Supino Pizzeria, barely a year old, is all the rage. It took less than six months to establish itself as a contender for our Best Gourmet Pizza honors, coming in second among our readers' picks. And if it was busy then, it's swamped now, after a favorable review in a local daily paper, confirming the buzz about Dave Mancini's Eastern Market pizzeria. The sauce is well-spiced, and the bread is the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy. And the cheese blends kick up the flavor more than using plain ol' mozzarella. Cornering Dave is not easy. He makes nearly all the pies himself, right in the shop.
Metro Times: Let's start at the beginning. When did you start making pizza?
Dave Mancini: I started in 2000. I had a girlfriend on a clinical in my graduate school physical therapy program. I told her I could make pizza and I did. I made pizza out of the box, and I let her believe I made it from scratch. Because she was out of state, I had a month to research how to make pizza from scratch. I started doing that, and by the time she came back, I could make a serviceable pizza. That kinda got this whole ball rolling, which was actually kind of fun figuring out the different ways to do this. Soon after that, I went back to Italy for sort of a family reunion. My cousins, aunts and uncles all went, my folks. It really got me thinking why the pizza there was so much better than what we have here. They're still using flour, water, yeast and salt. Why does it taste completely different? They're not using any different ingredients as far as I can tell. Different flours do make different dough. They use a soft "00" flour for a Napoletana-style pizza. We use high-gluten for East Coast-style pizza.
MT: How does your pizza differ from others in Detroit?
Mancini: I always felt that there's not a good, thin-crust-style pizza in Detroit. There are enough thick-crust places around town that are doing it very well. I love Buddy's Rendezvous. I don't feel the need to duplicate that, but I don't think there's enough thin-crust-style around here. Tomatoes [Apizza] does a good job. I tried to get a job with Mike Weinstein. He wanted me to sign a non-compete clause for the entire state of Michigan. I wouldn't do it. I said, ‘I'll try to figure this out by myself.' He's an interesting guy, a very committed, passionate guy. I did not want to get into all that. I basically did a lot of Internet research, a lot of book research. I did a lot of experiments at home in the year 2000. I don't know if I ever thought originally I'd open a pizzeria. I went to school for physical therapy, but I became more and more interested, and it became almost a personal challenge, like, how could I make this pizza as good as what I want? Up until the day I opened here, I made it every day. I make pizza here. There's still that need in me.
MT: Do you eat it anymore?
Mancini: I do, especially when I do the specials. I haven't been doing the specials lately. I've been so busy that I'm just trying to keep up with what's on the menu. I would do special slices. It's starting to level off again now, thank God, to a manageable level.
MT: Do you make every pizza?
Mancini: Not anymore. I finally stopped because I couldn't keep doing that. I actually got sick a couple of weeks ago. I exhausted myself after that Free Press article came out. We were so busy all the time. Saturday I dropped a can of sauce. I was weak, exhausted. I told my guys I was thinking about closing. A couple of guys had made one or two pizzas. I said, ‘OK, guys. Tell people it's going to be a long wait. Take however much time you need. I'm going downstairs.' I've got a cot down there. I went down and slept all day. They did well.
MT: Do you think that you're Chris Bianco, the pizza legend in Phoenix, the guru who makes every pizza, as well as the dough and the cheese, by himself?
Mancini: No, I don't think I'm Chris Bianco. No. Chris is the nicest, most down-to-earth guy. I went to meet him last year. His pizza is true Napoletana, the closest thing to what I had when I was in Italy in Campagna. He's the most gracious guy in the world. When I told him I was opening a pizzeria, he would not let me go. And he makes every pizza. While he was making pizza, he's talked to me for 15 minutes. People there wait three hours for a pizza.
MT: What brought you to the Eastern Market?
Mancini: It was available. It worked out better than I ever would've imagined. I wanted to be in Detroit for sure. I like the idea of city living. I live in Detroit about a half-mile from here so I can walk to work if I feel like it. Ben and Jason, who own the Russell Street Deli next door, own the building. It used to be Flat Planet Pizza. The kitchen was set up. All I had to do was strip and polish the floors and get a new pizza oven, a minimal investment. They're good neighbors to have. They were handing out my menus with their carry-outs. I didn't realize how good this area was. I've got good traffic here all week long.
MT: What are your favorite foods?
Mancini: Slow cooked food. I'm all about braising and barbecue. I like just about any shoulder.
MT: Someone said that there have been single women asking about you, at least in part due to your local fame. Any truth to that?
Mancini: That's good to hear. [laughs] You can say that I am single. I hope they're ready for someone who's very busy.
Supino Pizzeria is at 2457 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-7879.Jeff Broder does this interview column for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org