If there's one thing that's become apparent in our five hour back-and-forths between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it's that the pizza can be far more impressive in the city to the north. Our most recent San Francisco visit brought us to Tony's Napoletana - an award-winning pizzeria in the heart of San Francisco's Little Italy where Italian restaurants and cafes pepper the friendly urban landscape. If you're looking to experience the best Little Italy has to offer, skip the cannoli and treat yourself to the authentic Napoli ingredients fired inside an impressive array of four different pizza ovens over at Tony's. Hell, we were so impressed with our first visit, we came back for seconds later that weekend.
We got there early for lunch and rested our feet in a cozy booth as the restaurant quickly filled up. Tony's menu offers virtually any style of pizza you might be craving. Listed next to each style is the exact temperature at which its respective oven will cook the pie. For a classic American pizza or a Sicilian Style? 550 degrees inside a NY flat top gas brick oven. The Pizza Romana bakes inside an Italian electric brick oven at 700 degrees. The classic Italian heats inside a domed gas brick oven at 650 degrees. The options don't end there. Tony's also offers a square-portioned Detroit-style pizza, wood-fired Californian-style pies, and the pizza we were most excited for - the STG Pizza Napoletana. But first we warmed up with a couple of appetizers.
We started with some house-made breads and variety of olive oil (below, left). We also shared a pleasant frisee, roasted red pepper, goat cheese and walnut salad (below, right), which came lightly dressed with a visciole black cherry vinaigrette.
It's a good thing we started with some greens because the next item to hit our table was an artery clogger. The fire-roasted bone marrow coppa fondue (below) is one of the more ridiculous things we've eaten. The appetizer comes with several different elements and instructions: first, a piece of toasted bread gets smeared with rich bone marrow. Then, the fat-smeared bread is wrapped in a piece of coppa and dipped in the bubbling pot of Emmenthaler cheese fondue. And if your heart hasn't stopped yet, you can top your decadent forkful with crumbled bleu cheese. Like I said, ridiculous. I think this appetizer would have been good if any one of the elements had been absent, yet I'm pretty sure that we included all of them in each bite.
Then came the STG Pizza Napoletana Margherita (below), still smoldering from the 900-degree wood-fired oven. It's not every day you come across a pizza made with hand-mixed dough, which explains why Tony's makes only 73 of these pizzas per day. Its delicious crust is made with San Felice flour, San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P. (Denominazione d' Origine Protetta or protected designation of origin), sea salt, mozzarella fior di latte (cow's milk mozzarella), fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. These simple, quality ingredients combined with the exact wood-fired temperatures and the Specialita' Traditionale Garantita specifications as declared by the Italian Department of Agriculture are enough to transport you nearly halfway around the globe. In fact, these very pies were good enough in 2007 to win the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy.
We were so pleased with Tony's that we came back a few days later and we brought pizza-eating reinforcements with us. We, of course, ordered another margherita (below, top) and also tried one of the "California-style" pizzas (below, left). Cooked in a similar fashion in the same 900-degree wood-fire oven, this version uses Caputo flour (an Italian standard) and came topped with quail egg, white rose potato, chorizo, rosemary, Calabrese peppers, speck, Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc (a creamy soft cheese), lavender sea salt, mozzarella and no sauce. Up until now, we had been so enamored with the wood-fired Napoletana that we nearly missed what turned out to be the consensus favorite of all six of us. The basic tomato pie with cheese (below, right) from the 1000-degree coal-fired oven. The crust was thicker, made with Caputo and Giusto's Flour and had a crispier edge to it, likely from that extra 100 degrees fired over coal.
It's nice to find people who aren't just passionate about what they make, but obsessive. Tony's menu may read like the handiwork of a control freak possessed. It takes a special sort of madness to seek out perfection to the nearest degree or to the finest grain of flour, but that's the exact sort of person whose pizza I want to be eating.