. Yoo. (Special access to tickets will be available to members of Global Dining Access by Resy.)
To tap such varied inspirations, especially Japanese and Korean cooking, might seem off brand for Mangieri. But he is adamant these choices were not made in haste: “Whatever we do, there’s always a very heavy thought on the restraint of it, and making it taste the way it should, with what we are as a company.” So as with all things Una Pizza, Mangieri is fervent about the details — down to precise wine pairings (an Amalfi Coast falanghina by Fontanavecchia for the starters, an aglianico, Le Fole, from Cantina Giardino for one of the pizzas).
At the same time, he acknowledges these joint efforts are a sign he’s evolved from his more ascetic pizzaiolo days. Today, his pizza views seem more ecumenical. He’s even floated — we couldn’t make this up — the prospect of a Hawaiian pizza, Mangieri-style.
We caught up with him recently to talk about these special dinners, and the current state of his pizza art.
RESY: Tell us a bit about the series and how it came together.
Anthony Mangieri: James Kent and I, we are both fans of each other’s work. We’re both in New York City. And you know, his grandfather was Charles Mingus, the jazz musician. [Mingus was the stepfather of Kent’s mother.] And I’m a big jazz fan, and I almost look at it as the way that jazz musicians used to just sit in with each other, and try to make something really fun and awesome, for a night. It makes you want to work harder, makes you wanna be better at what you’re doing. And I think it’s the same for a lot of chefs. When you step outside your comfort zone, it makes you really have to step it up.
I think James is super, super talented. I love Crown Shy, I love Saga. It was a really easy fit. We both have eaten in each other’s restaurants. And from that, I started thinking, What if we did a little series? Not just doing pizza with Italian chefs. But to me, I always felt, over the last 30 years, that we weren’t really part of the pizza world in a way.
Not that I had made a stand to be, like, I’m not part of the pizza industry. But I never went to pizza expos or anything until a few years ago. And I feel what we were doing in the restaurant didn’t really even ring with the pizza industry. I always felt more support from other chefs than pizza makers over most of my career. So it seemed, if I was going to do a collaboration series, to deal with chefs that are pushing the envelope in whatever they’re doing. It doesn’t need to be Italian.
What about the format of these dinners? I assume pizza will feature somewhere, but …
No pizza! That’s the next step. [laughs] There’s gonna be pizza, of course. I mean, that is all I know how to do. [laughs]
For this first event, we have the menu tight. Two starters, two pizzas, and one dessert. And then a wine pairing with each course, and finishing with some Italian mead. Super easy, super fun.
The one with Shuko, and the next one after, we haven’t figured out the menu yet for those. But I’m eating again at Shuko tomorrow night. And they just ate at my place on Friday. I’m super excited.
Can you give us a preview of the menu?
The first starter is a white bean salad with shallot, garlic, oregano, celery, pine nuts, and breadcrumbs that we’re gonna make from pizza dough, and our own imported olive oil from this little town north of Naples. The second is going to be a bitter green salad with Castelfranco [radicchio], puntarella, tardivo, winter citruses like grapefruit and cara cara orange, and burrata that I’m getting from this family that I buy my mozzarella from every week, from outside Naples. And again, the Una olive oil.
Then the first pizza. I love this pizza so much. It’s gonna be with Pienollo tomatoes from Mount Vesuvio, buffalo mozzarella, pepper jam, and the short ribs that Crown Shy is super-famous for, cut into little cubes. And then finished after the bake with pecorino Toscano. The second pizza is going be buffalo mozzarella, a mushroom sofrito with Calabrian chile in it, so it’s a little bit spicy. And then after the bake, Taleggio cheese and black trumpet mushrooms.
These two pizzas, they taste like something that you’d have at Crown Shy, they taste like something that you have at Una, but then together, it’s this really cool thing.
And then for dessert: Every day at Una we make a fresh cremolata and a fresh sorbetto. So we thought what would be fun is to make the beginnings of our cremolata, then fold in walnut-pistachio brittle and dried fruits. And it’ll taste almost like a semifreddo nougat texture. It’s incredible and very light, and definitely still has a hint of Italy.
I’m curious: The pizzas are obviously a collaboration, finding common ground. Thinking about the history of Una Pizza, this is a big evolution from the days when it was, like, three ingredients, max.
Definitely. That evolution began, honestly, from the beginning, when I started with two pizzas. I only served a margarita and marinara. Then I added one with fresh tomatoes. When tomatoes were available year round and you could get really good ones, that became a menu item. And then the white pizza, and then pizza with arugula. And then I added the pizza with the eggs and salami and all that black pepper. It’s just slowly been building.
Where we’re at now is very stripped down, but there’s still room for creativity every day. But again, it’s always very subtle. I mean, even these pizzas [for the collaboration], they’re not that far off of stuff that we do. We do a special pizza every week at Una. Some weeks we do a pizza with mortadella and buffalo ricotta and pistachio nuts. And another week we do something with clams from New Jersey when they’re in season. It’s kind of all over the place, but always the same kind of flavor profiles as far as the way they all work together.
But yeah, it’s been a long build since the first two pizzas, and no liquor and three kinds of soda and a bottle of water.
Quite. How much longer before you end up with, you know, Wolfgang Puck and smoked salmon pizza …
[Laughs] You know, I would do it! I would do it as a special.
One thing that I’ve been wanting to do and I think will be so sick, is to do a white pizza with buffalo mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, and little tiny pieces of really beautiful pineapple. You cook it, the pineapple will get caramelized. When it comes out of the oven, put on mortadella, and pipe on some sheep ricotta, and sprinkle with a little pistachio nut. I’m like, oh my God, that’s a Hawaiian pizza, at a level. But again, it’s about whether you do it the right way, and there’s not flavors that don’t work together.
One of the things I have always not liked in dining is when I go somewhere and there’s an ingredient in a dish, where you eat it and you’re like, why is that ingredient there? I like flavors to work together. I like simple flavors. And something like that, done with a light touch, could be an amazing pizza. We’re not doing that right now, but you never know.
I’m wondering about the collaboration with Esther Choi. When I think about Korean flavors, I always see similarities with Italian cooking. And I’m curious if you have started thinking about how those two culinary influences are going to come together.
I would say I’ve thought about it exactly in the way you just said. I don’t know exactly what we’re gonna do yet. But I feel there’s a commonality amongst many “ethnic” cuisines in their approach and in their focus on a few ingredients, and letting them sing. Especially Korean food. I think a lot of Japanese food is like that. Obviously Spanish food. Indian food. I think even French food can be like that.
Because Italian cuisine has been in America so long, we’ve run the course of this hodgepodge of crap that fell under the umbrella of “This is Italian food.” That trained so many generations of Americans to think of Italian food as what ultimately became Italian American food. But it’s not really the way people cook in Italy regionally. Now, today, you have specialists, you have restaurants where you can go, this is really good Roman food, or this is really good Tuscan food. This is really good food from Puglia.
I think right now in America it’s still tough to find these other ethnicities in a way that’s very regionally specific, because a lot of these cultures are a lot newer to America, compared to Italian culture. But I think slowly you’re gonna start to see more and more of those kind of restaurants where it’s very specific to a region of that country. Then I think Americans will start to understand there’s regions in Korea that cook a certain way. Regions in Japan that cook a certain way. Regions in Mexico that cook a certain way. And it’s not like what we have seen, where it’s every region kind of slopped together on one dish.
So for me, I don’t think it’s an odd stretch to combine regional Italian cooking with a region of another country, because they tend to be pretty simple when you get down to it.
Maybe they don’t make it sourdough or maybe they use more yeast, or maybe they use a different kind of wheat. But when you really think about it, flat dough with ingredients on it can work in any culture.
And in this case you can express it through pizza.
Exactly. To me the beautiful thing with a flat piece of dough is, in Naples it’s called pizza. But that exists in every culture in some form or another. Maybe they don’t make it sourdough or maybe they use more yeast, or maybe they use a different kind of wheat. But when you really think about it, flat dough with ingredients on it can work in any culture. And so that’s sort of how I’m looking at it for these collabs.
Are there any other chefs, any other cuisines you’d want to bring into Una Pizza?
One thing that I hope I can pull off is, when I’m in Italy, to do a little collab with Massimo Bottura. When I was over there a couple months ago, I cooked for him for his birthday. His whole career has been built on challenging what was acceptable. When he started, even the music and the way the place looked and the artwork, everything was pretty radical for Modena. And he was like, you gotta do this and that on a pizza and push it.
I don’t know exactly what that translates to for me, but I think doing a collab with him would be a really awesome opportunity.
Anyone else in New York that you can think of? You know, sky’s the limit.
I love Casa Enrique. I love that place, and I am a fanatic for Mexican food. It’s probably my favorite cuisine of all, darn close to Italian. So I would love to do something with them.
And I did a thing with Don Angie, you know, getting back to Italian-slash-Italian American stuff. We did a collab with them when I had my spot in New Jersey during COVID. That would be cool to revisit.
Jon Bonné is Resy’s managing editor and author of the forthcoming book, “The New French Wine.” Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.