LONG BEACH ‘PIE’ SHOP VOTED BEST IN USA
Growing up in L.A., I used to naively say ‘pizza is pizza.’ Boy was I wrong! I still believe it’s difficult to completely mess up a pizza (I’ll always eat a slice) but now I know all to well that in the pizza pie game, there is definitely an upper echelon. And sitting near the very tippy top (according to many, on the throne itself) is Long Beach’s Michael’s Pizzeria.
From charismatic entrepreneur Michael Dene, who owns Michael’s on Naples on Naples Island in Long Beach, next door to the Michael’s Pizzeria Naples location, is a charming and authentic pizzeria that delivers phenomenal Italian fare. Zagat recently heralded Michael’s Pizzeria as the No. 1 Pizza Joint in the U.S., in addition to claiming it the Best Pizzeria in L.A. (for the second year in a row, beating out such celeb hotspots like Pizzeria Mozza, and Gjelina), and Best Neapolitan Pizza in L.A. With three locations, two in Long Beach and one in Rancho Mirage, the word is out that Michael’s Pizzeria is home to the best pizza you will find.
“What an honor,” said Michael Dene. “We opened a little more than two years ago, and for the second year in a row, we have been named the Best Pizzeria in Los Angeles. We managed to top that by being named the Best Pizzeria in the United States, a title Tony’s in San Francisco has held for years. It’s very humbling, and I’m extremely proud of my staff who work in the front of the house and the heart of the house.”
Using hand-tossed dough made from the finest flour then topped with fresh sauces, freshly plucked herbs and homemade mozzarella then fired at a scorching 850 degrees in a wood-fired oven for 90 seconds, pizza is served with its edges slightly charred and then delivered to the table whole, not sliced, as is customary in southern Italy.
According to Michael’s Pizzeria, “Slice a pie immediately after it comes out of the oven causes moisture to form beneath it. The folks in Naples are not ones for soggy pizza, and neither are we. So, we suggest you do what we do—use a fork and knife. But, hey, if that’s not your thing, just ask us to slice it for you. It’s no problem.”
It’s funny because most people would guess the best pizza is in New York City, however, according to Zagat, the winning pizzeria for years has been in San Francisco. Personally, I swear by Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, but apparently the only NYC pizzeria that even made the Zagat list was Lucali.
So what’s the secret?
“Our kitchen is strictly GMO-free,” says Dene. “It’s fresh, quality ingredients that really make Michael’s Pizzeria a standout. Our pizza doesn’t have any fillers or processed meats or cheeses, so you don’t have that full, food hangover felling after a meal. It’s like I always say – eating pizza at Michael’s is like having pizza for the very first time.”
And having a fourth generation Italian pizzaiola, in this case Vito Iacopelli, doesn’t hurt either.
“I learned the art of making pizza from my father at eight-years-old,” said Iacopelli. “American pizza is not really pizza at all. It’s heavy and gimmicky with ingredients that are not fresh. It’s not a pizza if it’s not simple. Keep it simple – that’s what we do at Michael’s.”
During our recent visit, we were lucky to find a table at the Naples location. It’s small to begin with and expect to find a line out the door on weekends, and daily just before opening. We started with the Prosciutto e Melone (Cantaloupe melon, Parma prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic). As chef said, simple is king. There isn’t too going on with this pie except wonderful flavor. And kudos to Michael’s Pizzeria for coming up with an ingenious method to pair wine with your pizza. They manage to take out all the thinking for you. I wholeheartedly enjoyed a fantastic Barbera with my dinner.
Speaking of fantastic, their Lasagna Napoletana (white pasta layered with house-made mozzarella, meat sauce, and parmesan) is absolutely divine. So hearty yet very fresh.
The highly recommended Capricciosa (tomato, house-made mozzarella, artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto cotto, and olives) is one of the most popular pizzas on the menu and for good reason. Again, simple yet so mouthwateringly savory.
These are slightly larger than individual pizzas so if you’re with a group, do order a few to share. Luckily we still had room for the Salsiccia e Rapini (smoked house-made mozzarella, sausage, and rapini) as it was a meat lover’s newfound favorite. Paired with a Piedirosso “Vulcano” Sorrento, Campania only helped elevate the meal.
Although we didn’t try the Margherita Pizza (next time) it is worth noting that it is classified as D.O.P., which means Denomination of Origin Protected. That distinction ensures that the pizza is made only from special Italian flour that is milled to a fine grain for centuries, San Marzano tomatoes also imported from Italy, and fresh mozzarella cheese that is made daily inside Michael’s Pizzeria’s exhibition kitchen.”
With little room for dessert, we managed to split the delicious Affogato (two scoops of hazelnut gelato with a shot of espresso), which was utterly delicious. And of course, because I am a big fan of liquid dessert, a nice, cool glass of Moscato D’Asti just so hit the spot.
If you’re still doubting that the best pizza in the U.S. of A. is to be found in the Long Beach area, try for yourself. You will be impressed.
Michael’s Pizzeria is located at 5616 E 2nd St on Naples Island in Long Beach. Call 562-987-4000.
By: Jose Martinez.
Photography courtesy of: Michael’s Pizzeria