What’s the state of San Francisco slice culture? What are the worst reheat sins a sliceria can commit? What’s the future of pizza? Tony Gemignani has become synonymous with great pizza in California since opening his first shop, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, in North Beach in 2009. He hasn’t looked back, opening 12 other restaurants in California and Nevada, and three slice stands in the Giants AT&T Park! So, with the opening of his newest San Francisco slice joint on Haight Street, who better to ask the questions above?
For the uninitiated, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Gemignani’s Pizza Rock routinely make lists published by national publications that rank America’s best pies. This pizza maven grew up in Fremont, and got his start as a teenager at his brother Frank’s spot Pyzano’s, and has spent more than a quarter century perfecting and “respecting the craft” (his motto).
Tony’s dexterity in pizza-throwing, his pizza making skills and bragging rights for having spun the world’s largest pizza (a Guinness World Record) make him a great character study. But one of the most interesting things about him as a pizzaiolo is his expertise in different pizza styles. Where many struggle to do one style well, several of Tony’s restaurants do many expertly. You’re just as likely to find a great cracker-thin Chicago pie as a classic American pizza, or pizza pies done with Roman flair, Detroit panache and according to traditional Neapolitan rules.
So, it’s interesting to see him take on what one might argue is a dying art: the quality slice joint.
Tony’s 25-seat Slice House takes over 1535 Haight Street, which before housing a pizzeria called Fast Slice, was once home to the Psychedelic Shop, often cited as the world’s first headshop. Inside, portraits of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon pays homage to icons of the 60s. Tony uses an old Blodgett oven to fire up 10 different 13-inch and 20-inch pies, and reheat five different slice styles: cheese, pepperoni, grandma, Sicilian, Love Me Two Times (pesto, mozz, double garlic and “sun-bathed tomato”) and the Purple Haze, which he discusses below. Going beyond the traditional definition of a sliceria, Tony’s Haight Street menu also offers sides, salads, pastas, sandwiches and burgers (you won’t guess his secret burger ingredients). Sausages are homemade, patties hand-formed and burger buns baked daily.
What’s the state of San Francisco slice culture? What are the worst reheat sins a sliceria can commit? What’s the future of pizza? Who better to ask than Tony Gemignani?
In this interview, Tony talks about how the Haight Street slice joint has been received, whether he’d ever franchise, the travesty that is putting pepperoni on a pizza post-bake and what’s going on with the quality of the average slice in New York City.
What oven are you using?
It’s an old double-stack Blodgett and the stones in it are like 20 years old on the upper deck. They never changed it and it’s still cracked. The bottom deck they re-did maybe five or six years ago. It has no markings on it. Once I opened it up, I was like, “Oh, this is a fucking old Blodgett!” It cooks great. I won’t ever change it.
What’s the signature slice?
Purple Haze or the grandma. You don’t see grandma on the West Coast. It’s a little bit thinner than my Sicilian. We sell a ton of both of those all day.
How did you decide on the location for your new slice joint and what’s different about this one compared with your other ones?
It had to be a special place, not only with the look of it and the artists that we brought in. The menu had to change for the clientele: more vegetarian pizzas, more pesto on the menu, and a lot of burgers. People don’t know, but I serve great burgers.