Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Impressions: Tony's Pizza Napoletana

1570 Stockton St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 835-9888

(all photos by Adam Lindsley unless otherwise noted)

I had fully planned to do a two-part lunch today, starting with Pizzetta 211 in the Richmond district, but those plans were dashed soundly to the floor by Google Maps, which dropped us off not in northwest San Francisco, but the northeast corner of town. As we had had a late start, a trip back across the city eliminated any possibility of trying Pizzetta 211 for lunch, so we scrapped those plans and just hit Tony's Pizza Napoletana in the North Beach district.

What's neat about Tony's is that the place boasts no less than four different ovens, each used for different types of pizza. The Margherita and Marinara pies are cooked in a domed wood-burning oven. "Classic Italian" pizzas are cooked in a gas-fired domed brick oven. "Classic American" pizzas are cooked in a New York flat-top gas-fired brick oven. Sicilian pizzas are cooked in an Italian brick oven.

One look at Tony's menu and I was hit with a severe case of sticker shock. The 12-inch Margherita sets you back a whopping $18, the highest price I've yet seen for a Marg of that size. This pizza won the 2007 World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy, and pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani makes only 73 of these a day. Well, I thought, this better be worth it. The menu makes sure you know this is "authentic" Neapolitan pizza, describing the Margherita thusly: "Dough mixed by hand using San Felice flour, then proofed in Neapolitan Wood Boxes, San Marzano tomatoes DOP, sea salt, mozzarella fior di latte, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil from Campania."

It's kind of annoying how much they hit you over the head with this stuff as if no one else in the country makes this kind of pizza, but whatever, I figured if the pizza was good enough, they could write an entire novel on the menu and I wouldn't really care.

When the Margherita hit the table steaming hot from the wood-burning oven, it certainly had the visual of a Neapolitan pie down pat. The crust had a nice puffy cornicione and mild charring all around. Fresh from the oven, the chassis was still crisp and didn't flop when I picked up a slice (though that crispness soon faded). White islands of mozzarella floated in the bright red sea of tomato sauce and dark green leaves of fresh basil.

What I love best about Tony's Margherita is that it is properly salted. The sauce, cheese, and crust all have more salt than just about any Neapolitan-style pizza I've eaten, and I was grateful for it. The salt brought out the milky flavor of the cheese, the brightness of the tomatoes, and the rustic bread flavor in the crust. The cheese is a tad on the rubbery side, but as I said, the flavor is good enough that it doesn't really hurt the pizza as a whole.

Unfortunately, it is in no way an $18 pie. I don't know what reasoning Tony has for charging so much for it. Is it the ingredients? The location of the restaurant? Whatever it is, it's just too much to charge for this kind of pie. If it really is because Tony insists on importing all these Italian ingredients, well, the fact is I've had pies that are just as good (and better) made with cheaper domestic products.

The second pie of the afternoon was the Truffle pie (market price today: $28). Normally this white pie is topped with mozzarella, burrata, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam Triple Cream cheese, wild mushrooms, arugula, parmigiano, and Italian shaved truffles. Today, though, they were out of truffles (more would arrive in 3 weeks, we were told), and so they would be substituting them with truffle oil. We accepted that because Christa and I were both excited to see the Mt. Tam cheese on the pizza, and could not pass up an opportunity to try it.

(Mt. Tam cheese - Photo:

The finished product fell far short of our expectations. Don't misunderstand me: it was good, but it lacked certain elements that made it irresistible during the ordering process. The Mt. Tam cheese, which is so beautifully creamy, became completely lost in the other ingredients, and we could neither taste it nor detect any creamy presence amidst the mozz, parmigiano, or burrata. There's a great cheesiness to the pie, but in the end I'm sad to say the addition of the Mt. Tam only served to jack up the price of the pie. The wild mushrooms weren't rubbery at all, but they also didn't impart much flavor to the pizza. The truffle oil certainly brought a light truffle flavor to every slice, but it was hardly a replacement for the real thing. $28 is asking too much for this pizza, especially since there are no real truffles to be found on it. Considering that almost all truffle oil is synthetic, I really don't know where the majority of our money went.

Is the pizza at Tony's good? Yeah, you bet. It's great, actually. But for the outrageous prices they're charging, I'm finding the idea of recommending it hard to swallow.

Tonight: Emilia's.

OVENS: Wood & Gas



  1. All the SF places charge a hell of a lot for 12" pizzas, it seemed to me. I spent over $100 at both Flour + Water and Pizziaolo for me and two other people -- no alcohol. Can you imagine the uproar in Portland?

  2. Seriously. I mean, I know it's more expensive to live in SF than Portland, but Tony's prices are out of control. Not even the pizzas in New York were as expensive as theirs.

  3. Last time I went to Una Pizza, which was maybe two years ago, their Margherita was $21. It's probably the priciest 12" Margherita I've ever paid for, but it was well worth it for a special occasion.

  4. Holy damn, 21 bucks? I'm sorry, Mangieri, that's just too much. Your successor (Motorino) made a great Margherita for $14 (which is still high if you ask me, but at least it's not $21).

  5. In fact, Motorino's pie--in New York City no less--is still cheaper than the bland Margherita at Serious Pie in Seattle ($15). Tom Douglas is out of his mind.

  6. I don't think you can put a price on good pizza! haha

  7. I think you should start making your own pizzas! I have been making pizza for over 20 years, always striving to make the best Margarita Napoli-style, just bought a Pizzeria Pronto oven. It is incredible the pizzas that I can make. With all the $$ you save, you can go to Naples once a year to taste the real thing :)