Ed's Cosmic Pizza Blab: Can Serious Pizza-Makers Have More than Two Great Pizzerias?

"It's like pizza-obsessed folks have decided that their collective ovens get too hot for them to consider adding a third pizzeria."

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Mathieu Palombino of Motorino [Photograph J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I used to think all great pizzerias came single-file in one town, in groups of one. That great pizza had to be tended to daily by an obsessive pizzaiolo. Chris Bianco, he's got one pizzeria, the magnificent Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. Same with Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco.

Need more support for my maybe not so cockamamie theory? Nick Lessins of Great Lake in Chicago. Another lone pizza gunmen. And Brian Spangler of APizza Scholls in Portland, and the Consiglio family at Sally's.

The same goes for Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Delancey in Seattle, and Zuppardi's in West Haven, Connecticut.

I think you get my point. Most great pizzerias are the product of one compulsive, obsessive person who lives and dies with every pie.

But I will freely admit that Mathieu Palombino has me believing that one person can open two great pizzerias, as he has done with Motorino's in Brooklyn (which is relocating as I write this because of problems with the building it's housed in) and the East Village in Manhattan. Palombino is the first great pizzeria manager. He obviously trains his pie-men and women well. Interestingly, Palombino's next project, the Bowery Diner, is a self-described "mid-century American diner" and not a pizzeria.

Similarly, the much-rumored third endeavor by Charlie Hallowell, of Pizzaiolo and Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland, is not a pizzeria. Bruce Hill is another excellent pie man in the Bay Area with two highly regarded pizzerias (Picco in Larkspur and Zero Zero in SF proper), though Zero Zero serves a lot more than pizza. Interestingly, Hill's third association is as a partner at a well-reviewed non-pizzeria, Bix, in San Francisco. It's like pizza-obsessed folks have decided that their collective ovens get too hot for them to consider adding a third pizzeria.


Serious Pie in Seattle [Photograph: Daniel Zemans]

Tom Douglas is trying it with Serious Pie in Seattle, but as much I love and respect Tom as a chef, restaurateur, and manager, my guess is he's not going to each location every day and testing the oven. (I will get in touch with him and report back.) There's also Dough Pizzeria Napoletana in San Antonio and Dallas. Doug Horn is the guy there. They started in San Antonio, and a few years later opened another one, this year, in Dallas.

Again, they have gotten up to two, but they've expanded slowly. I've had the pizza from San Antonio, and it was quite good. San Antonio and Dallas are 274 miles apart. A pie man cannot be in two places at once when his pizzerias are that far apart.

So now we're up to five pie men/chefs with two excellent pizzerias under their belts. But that's as far as we've gotten in the serious pizza culture.

No one, at least no one that I know of, has opened three great pizzerias and maintained the quality. Totonno's tried and failed. Patsy's, the same sorrowful story. Pepe's has expanded rather quickly with multiple locations in Connecticut and Yonkers, New York (southern Westchester), and though the pizza I've had in the new locations has been solid, I've never had a transcendent pie at any of them.

[Photograph: Daniel Zemans]

The first person to open three great pizzerias gets the Matthieu Palombino Obsessed Pieman (or Pieperson) Management Trophy (MPOPMT) and should be the subject of a Harvard Business School business school case.

Maybe it will be Los Angeles-based Mozza (where I have had numerous great pies), which recently opened in Singapore (8,774 miles away from the original Mozza), of all places, with a Newport Beach, California, location on deck. Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Nancy Silverton are a formidable food-and-bottom-line-obsessed management trio, and they're an ambitious bunch.

We'll just have to wait and see if they, or anyone else, can get to three without becoming a "concept," thereby losing the personal touch that great pizzerias seem to need to succeed. If they succeed we will award them the first MPOPMT.