If you’ve ever journeyed across the world for a great meal, you’re in good company. Food is one of the main reasons to travel, after all. Now, New Yorkers don’t have to go far to devour one of Napoli’s best and most famous pizzas. After opening a Los Angeles outpost in 2019, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele debuted in Manhattan’s West Village late last year, and the crispy, chewy pies are some of the best you’ll ever have.
Head pizzaiolo and partner Michele Rubini oversees the pizza kitchen. According to the Ischia native, “everything’s the same except for the water.” And New York water is often credited for making New York the pizza and bagel capital of the Americas. For those new to L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, the 16-inch pies may look huge out of the oven, but the crust is super-thin to the point where just about anyone can finish one on an empty stomach.
While the key ingredients are flown in from Southern Italy, the prices and overall atmosphere are pure West Village. There’s no formal dress code, but many guests look like they came from office jobs or are taking out-of-town visitors to try the famous pizza on the weekend. Contrast that with Naples, which looks, feels and smells like an old-school pizza parlor, where business casual attire would likely be out of place. That location dates back to 1870, or 35 years before Lombardi’s.
The Margherita pizza may be the undisputed main attraction, but it’s the extensive menu that makes the new L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele location more than a bucket list destination. Without pizzas or desserts, there are still more than 30 menu items to try. If you’re coming with a group, you can easily share a pie and order other small plates for the table.
According to Rubini, sharing pizza is an American concept, whereas in Italy, “pizza is a personal thing.” In fact, one seemingly minor difference between Naples and New York is the fact that they don’t cut the pizza in Naples. And Italian customers often request the pizza not be cut. “Once you cut the pizza, the sauce can run down to the bottom, making the bottom crust soggy,” Rubini says. “That’s even more important when you’re getting pizza to go.” And so far, they are doing a healthy amount of takeout business. The pizza boxes they use also come from Italy.
Restaurateur Francesco Zimone, who handles all the U.S. locations of L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, says they plan to expand the menu even further. In the two months since the NYC location has opened, they’ve already tweaked the menu by adding entrees like their short rib pappardelle. All of the pasta is made in-house. And while pizzas are made upstairs, everything else is made in the basement, where there’s also a 1,600-square-foot event room. The main dining room can seat 250, which means smaller groups rarely have to wait for a table.
The two business partners can seem like an odd pairing at first glance, Zimone being the more formal yet friendly clean-cut businessman, and Rubini the fun-loving, bearded artist. Patrons will only see his serious side once he’s behind the glass. There, the light-hearted Southern Italian becomes laser-focused on making the perfect pie.
Zimone went from Naples to Southern California, where he worked in finance for the two decades leading up to his new game-changing pizza venture. Neither of the partners started out as pizza makers or in the restaurant business. Rubini is a graphic designer by trade. He got into pizza making by experimenting with the pizza oven in his wife’s family’s backyard. That led to him signing up for the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association.
Like Zimone, Rubini lived in Southern California before making the move to New York. Zimone started looking for locations as early as January 2021, and there were plenty to be had. But the six-story building across from St. Vincent’s Triangle was the only one he really liked. Both frequented L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele during their time in Italy, but never crossed paths until meeting through a mutual friend while Zimone was looking to build a team for the Hollywood location.
Before leaving for the United States, Zimone went to business school with the then-owner’s son and got to know the family well. He always ordered the double Margherita and even recalls bringing his own napkins. Rubini prefers the regular Margherita because he says it’s the “perfect balance of sauce and cheese.” Like most pizza aficionados, he shuns the overuse of any ingredient in favor of the right ingredients.
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The West Village is undoubtedly one of the most competitive NYC pizza areas outside Fulton Ferry. Keste may have left a void when pizzaiolo and owner Roberto Capruciuso moved from Bleecker Street to the Financial District, but the truth is the area has been competitive when it comes to pizza and Italian food for at least the past decade. For example, John’s of Bleecker Street, Song’ E Napule and Emily are all within walking distance of L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele.
When asked how they plan to stand out in such a competitive area of America’s most competitive pizza city, Rubini goes right to the food. “Nobody else is like us,” he says. “We are the Rolex of pizza, with all the right components.”
Zimone focuses on the hospitality aspect. “We want people to take their time here,” he says. “Enjoy some wine. Then have some pizza and enjoy each other’s company.” While this is the Italian way, Zimone insists that they are here to cater to a New York crowd.
Both partners are adamant that the Naples model would not work in their 6,000-square-foot location. And, while it’s no doubt great to have this legendary recipe in America’s greatest pizza city, visitors should not expect the Naples experience in terms of atmosphere, cost and menu. While the Naples location has just two menu items (Margherita and marinara), New York has eight different pies, ranging from $18 to $65 for a truffle pizza. In Naples, pies range from €4 to €5, with beer, soda or water bottles an additional €2,50 each. Compare that with New York’s full bar, which is the first thing you’ll see after entering from the intersection of Bank and Greenwich. After walking past the bar, you’ll be in the main dining room where the pizzas are made. There, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the whole process.
This is not the first U.S. location of L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, nor will it be the last. Zimone’s immediate plans include a 9,000-square-foot Long Beach outpost, which will be the second in Los Angeles county (there’s also a location in Santa Barbara). In New York, the back of the bar room is slated for an oyster bar and salumeria, while the team is also tweaking the brunch menu, debuting this spring. And those looking for more of a pizza joint experience may get their wish as early as 2024, as Zimone has an NYC spot in mind.
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