Fans of good pizza will go a long way for baked dough, cheese and tomato sauce. And right now, South Florida pizzzavores are flocking to Lucali, tucked away in an industrial-looking storefront in Miami Beach. The first Lucali opened in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, N.Y., where owner Mark Iacono counts Jay-Z and Beyoncé among his regulars. Six and a half years after the restaurant opened, diners still line up out the door ahead of the 6 p.m. opening. Not bad for a guy who spent most of his career building and installing high-end kitchen counters.
Iacono, 46, quietly opened the Miami Beach Lucali in February with his cousin Dominic Cavagnuolo as his partner. At 60 seats, the Florida restaurant is twice the size of the Brooklyn location.
The New York restaurant is housed in an old candy store that Iacono — and his father before him — grew up with. The Miami Beach restaurant is in a former dry cleaning factory that was gutted for Lucali. So far, it has no sign outside. The chalkboard and menus both say "grand opening coming soon," despite the restaurant's having been open for three months.
Wooden floors were added, and so was a huge wood-burning pizza oven. At night, the dining room is dimly lit with candles, and you can watch guys in white T-shirts rolling out dough on the wide marble using empty wine bottles instead of rolling pins.
The mismatched furniture, the candlelight and the cement walls give Lucali a rustic charm that's a perfect match for the rough-hewn pizza that's delivered piping hot to your table.
A plain eight-slice pizza costs $24. That's a lot of money until you realize that Lucali delivers a truly handmade pie. Three employees — one rolls the dough, one makes the pizza, another bakes it — are involved in creating every pizza.
The dough takes a full day to proof. Since February, they've worked to perfect their crust — and oven times — to match South Florida's humidity. The dough take two days to proof in New York. Every pizza is topped with buffalo mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano and low-moisture mozzarella. Garlic and basil can be added for no charge. Other toppings cost $3 each: all-beef pepperoni, onions, shallots, peppers, hot peppers and portobello mushrooms. Order four toppings and the rest are free. It's $8 for the stem-on imported Italian artichoke hearts. Every pizza is scattered with fresh basil. The house-made pizza sauce is neither too garlicky or overseasoned. If you want extra sauce, they'll bring you a deep bowl of what mights best be described as Italian soul food.
Lucali's pizzas are close to perfection. The crust is first crunchy and then chewy. The ends are ever so slightly charred, but never burnt. Unlike classic Neapolitan pizza, the toppings never slide off. You can eat it with a fork and a knife or pick it up. Toppings are as fresh as the sauce and the crust.
Aside from pizza, the only other menu item right now is a calzone ($12). The same dough encases a mixture of ricotta, low-moisture mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella and a fourth cheese that Iacono says is a secret.
The restaurant offers a big selection of draft and bottled craft beers and a well-chosen list of inexpensive wines. Lucali will never risk spreading itself too thin. Unlike so many other restaurants with multipage menus and a multitude of cooking methods, Lucali's menu depends entirely on that wood-burning oven and the dough that made Iacono the darling of the pizza world.
There are two desserts: Nutella pie topped with fresh ricotta ($15) and a dessert calzone ($8) with a sweet, honey-ricotta filling. Iacono says he may add a few more sweets, and has already come up with some salad ideas.
But like the proud Italian cooking tradition in which he grew up, Iacono wants the emphasis to be on quality ingredients and preparation. When I asked him if pizza was something that was made in his childhood home, Iacono said Sunday's leftover sauce became eggplant Parmesan on Monday and chicken Parmesan on Tuesday. By Wednesday, his grandmother, Helen Cavagnuolo, would top English muffins with sauce and a few other ingredients. She is his inspiration at Lucali.
"I'm serving my grandmother's English muffin pizza on steroids," he says.
1930 Bay Road, Miami Beach
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Reservations: No reservations; 15-minute call ahead
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Meters and garage