If all the pizzerias of Buenos Aires got together there would surely be a greasy slice for every resident of the city. Waltz along cualquier cuadra of our metropolis and you’ll surely find a place slinging pies for a bread and cheese obsessed band of followers. They range in all creeds and colors, whether it be the neatly tiled eateries with waiters in white frocks or the stand up service hole-in-the-walls with too much attitude. One type of pizzeria has, however, been sorely lacking: a genuine Italian joint. Why you ask? Let’s take it from the top.
The story begins in the year 1893. A Genovese baker by the name of Agustín Banchero owned a humble panadería named Riachuelo together with his son, Juan. Hunger struck one fine day in this small storefront located on Olavarría street in the working class Italian port neighborhood of La Boca. A dry piece of leftover focaccia would not suffice for young Juan, and so he added a bit of cheese, melted it up, and took a bite of the world’s first fugazzetta, the slice that launched a thousand pizzerias, or something like that.
For the century and change that followed, the nation’s great pizzeros took Banchero’s direction and swapped out the thin breaded simply topped traditions of their forefathers for a thick crusted pie oozing from the seams with mozzarella. Juan Banchero should be considered a national hero for his contributions. A statue should be erected between Evita and Maradona to wave at the flocks of tourists bused through Caminito. Backroad shrines should be built so people can toss their empty pizza boxes and that weird tracing paper they call a napkin. Or maybe we should all say a little prayer and kiss our fist every time we pass a pizzeria.
So fierce is the loyalty to a thick slice of muzza or napo, that when a genuine Neapolitan pizzeria arrived, many were up in arms.
“If it weren’t for Néstor, this wouldn’t be possible,” begins Diego Fanti, co-owner and chef at Cosi Mi Piace. The Nestor he is referring to is the Néstor Gattorna of Siamo nel Forno. “He really paved the way. The stuff people wrote when he first opened [sic] people were outraged. The pizza was too thin, the ingredients were too simple, how dare he charge so much.”
Siamo nel Forno, of course, is now considered by many to serve one of the best pizzas in the city but the trend has not exactly spread. It wasn’t until earlier this year that a second Neapolitan-style pizza joint opened in the form of international restaurateur Maurizio de Rosa’s San Paolo in Palermo Soho. At the beginning of March, Fanti and his partner Rodrigo Sieiro joined the righteous cause with their Roman-style eatery.
Cosi Mi Piace immediately feels special, like a neighborhood spot you’ve been a regular at for years rather than a place that opened just four weeks ago. The space is grand but feels homey; the familial vibe dwarfs the refurbished warehouse look that helps it to fit right into the Palermo Soho aesthetic. It feels like walking into the home of that eccentric aunt where big dinners are the norm and everyone is welcome. Rightfully so, everyone is family.
Diners are treated like welcomed friends, communal tables rouse chatter amongst neighbors, and family pops in and out to say hello to Fanti and the rest of the crew, including his two and a half year old son. “He doesn’t know many words, but he can definitely say pizza.” A long L-shaped marble bar divides the room, separating the mortals from the celestial red-tiled wood burning oven, giving everyone a front row seat to the white aproned cooks flattening dough with a rolling pin before topping and tossing it into the oven to bake for a slim ninety seconds.
“It all began with the oven, and the rest is pretty simple,” explains Fanti. The Buenos Aires native spent eight years in Italy where he initially found work in a family-run pizzeria called La Coccinella, and spent the first three months eating a diavola everyday. That same pizza — topped with spicy Italian sausage — is amongst a menu that features a shortlist of recipes imported from his time working in Rome. Dough ferments for 24 hours and the simple flour and water mixture creates a crispy bite that can support more ingredients than the softer Neapolitan variety. The sauce is a simple three ingredients: Roma tomatoes, olive oil and salt. It is spectacularly pure tasting.
Antipasti, like the uncharacteristically hard and slightly sour goat brie and crispy focaccia, keep tradition alive. Daily specials, like last week’s blood sausage, poached egg and green apple happily deviate from the norm.
A budding hydroponic garden on the roof grows lettuce, tomato, basil, oregano, green onion and broccoli, “For what?” I ask, “For the pizza, of course,” Fanti responds, surprised by my disbelief. The rest of the ingredients are sourced from an organic farm in La Plata. The upstairs garden is both a financial decision, cutting out all the logistical middlemen, and an ecological one. It takes 1/10 the water to produce a plant than it would on a traditional farm, and eliminates the waste that is integral to manufacturing and shipping food. And, in the words of Fanti, “It’s nice to know where our food comes from.”
Although the place buzzes with an exciting new energy, it still feels comfortably worn-in. In a city that sometimes feels defiant of alteration as if tradition was a royal decree, Cosi Mi Piace is set to carve a place for itself. At the bar there is a table setting for everyone, epicureans and purists alike.