In 2020 America, festooning a pizza pie with pepperoni isn’t an inherently radical act — unless you’re Anthony Mangieri, owner of Una Pizza Napoletana. If you’re familiar with Mangieri’s work and past proclamations regarding canonical pizza-making strictures, the thought of him putting pepperoni on his pizza is hard to imagine, like Pavarotti yodeling or Isaac Stern playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on the violin. In certain pizza-nerd circles, this could be Dylan going electric, Dylan warbling Christmas carols, and Dylan doing that Victoria’s Secret commercial combined. Mangieri, the Jersey-born, Italy-inspired dough savant, you see, has hewed to stricter-than-Neapolitan standards for nearly a quarter-century, politely declining requests to slice pies or offer optional toppings, let alone besmirch the surface of a tender, springy, naturally leavened crust with something as ignoble as pepperoni (which, by the way, doesn’t exist in Italy, where the word peperoni refers to bell peppers).
But things change, philosophies evolve, and producers like Columbus, Ohio’s Ezzo Sausage Company and Chicago’s Tempesta Artisan Salumi start giving the lowbrow domestic salami a good name — a name that even Anthony Mangieri, who now uses a combination of both pepperonis on his pizza, can get behind. It also helps that Mangieri’s eight-year-old daughter Apollonia is a persistent pepperoni pitchwoman. “Honestly, the initial catalyst for the pepperoni was my daughter,” says Mangieri, “because every time she came into the pizzeria, she was like, ‘Why don’t you do a pepperoni?’ ” Mangieri was already acquainted with Bill Ezzo from the pizza-expo circuit, so when he finally told the meat maven that he was interested in trying out his product after eschewing pepperoni his entire career, Ezzo replied, “It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong.”
Once in full experimental mode, Mangieri also started testing pepperoni from Tempesta, his longtime supplier of ’nduja and soppressata, and discovered he likes the contrast between the two: Ezzo’s pepperoni is spicier, crispier, and more compact; Tempesta’s has a gamier flavor and looser texture. The result is fantastic, in keeping with Mangieri’s minimalist style and surely the most elegant pepperoni pie in town. And pepperoni is just one of four extra toppings that Mangieri added to his menu beginning in late November along with three new special pies, bringing the total to one for each of the six nights he’s open.
Not to suggest that UPN has suddenly morphed into CPK, but how to interpret this surprising new direction? Ironically, according to Mangieri, the recent embrace of toppings was spurred on by a rededication to dough. When the pizzaiolo teamed up with Fabián von Hauske Valtierra and Jeremiah Stone of Wildair and Contra in the spring of 2018 to open the Lower East Side restaurant, each partner contributed his specialty to the menu — inventive, offbeat appetizers and classic desserts by the Contra team, pizza by Mangieri. But lukewarm reviews and sparse crowds confirmed Mangieri’s growing sense that the pieces of the puzzle weren’t fitting. “I really wanted to get rid of the small plates,” says Mangieri, who believed that anything beyond what emerged from his wood-burning oven diluted the effect and enjoyment of the pizzeria’s raison d’être. At first, he took more control over the menu and began to simplify the starters. But that wasn’t enough. “I would rather have anchovies on a marinara pie than have a salad before that,” he says. “Even the burrata — I loved our burrata dish, I hated getting rid of it. I realized, ‘This should just be a pizza.’ A pizza that we control.”
And so now, after months of testing and running the new items as specials, customers can supplement any of the four original classici pizzas with pepperoni, Calabrian long hot peppers, salted anchovies, or pedigree Parmigiano — extras Mangieri describes as “very basic, old school, and rooted in tradition.” He is still a stickler when it comes to the speciali. No substitutions allowed on the nightly combos he’s named for relatives, including his nonna Anna (Monday’s pizzafication of that burrata plate, with cherry tomatoes and dabs of ’nduja) and his mother Catarì (Tuesday’s mildly spicy white pie garnished with raisins, pine nuts, capers, and sesame). The pizza takes only ninety seconds to cook, but if you must nibble something right away, you have the option of Mangieri-sanctioned spuntini like olives or lupini beans, neither of which will unduly jeopardize your appetite.
Mangieri has also assumed pastry-chef duties, incorporating sheep’s-milk ricotta in dulce-de-leche-like salted-caramel gelato. And all we have to say about this is that it seems unfair that someone who makes such stupendously good pizza can churn out such exquisite ice cream.
In the midst of these changes, Mangieri’s also preparing to open a new pizzeria in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, in a space he leased as a backup plan when it seemed the Orchard Street spot might not make it. Now, the self-sufficient pizzaiolo finds himself in the unfamiliar position of trying to figure out how to be in two places at the same time. But his chief concern remains his dough, the unpredictable, naturally leavened life force whose conquest remains frustratingly out of reach. “I’m never really happy,” he says, focusing on the occasional disappointments instead of the puffy-rimmed, delicately charred triumphs. When a particularly beautiful specimen emerges, though, he might take a moment to daydream. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if it could be like this forever?”