December 31, 2019

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana: A New Year’s Primer

by Joe Bonadio

If there is one thing that we all hold in common during the holidays, it has to be the food that we enjoy. Whether you’re celebrating with family or far from your ancestral home, if you’re anything like me, this time of year brings about a craving for the most familiar and traditional things. Those special things that you loved as a young child, so that as an adult, you experience them on an emotional as well as a sensual level.

For me, that means Italian food. My earliest memories revolve around sitting at my grandmother’s dining table in Sunrise, Florida, listening to my uncles argue, and waiting hungrily for whatever wonderful thing Grandma was preparing in the kitchen. It might be a little bit of spinach and beans, or perhaps some pasta—but if Angeline cooked it, baked it, or simply put it on a plate, it was fantastic. Although she emigrated to this country as a mere pup, Grandma ran the kitchen like the donna calabrese that she was.

Tony examines his handiwork in the kitchen at his flagship,Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

Happily, my apartment here in North Beach is only a couple of blocks from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. So when I want to go back to my culinary roots, I know just where to go. It’s one of my absolute favorites when it comes to holiday dining–and we’ve got still got a few days left before it’s all over. So by way of encouragement, here are some things to remember when getting your holiday on at Tony’s.

First off: Don’t skip the appetizers. You may well be thinking, it’s pizza, it’s going to be a big meal, and I don’t want to overdo it. Need I remind you that it’s the holiday season? There will be plenty of time for you to think about your diet next week. This week, I recommend you sample the squash blossoms: stuffed with luscious ricotta cheese, battered and fried to perfection, they are divine. Ditto the coccoli, fried balls of dough lightly seasoned with sea salt. A specialty of the house, these can be had in five different ways. I especially like them with arugula and Nduja, a spicy spreadable salami from Calabria; they are also excellent when served with prosciutto and burrata.

And that’s (literally) just for starters. In fact, Tony’s appetizer selection will make it tough to choose: the mussels with chorizo, the calamari fritti, the deep-fried green beans, it’s all A+. And if you’ve somehow made it to this point without trying Tony’s meatballs, they should be at the top of your order–assuming you like that kind of thing, that is. On my last visit, my table enjoyed a generous and carefully prepared Caesar salad, a classic and always perfect complement to pizza.

Another beautiful pizza makes it way to the table at Tony’s. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

Try something you haven’t ordered before. While it can be awfully tempting to just order your favorites, this menu is built for experimenting. Tony makes thirteen different styles of pizza alone, in addition to a host of pasta offerings, and it’s really impossible to go wrong. Last time out, my group decided to try the Sweet Grandma pizza, and it was a revelation: topped with sweet tomato sauce, mozzarella, garlic, oregano, pecorino and basil, this was one of the most flavorful pies I’ve had in recent memory.

Bring reinforcements. Tony’s is an ideal restaurant for sharing–and more people means more variety. And if there is any food that’s clearly meant to be shared, it’s got to be pizza. So rally your group, make a reservation–and above all, come hungry.

Don’t forget the pasta. Though not everyone knows this, Tony’s serves up some of the best pasta in our corner of the city. All of it is housemade at Giovanni Italian Specialties, Tony’s retail outpost just around the corner, including some of the finest ravioli you can find anywhere. In addition to the more common spaghetti and linguine, they also turn out fresh rigatoni and bucatini every day, both of which feature in standout pasta entrées at Tony’s: the rigatoni with broccoli rabe, pecorino, cream, garlic, pancetta and Italian sausage is a perennial classic, and the spicy bucatini in pork ragu cream sauce with calabrese peppers, ground beef, and a calabrese sausage link is my personal favorite—and guaranteed to satisfy even the most hearty eater. And I have to mention the stellar lasagna: his father’s favorite dish, Tony created this version in his honor, and it’s a showstopper.

Don’t be afraid of leftovers. There’s nothing wrong with taking home a little bit of lunch for the next day. And here’s my pro tip for heating up your slice: just toss it into a pan, no oil necessary, on medium heat. In a few minutes your slice will be hot, and the bottom will be nice and crispy, just the way you like it. Note: thicker slices like Sicilian might benefit from a few moments under the broiler.

Finally, I’d like to wish everyone out there a rollicking and joyous New Year’s celebration. And I’ll look forward to seeing you at Tony’s soon!

*Please note: Tony’s Pizza Napoletana will be closed all day on New Year’s Eve, but will reopen for New Year’s Day.