The rain is heavy when I pull up to Michelangelo's Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida. The dining room is empty at 11:09 a.m., but the glass display case is full. A pizzaiolo wearing a white T-shirt, white apron, and motivated white socks takes my order for stuffed pizza. After putting my slice into the oven to warm, he introduces himself with a heavy New York accent.
Mike Iannucci started working at his cousin's pizzeria in Long Island, New York, when he was 15 and has been in the pizza business in some capacity ever since, bringing his expertise with him when he moved to Florida 30 years ago. He doesn't own Michelangelo's and says he's content with that. He tells me that, from experience, “When you own a restaurant, it's like a baby. You worry about it constantly. I'm much happier this way.”
While he works, the radio in the open kitchen pumps out classic rock and Mike sings along: “We gotta get out of dis place, if it's the last thing we ever do.” His accent is even thicker when he sings.
Mike presses the dough against the marble counter, spinning it into a large circle before sliding it onto a well-floured pizza peel. He alternates layers of meat—pepperoni, meatballs, sausage, ham, salami—with fistfuls of mozzarella cheese. He makes small talk with a regular who's just stepped through the door. “How's it going, Sherry? Did you make it in here dry?” “Not really,” she responds.
Mike chuckles and spins a second dough ball into a circle, which he delicately drapes over the mountain of meat and cheese. He presses it around the edges to seal and, with a dramatic flourish, pinches the center to create a steam vent. After a brush with garlicky oil, he slides the weighty pie into the oven.
When it's done, Mike will let the pie set up overnight before slicing it so that the filling doesn't run out. He steps back and admires his work. “It's like making pottery. When it comes out of the kiln, it's like “WOW!” Of course, it also doesn't hurt that I'd like to eat it.”