Una Pizza Napoletana



Drivers slow down and crane their necks, looking with unabashed curiosity at a throng of people gathered in front of a twenty-foot tall gray-painted industrial garage door.

Strangers chat amiably, wearing smiles and anticipation openly on their faces. They glance at their watches with excited impatience as they make jokes and spread rumors.

"He's this crazy New York guy."
"He does everything by himself. Doesn't let anyone else even touch the stuff."
"Like that Seinfeld episode, but with Pizza."
"Yeah. The Pizza Nazi."

At 5 p.m., conversation falls away as an electric motor hums to life. The garage door shudders and rises, rolling up into its housing far above the eager crowd.

The lifting gate reveals a vertical expanse of glass, windows held together by clean lines of mahogany-stained wood. Above an open door hangs a sign made of cut steel. An eagle with wings half spread and an American stars-and-bars emblazoned shield upon its chest clutches laurels in its talons. It is marked with the words:

"Una Pizza Napoletana
"San Francisco"
Thirty-two people sit at sixteen small tables, each of which is topped with a clean square of marble.

Another thirty or forty crowd in through the open door, forming a loose queue along the windowed entry.

A hushed silence settles over the room. Soft light filters down from the twin skylights, playing gently on the high white walls. A few small works of art hang here, just enough to highlight the scale and simplicity of the space that some will call "austere," and others "stark," in the days to come.

At the center of everyone's attention, next to a dome-topped aqua-blue tiled wood-burning oven in the center of the room, a man and a woman stand side by side, each with their hands clasped in front of them, their heads bowed in quiet reverence. A catholic priest stands before the pair, his voice raised in prayer. After a few moments, he moves toward the oven and splashes it with holy water.



The blessing is completed, but the silence remains as the couple separates. Anthony Mangieri lifts a tattoo covered arm, and adjusts the brim of his cap. His close-cropped curls are graying at the temples. He moves to his station in front of the oven. His wife, Ilaria Sorrentino-Mangieri, moves quickly among the seated patrons.

Mangieri arranges seven stainless steel bowls on a countertop island, where he rolls a smooth ball of dough in flour, and stretches it out into a roughly circular shape, roughly 12 inches in diameter. He ladles sauce from one bowl, carefully spreading it across the dough with the bottom of the ladle. He pulls cubes of fresh buffalo mozzarella from another bowl, a pinch or three of sea salt from the next, whole fresh leaves of basil from another. All eyes are on him as he easily transfers the piece from countertop to a long-handled wooden pizza peel. Almost as an afterthought, he picks up a spouted copper pitcher and pours a couple loops of olive oil onto the pizza before sliding it into the oven.

No one seems to exhale during the 90-odd seconds it takes for the pizza to bake. Mangieri turns the pie a couple of times with another peel, this one steel-bladed. He lifts it aloft, holds it near the crown of the oven for a few long seconds, and pulls it out, gently laying it onto a waiting plate.

The room erupts into a roar of applause, and Mangieri's face fills with color as he peers out from behind the lowered brim of his baseball cap, a timid, self-conscious grin spreading across his features.

"Boy, was that a nerve-racking experience," he'll say in a few days time.

But now, the stereo starts to play.

Una Pizza Napoletana San Francisco is open for business.

Anthony Mangieri has been making pizza since he was 15 years old. Now, at 39, many consider him to be one of the finest pizzaiolos (pizza craftsmen) in the country. He's shaped every ball of dough and baked every pie served at Una Pizza Napoletana since 1996, when he first opened in New Jersey.

The menu has maintained a Spartan integrity for nearly 15 years. Four types of pizza—no slices, no substitutions.

Mangieri developed an increasing reputation as an uncompromising culinary visionary as Una Pizza relocated twice, first moving to New York City's East Village in 2004, and now to San Francisco's SoMa, where he began service at 210 11th Street on September 15.

Not expanded; relocated. Una Pizza Napoletana is run by uno pizzaiolo. Control over each item served is central to Mangieri's concept.
His single-minded dedication is a direct result of his passion for the Hardcore music movement that took hold of him in his early teens. "Hardcore music was so for real. It touched me deeply. It changed my life," Mangieri said.

The Hardcore movement is particularly known for it's Do-It-Yourself esthetic and aversion to traditional commercial methods. Many of the more successful Hardcore artists founded their own record labels in order to maintain complete control of their music, from composition to distribution.

Philosophically, this is exactly where Mangieri's pizzas come from.

"Artisanal products that really take attention and care and commitment are being pushed into the mainstream, because people involved with money are realizing there is more money to be made," Mangieri said. "But the truth of the idea isn't being presented. The surface ideas are brought, but people aren't necessarily getting the whole picture."

The whole picture, for Mangieri, consists of an immaculate attention to detail. "When I create something, I try to bring out the truth of it," he said. This isn't always easy, and it can't always be done from home.

In the 16 months between the closing of Una Pizza New York and its opening in San Francisco, Mangieri traveled to Naples, where he consulted Stefano Ferrara, a third-generation brick oven craftsman, about the oven that would become the heart of his San Francisco operation.

But this trip wasn't all about business. Mangieri was after another kind of heart too. He was determined to win the hand of Ilaria Sorrentino, who had declined to accept his initial marriage proposal, offered ten years earlier. This year, in the cloister of the Santa Chiara Monastery in Naples, Mangieri again proposed to her. This time, she accepted.

Now, as Mangieri opens the doors of his third Una Pizza Napoletana, he does so with a new pizza offering: the 'Ilaria,' named for his wife.

Mangieri doesn't think he's compromising his vision by adding an item to the menu. He's growing. Making space for change.

But yes, some of the passions of youth do look different in this light.

"I'm through getting tattoos," said Mangieri, whose body is nearly covered with them.

"Except for one more. I saved a little spot for a name right here," he looked around mischievously, and patted a spot on his breast, just over his heart. "I saved a spot for her."

Though their romance has spanned more than a decade, Sorrentino-Mangieri is only now having her first experience with the pizzeria that is such a large part of her husband's life.

"It wasn't my intention to bring her over and put her to work in a pizzeria," said Mangieri. "But she's made the decision to become involved, and I've come to depend on her."

"He's really the one who knows all about this stuff," said Sorrentino-Mangieri, indicating the dining room and the oven with a glance. "But ... I'm settling in."

Mangieri's passion for the simple, hands-on mechanics of pizza certainly seems to inspire confidence in those who work with him.

"Working with with friends who care about what they are doing is a beautiful thing," said Giovanni Pagano, a sommelier and longtime friend of Mangieri. "It's difficult, in this industry, to find someone who really cares about what they do."

Pagano has plenty of experience in the industry. When he met Mangieri, Pagano was working for Mario Batalli at the critically acclaimed Esca in New York City. Now, he's put together a concise and focused wine list for Una Pizza Napoletana, comprised of four reds and four whites, all from the Campagno region of Southern Italy. "The point is to keep it simple," he said. "Anthony is the superstar. Everything else is here to support the pizza."

Supportive though it may be, Mangieri holds some concern that the intense working environment of the pizzeria may strain his relationship with Sorrentino-Mangieri. "I'm a little nervous," he said. "I have been known to be a little high-strung when I'm at work."

But he thinks they'll do just fine. "We've been working together 20 hours a day, together every minute through the last several months, getting the place ready," he said. "And she's seen me at my worst."

Working together can only get easier from here, he said.

And life at the pizzeria isn't always easy. "Not everyone gets what I do," said Mangieri. Indeed, Yelp has already recorded several reviews from customers expressing outrage at being made to wait in line to be served a "doughy, chewy pizza" that "was okay, probably because we waited so long."

"When you come into my place, my heart is exposed to you." said Mangieri. "And it hurts sometimes, the things that people say."

"It's been stressful, but there is so much we built together," said Sorrentino-Mangieri. "If there was something we could do, we did it. People might say it doesn't matter, that it's too much for the apparent result. But for us, it does matter. It is beautiful. Something special to us."

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