FOOD for THOUGHT
By Lotus Belle-Glover
More than 50 years after first opening its doors in Naples, Italy, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele has moved West — the West Village, to be precise. The restaurant is the work of Francesco Zimone, former financier and designer turned restaurateur, and Michele Rubini, da Michele’s lead Pizzaiolo, who are behind the institution’s first two U.S. locations. Following a successful launch in Hollywood, Calif., and another in Santa Barbara, Calif., New York seemed the natural next step.
The expansion was born from a successful shift of operations in Los Angeles at the outset of the covid-19 pandemic. Zimone and Rubini continued serving pizza for takeout following local health regulations, but had the idea to sell parking spots, screen movies, and create a space for their customers, or as Rubini calls them, friends. They created a strong following, and New York came next.
The restaurant sits on the corner of Greenwich and Bank, a tree-lined, one-lane street. L’Antica is one of the only commercial storefronts in a street replete with pre-war buildings and brownstones. Zimone knew the space was right his first time visiting, on the last day of a trip to New York in November 2020. The building, which formerly read “Tapas,” was a build-out, requiring a complete renovation to transform it into what is now L’Antica. New floors, new walls and a new kitchen were installed, including a custom-built wood-fired pizza oven, whose delivery required the front walls to be removed and floor to be reinforced. After just over two years, da Michele opened its doors to the public.
To call it a restaurant nearly understates its presence; the space is substantial, enough so that there are three full dining rooms with three distinct personalities. The front is a cafe-style space with natural light, a full bar, and a counter seating area. The back is a formal dining room, with exposed brick walls, wood-paneled floors and ceilings, and an open kitchen that allows diners to admire their pizza as it is rolled, flipped, topped, and baked in the oven. The third, down a flight of stairs, is referred to as the Taverna, whose vision is still being formed. The room boasts the original layout, including brick pillars and cavernous booths, with a full bar and wine cellar. And yet it is personalized; even the coffee machine was specifically selected to ensure a quiet, intimate experience. An event space, private club, or test kitchen are several ideas Rubini mentioned as potential concepts.
Perhaps the most important part, the food, is what Rubini is proud of. L’Antica uses authentic, Neapolitan techniques and a centuries-old pizza recipe. The menu offers only eight pizzas, each focused on simple, core ingredients, 100% of which are imported from the original Naples location. L’Antica crafts a Margherita for the traditionalist, with tomato, fior di latte, pecorino, and fresh basil; a Margherita Double for the indulgent, the only difference being the addition of double fior di latte; a Diavola for the carnivore, with tomato, fior di latte, pecorino, basil, and spicy salame; an Arugula & Prosciutto for the balanced, with double fior di latte, pecorino, basil, arugula, prosciutto, and shaved parmesan. For the decadent: a truffle pizza for $65, with truffle Rubini imports three times a week from a friend in Naples.
And for those not convinced by pizza: the menu ranges from boards–imported and domestic cheese and charcuterie; appetizers like Arancini – traditional rice balls, this iteration made with Aspen Ridge beef and pork, Gnocco Fritto—deep fried pizza dough with burrata and prosciutto; and pastas like Capunti al Nero—a black ink Capunti with Langostini, and a Gnocchi al Fungi Misti e Scamorza—truffled gnocchi with wild mushrooms and smoked scamorza. And don’t forget about the Spaghetti Nerano, which the L.A. Times called “sweet and oily and oddly fishy… altogether off-putting.” In true da Michele fashion, Zimone and Rubini took this as an opportunity: they doubled down on the Nerano, passing out flyers and serving it at an event at the infamous Paramount Hotel in Los Angeles. In poured texts of support, and in the following weeks, the restaurant received five times the reservations.
Although the West Village may come to rely on L’Antica for its Neapolitan fix, the restaurant hopes to offer so much more to the community. It has, in every community joined, been a pillar of giving – to organizations, with dinner donations, and with personal loans to staff. Its mission statement opens with a promise to “continue with the goal to make a difference [and] create a culture of pay it forward.” And the plans continue expanding with their geographical footprint. They formed a non-profit called the Smiling Pizza, created a fundraiser after a November landslide in Iscia, Rubini’s hometown, and plan to add a pizza, with a portion of sales going to charity. The pizza, Piece of Pie, will have smoked fior di latte, oregano, and basil – which has become a favorite in its California locations.
According to Rubini, the restaurant’s main goal of its inaugural year is not just to build a restaurant, but a community. And if the restaurant’s first few weeks have been any indication of its future success, it seems that this goal will be met with ease. Since opening its doors with a limited menu of select pizzas in late-December, people have traveled from near and far to visit, many of whom are regulars at the California locations and know Zimone and Rubini by first name. I witnessed more than one stop by to welcome da Michele’s to the neighborhood. Walk by during Saturday lunch hour and one will see crowds, out-of-towners waiting to try the famed pizzeria featured in Eat, Pray, Love and curious residents peering inside, wondering: what has finally opened on Bank St. and is it worth checking out? Yes, it is, and order the Spaghetti Nerano.
To view the menu, visit: damicheleusa.com/nyc-menu 2 Bank Street, New York, NY 10014