“My first pizza memories are of Frankie’s Pizza, a little pizzeria in Westchester that’s wedged between a gas station and a place that sells auto insurance. I spent a lot of nights there with my dad and my brother when I was a little kid. This was back when Miami’s pizza culture was all New York-style, with gas-powered ovens and lots of red sauce and mozzarella. Frankie’s is still one of my favorites.
“When I was in culinary school and we were learning about pizzas and doughs, I remember telling my professor, ‘I don’t need to learn how to make pizza; I’m going to be a chef!’ Less than a year later, I was working the wood-fire oven station at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, the big brother to Harry’s, and one of the first in the city to do wood-fire pizza. I was making 20 to 30 pizzas a shift. That taught me a lot about fire and how to control it, and it also reconnected me with everything my abuelo taught me about live-fire cooking when I was growing up.
“The real shift in my appreciation for pizza came after we opened Harry’s. We started a pop-up series with visiting chefs, and [Philadelphia chef] Mark Vetri really opened my eyes to the beauty of pizza. That was a huge turning point for me, to understand that pizza is alive, and that no matter how hard we try to maintain consistency, pizza always takes on a life of its own.
“I’m happy to say others in Miami are now making Neapolitan-style pies with a similar eye toward quality. I really like going to Lucali in South Beach for their plain pie. I’m a purist, and the simplicity of Lucali’s menu—the way the ingredients speak for themselves—stands out. I’m not really sure what people outside of Miami think about the pizza down here. I hope that, with places like Harry’s and Lucali and throwbacks like Frankie’s and Casola’s, people will be pleasantly surprised to see that Miami has a real, thriving pizza scene.” —As told to Evan S. Benn