Tony’s Pizza Napoletana was set up in 2009 in the North Beach district of San Francisco, a little south of Fisherman’s Wharf. Despite its name, the restaurant offers a range of pizza styles, cooked at different temperatures and even in different ovens. You can have a traditional Neapolitan pizza, cooked in a very hot wood-fired (500C = 900F roughly) oven for 90 seconds, or you can choose a New York style pizza, Californian and other US styles, a Roman style or Sicilian style pizza. Some are cooked in gas ovens, some in electric ovens, and the temperatures and durations of cooking vary by the style. There are also a few pasta dishes and starters available but I came here to try the pizza.
Tony Gemignani was born on a farm in California but after high school he learnt to cook pizza at his brother’s pizzeria in Castro Valley. He entertained customers by his pizza dough twirling and throwing, and won a competition in Las Vegas for this ability. More seriously, he decided to test his pizza skills in Italy, cooking at the annual Pizza World Cup in Naples, which have several categories. In 2007 he won the best Neapolitan pizza category, the first American to do so. Indeed he was the first person to win this who was not from Naples, so his skills clearly go beyond tossing dough acrobatically in the air. He has converted this accolade into a series of restaurants, not just in San Francisco but also in Las Vegas, and is a regular TV chef.
As mentioned, this restaurant has an unusually long menu, and also offers a mostly Italian wine list. Sample labels were Castello Banfi Rossi di Montalcino 2016 at $48 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for $41, Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir 2016 at $85 compared to its retail price of $56, and Gaja Pieve Sanat Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2012 at a less kindly $190 for a wine that will set you back $68 in a shop.
I tried the Margherita pizza, and this was quite impressive. The base was soft and supple, the San Marzano tomatoes good, the charring of the base being even, the pizza arriving steaming hot. This was an excellent pizza (14/20). The Margherita cost $24, which doubtless translates into a comfortable profit margin, but at least it delivered on quality; my total bill came to $30 (£24). Service was basic but efficient, and the place was rammed even at an early weekday lunch. If you ordered a starter and dessert and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might come to around $75 (£58) all in. The pizzas themselves were mostly around $25 (£19). I was a bit wary of this place given all the celebrity chef razzmatazz that is ladled thick on the menu, but there is no doubt that they can cook a proper pizza here.