- Terelle Jerricks
By Terelle Jerricks
When you ask a man who has been making pizza and Italian cuisine for as long as Frank Buono has, you’re bound to get answers that are at times bellyaching funny but always enlightening.
Random Lengths caught up with the restaurateur a couple of day before he unveiled his fruittidde marde pizza March 30. This is a seafood pizza that combines a spicy red and a white sauce wit shrimp, scallops, and clams.
“It’s a high end pizza but for seafood lovers it’s going to be hit,” he said.
Buono actually has rolled this pizza out before in his menu some years ago. Playing the part of PT Barnum of Italian cuisine, he said he put the pizza back in the safe, “because we create excitement that way.”
Buono’s Pizzeria menu has long ago expanded to incorporate a fuller variety of Italian cuisine, but it’s the pizza that has gained international currency, with locales from South East Asia to South America putting their own local spin on the pie. But Buono will be the first to tell you that not every pizza pie are alike.
“I just got back from New York and had many many pizzas, including going to the famous Lombardis in Little Italy,” Buono recounted from his recent business trip. “I must say, including the guests I was dining with, we all agreed that Buonos was better.”
Pop culturally speaking, places like Philadelphia, Brooklyn or some specific New York neighborood where locals would swear the modern pizza was created, but never duplicated, didn’t, at least in Buono’s mind, meet the Buono standard.
“I didn’t find any of the things that people rave all that great,” Buono admitted. “We were in New York, Brooklyn, we were in Philadelphia, I didn’t try any pizza in Philadelphia, … The pizza was good but not great and none of it reach the level of Buono’s pizza in my opinion and the people I was traveling with.”
When Buono went to Italy, he had the experience of tasting pizza that was more ridiculously awesome than the next.
“It was between the traditional pizza margarita which is my favorite which is just plain pizza,” Buono explained. “Prosciutto and shaved parmesan cheese and arugula drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. That just made me want to kill myself it was so good. And it was pizza all over Naples and even Rome.”
Buono’s taste buds aren’t entirely Buono-centric and found a few pizzerias in the Los Angeles area that rank among the best.
“I like California Pizza Kitchen,” he said. “They have good product. There are some pizzeria’s in LA, like Pizzeria Mozza in the Wilshire … There are some great pizza restaurants that are higher end in Los Angeles.”
Despite the varieties of pizza pies that are out there, Buono remains a traditionalist who rarely deviates from the criteria of being authentically Italian. But some deviations like chicken ranch are certainly not authentic Italian. The ingredients must be locally sourced and the heart of every recipe has been handed down from generation to generation.
At Buono’s, the pizza evolves as a result of minute experimentation that just happens in the kitchen from working with the ingredients that already there.
Buono cited the fan favorite pizza with eggplant as its main ingredient, the Pizza Giorgio, as an example.
“We make eggplant parmesan,” Buono explained. “We already have eggplant that we’ve already prepared which is time intensive and labor intensive. So if you had to make just that one ingredient for a pizza topping, it’s just not practical,” he explained.
With the combination of thinly sliced eggplant, sauteed garlic, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil, and perhaps a bit of Buono magic, a signature pizza was created.
Buono counts the Pizza Giorgio is their number one signature pizza of their masterpiece series. The Pizza Andrea a close second, a Mediterranean chicken pizza, that is sauceless.
Buono places a high premium on freshness and simplicity. He noted that his personal favorite pizza was one that was plain with a thin crust. Buono’s idea of plain pizza is a thin crust with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. He described the crust made at the restaurant as being between thick and thin, but his favorite is thinner than flat bread.
Buono insist there’s no way to market it because it’s so plain.
“I like it paper thin, as thin as a tortilla. So thin that I have to bake the crust twice,” he explained.
He would bake the crust for 30 seconds while popping all the bubbles that come up; pull it out of the oven; then put a little bit of tomato sauce on there and sprinkles just a little bit of cheese, and the sauce would have extra basil in it and extra chili flakes and drizzle a little of the remainder of the sauce with the extra basil and add a little more cheese then bake it one more time for three or four minutes.
Buono notes that the crust is so thin that it would burn quickly. But then again, he loves that burnt little charred taste at the bottom.
“If I were to die and eat in heaven, that’s what I would eat for the rest of my life, but most people wouldn’t like it,” Buono insists.
This Summer, Buono mentioned he’ll be hosting tasting parties featuring all of the restaurant’s pizzas, from the traditional to gourmet.
“Everyone will be sitting together tasting everything,” he explained. He also said there will be an Italian night, “where everyone will be sitting at long tables together in family style dining format.”
Appetizers will be brought out on big serving trays and people will freely help themselves to all the starters. He noted that this will be an opportunity showcase their pizza but out also their entire menu, all with live entertainment with Italian singers.