It’s very unassuming. It’s a tiny place, just a table or two inside, nothing glamorous. It was closed when I approached but it was almost time to open which was fantastic because I was beginning to get pangs of hunger just thinking about lunch. As if I willed him to appear, this little white-haired Italian man turns the corner, hobbling a bit but walking quickly to pull back the shutter and open his home away from home. His name is Giovanni and he’s been running this tiny pizza joint, Muzzarella Pizza, for 29 years. I was the first customer that morning and he welcomed me in. “Do you know what kind of pizza, you’d like?” he turned to ask me, before he even flipped the lights on. “Because I’m making everything from scratch and I’ll make what you want first.”
” A margharita” I said, “Excellent choice.” Giovanni concluded as he disappeared into the back. “Just have a seat, it’ll be a few minutes.” he called from the back of the kitchen. I began to smell the aroma of bread, tomato sauce, garlic and I figured I’d sit there forever to try this pizza. He reminded me of a male Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls. Sassy and tough yet sweet at the center, tiny and a bit fiesty to boot.
I watched him layer the chopped tomato on the foccacia bread, the olive oil, the ‘muzzarella’ and place it in the large oven. He then came around the corner. “You live here?” he asked. “I don’t, I’m visiting from Missouri – Kansas City.” “Ah, you know, I think I’ve been there, can’t remember what for.” he shrugged. We talked for a bit, he told me about his life and the pizza and Italy and his sauce; it’s amazing how much intel I got about him in a mere ten minutes. He mozied on back to check on the pizza which was already making me salivate. It had to be done by now, I summized. I was right, he began to take out the fluffy, tomato-ey, garlic-y, pizza and I began to take photos of it with my camera. “Hey, you wanna buy a franchise? I bet Kansas City could use a Muzzarella pizza.” “I mean, I’m sure they could but so could I right this minute.” It smelled amazing and though it wasn’t made just for me, it felt like it was. “Two slices please.” I requested and they were piping hot and fresh out of the oven. “Hey, uh, would you mind sending me those photos? I could jazz up the internet a bit with that.” he said. “Of course, yes, I will. I hope you like them.” He came around the corner and took a look, “Hey, my pizza looks great on camera!” he smiled. “It tastes pretty amazing too.” He laughed and disappeared around the corner again. I could hear him beginning to make other pizzas as well. The dough was crispy and crunchy on top but soft in the middle, just as foccacia should be. The sauce was balanced, fresh and topped with fresh basil, chunks of tomato and of course, lots of gooey cheese. In my first bite, I got all the flavors and damn, G, you can make pizza for me ANY day. I was thrilled I ordered a second slice.
If you read the reviews on Yelp, I’ll admit, they’re mixed. Many locals RAVE about the lasagna pizza and I whole-heartedly believe them. I loved my Margharita pizza and went back a couple times that week for more. When you’re in the city, there are millions of options, right? Sometimes you gotta take a chance at a hole-in-the-wall joint from a little Italian man who decided to put pizza on foccacia bread (which is now the only kind of pizza I want) and maybe earn a living doing it. Many people say it’s great for a drunk slice, others say it’s an East Village staple. For me, I’ll always stop by Giovanni’s and give it a go. Maybe it’s about the feeling you get when you’re somewhere, your attitude at the time. I was so elated to be in my favorite city, fresh pizza on its way to me, having a unique and funny conversation with Giovanni and hell, maybe that influenced my experience but I don’t think that was the only reason. I think that slice was memorable to me because it was delicious. I went back in 2018 and it was late at night (drunk pizza confirmed) and it was busy so I didn’t bother Giovanni with a reunion, doubt he’d remember this girl from Kansas City anyway. I was just happy to see him there. As I approached the counter he had a Margharita pizza coming straight out of the oven and it felt like I never left.