Michele Iuliano is a man with a golden touch. He arrived on our shores ten years ago, he didn’t speak English, he didn’t have a college education. What he did have was an amazing hard-work ethic and a belief in himself.
Three years after he arrived, he started Luzzo’s (211 First Avenue between 12th and 13th), the first of his three New York City restaurants. Michele did all the inside work on Luzzo’s himself, picking up discarded objects from the city streets to adorn the walls and ceiling, like the huge wooden wagon wheel above a back table.
At that time Michele made his pizza in the coal-fired oven in the style of Naples, his home town. One day a photographer asked if he could take his picture and a few days later he noticed a crowd outside before he opened his door.
“Aren’t you the man in the photo?” said one soon-to-be-patron holding the NY Post with a double-spread photo of Michele. His next serendipitous moment came with Martha Stewart stopping by for pizza, and inviting him to be on her show.
Luzzo’s just celebrated their seventh anniversary by serving a pizza with toppings representing the seven deadly sins and invited the media in to sample it. The unusual pizza that was only on the menu for a week.
That vegetarian pizza was just fine, but I really liked Luzzo’s Bufala le pizza with san marsano tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala and fresh basil (12-inch, $17), and loved the la quadrata (the square one) with the same ingredients. Both pizzas were finished in the coal-fired oven, the le pizza taking 65 seconds (yes, seconds!) and the la quadrata taking 17 minutes, as its dough was first dried in an electric oven, baked in a gas one and finished in the hot coal one. Although the ingredients were exactly the same, the flavor of the tomatoes was more intense and the crust, cracker crisp.
I recommend a trip to First Avenue to experience it yourself. And if you’re lucky ask to meet Michele — he’s the cute one always smiling!