Volume 20, Number 38 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 2 — 8, 2011

Downtown Express photo by Helaina N. Hovitz

Chef Michele Iuliano is primed to become pizza king of Tribeca.

Da Mikele: not just a pizza place

BY Helaina N. Hovitz

Master pizza chef Michele Iuliano is ready to make his mark in Tribeca, and he’s pretty sure that those familiar with his other outposts — Luzzo, in the East Village, and Chelsea’s Ovest — will make a special trip downtown just to visit his new baby.

So far, it looks like Iuliano is right. At 2:30 p.m. on a recent Friday, the place was packed; packed being a relative word in lieu of the recession that has hit all restaurateurs hard.

Da Mikele (a dialectical riff on Iuliano’s first name, which is pronounced MEE-kay-lay) is chic but homey. The tables in front welcome large groups — everyone from the lawyers and judges who walk over from the courts to the 12-member mommy-and-me group that is using the restaurant as a meeting spot. The 21-foot bar comfortably seats about 15, but many more can hang on the outskirts.

“Tribeca is up and coming as an area in the city, and it’s a cool destination spot,” said Iuliano of his 275 Church Street restaurant. “A lot is happening on this side of West Broadway.”

Iuliano is already well-known for his pizza, which is made in an electric oven and takes seven minutes to cook, unlike a wood-burning oven that turns out softer, chewier pizzas in about half the time. The thinner and crunchier crust is also easier on the stomach, because the yeast in pizza dough cooked in a wood oven can ferment in the diner’s stomach long after digestion.

Celebrity fans include Ashton Kutcher, Mandy Moore, and Ivanka Trump, who have all dined in the Tribeca eatery over the past two weeks; Trump reportedly called it the best pizza in town — but don’t call Da Mikele a pizza place.

“This is the first authentic Italian pizza down here, but I wouldn’t describe this as a pizza place. There’s no comparison to begin with,” said Chiara Carfi, a representative of the restaurant. “It’s more like fine dining, and the pizza is part of a much richer and varied menu.”

A resident of Lower Manhattan for almost a decade, many have been waiting his arrival south of Canal Street. Iuliano is both Executive Chef and Owner, and all of the ingredients are imported from Italy, as well as the furniture.

Michele grew up in his mother’s kitchen back in Naples, and has brought those authentic Italian recipes here to the United States —some with new twists. Other offerings include Al Cono, which is similar to a calzone, but is left open so that the steam doesn’t make its insides soggy. A Frusta, Italian for whip, is similar; the foot-long creation with fillings like ham, hot cherry peppers, and eggplant is also wrapped in homemade pizza dough. His original dishes include the Parmigiana “da Mikele” which is made with potatoes.

Nothing on the menu is more than $22, and most dishes average about $8-12. For the children, they’ve just added a “Menu Bambini” with $6 dishes like Penne Pomodoro. So how is it that Iuliano is able to keep prices so low when he receives up to five deliveries from Italy a day?

“If you offer good food at good prices, you’ll get the business you want, and be able to afford top-notch ingredients,” said partner Tony D’Auiuto. “He’s also been in business for a while.”

According to Iuliano, da Mikele is becoming “the official Italian gathering point in Tribeca,” and bringing a warm, cozy feel to the neighborhood. The eatery has been seeing families in the early evenings, and a slew of children for brunch on the weekends. At about nine, they dim the lights to welcome the late night, “hip, young crowd.” Despite the lounge-like vibe the eatery takes on in later hours, management has decided, for the time being, not to stay open past midnight.

“We’re a restaurant, not a nightclub,” said D’Auiuto. “But if the crowd wants to stay later, we may adjust the closing time.

On weekdays, Da Mikele will host an Aperitivo, or Italian happy hour, from 5-7pm, with free food lining the full bar, and selections of wine to go with them.

Da Mikele is located at 275 Church Street and is open daily from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. For more information call 212-925-8845.

 

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