The restaurant business, with its long hours, razor-thin margins, and high failure rate, is brutal; the pizza business is positively Darwinian. You start by fighting the inborn regional prejudices and nostalgia of every customer. “This is okay, but it ain’t New Yawk [or New Haven, or wherever] pizza!” And the competition is absurdly fierce: consider Mangia Pizza, which competes for my local business in the South End with 50 other pizzerias within one measly mile. Most of these deliver; I could walk a pie home in 10 minutes from fully a dozen.
So it’s important to find a niche. Mangia channels a little bit of Naples with a thin crust and simple sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, but it doesn’t hew to the canon the way Gran Gusto does. Its stone oven is electric, not wood-fired, and its crusts are made from whole wheat, not highly refined flour. To the traditional fresh basil and mozzarella di bufala, Mangia’s Margherita pizza ($13.95/14-inch; $16.95/18-inch) adds chopped garlic, Asiago, and Parmigiano Reggiano. You could further add a shopping cart full of other fancy toppings ($1.50 each), from pineapple and baby shrimp to broccoli and blue cheese. That’s-a not so Campanian.
The no-sauce Tuscany ($14.95/$17.95) has even less to do with its namesake: it features mozzarella, chopped roasted tomatoes, a drizzle of pesto, basil leaves, chopped walnuts, Asiago, Gorgonzola, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Mercifully, that welter of ingredients is laid on delicately, making for a pretty fine pie, more like a fancy flatbread than an American gourmet pizza. I much prefer this to Yankee-style follies like Steve’s Potato Bacon ($14.95/$17.95): sliced potatoes, mozzarella, bacon, oregano, and Asiago. Mangia offers many ways to overload a lovely, light crust that isn’t sturdy enough for more than one or two add-ons. Jamming on double pepperoni, double sausage, and mushrooms here would be obtuse.
If you like your pizza folded, seamed, and made creamy with a little ricotta filling, order a calzone ($8.95). Mangia also offers some big, passable green salads ($6.95–$8.95) built mainly on romaine lettuce or baby spinach. With seating limited to a few patio tables, the advent of cooler weather means you’ll have to get delivery or take your order home. But if you keep the topping load down, you’ll see why Mangia has managed to thrive in its ridiculously crowded market. In this particular jungle, a really thin, really good whole-wheat crust is differentiator enough.
Mangia Pizza, located at 537 Columbus Avenue, in Boston, is open Monday through Friday, from 4 to 10 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 10 pm. Call 617.267.6600. It also has locations in Brookline, Canton, and Walpole.