One of the silver linings of a global pandemic that has permanently shifted the way we live and breathe is the burst of creative expressions that citizens of the world have unleashed. The food industry in specific has been the birthplace of a wide variety of ingenious ideas that might very well be here to stay.
Just in New York, we're treated to top-ranked bakers selling pastries from their apartments, delivery services that operate from Brooklyn kitchens and more. The latest New Yorker to try his hand at these new sorts of operations is Gabriele Lamonaca.
The 30-year-old Italian-born Harlem resident has been cooking and dishing out delicious pizzas from his apartment for about a year now. As eclectic as that endeavor is at its most primary, it is Lamonaca's payment-related decisions that truly catapult his concept to new heights of originality: instead of accepting cash payments, he's asking New Yorkers to hand him homemade food and drink goods in exchange for his pies.
"A year ago I found myself locked at home like everyone else," he says while revealing his life-long dream of eventually opening a brick-and-mortar pizzeria in New York. "I couldn't do anything to move forward with my pizzeria project and I thought the only thing I can do is make the pizza so I opened an Instagram account in the hopes of getting some visibility by the time I open a store."
Although he acknowledges having kicked off the project as a bit of a game, Lamonaca does reveal to have always been the "pizza guy" within his group of friends. "Almost immediately friends and friends of friends saw my pizzas and asked how much they cost and whether I would deliver them," he reminisces. "And I said I'm not sure how much to charge you and it's all a bit uncomfortable so I told them I'd gladly give them pizza in exchange for whatever else they were cooking. Because everyone was stuck at home anyway and everyone has become a Master Chef."
Some of the most memorable finds from his bartering business include jams, homemade pastas, breads and kombucha, bottles of wine ("some people say they don't cook!") and, perhaps most surprisingly, a digital drawing presented alongside a batch of brownies. Recently, the pizza maker also accepted a full-blown photography session in exchange for a pie.
Although most of his customers have found him through his Instagram account, the Italian foodie has recently set up a website, UnregularPizza.com, where folks can request his creations directly. Fair warning, though: Lamonaca only has enough capacity to prepare three or four pies per week, so don't bet on getting your hands on one any time soon, especially considering that—since landing on the media's radar just a few days ago—he is contending with thousands of daily requests.
Some details about his specialty: Lamonaca creates Roman-style rectangular pies that boast a crust that leavens for 96 hours and flour and toppings imported from Italy. Although he sources the mozzarella locally (it's the fior di latte variety from Lioni Latticini) and purchases the tomato sauce from a neighborhood market (he only uses Mutti), his pies are clearly more reminiscent of their authentic Italian counterparts than they are of the sorts of sub-par offerings that have drenched the city in recent years. Unsurprisingly, given the caliber of ingredients used, the home chef estimates each one of his treats to cost him around $25.
Even though he argues that the biggest problem with how American make pizza involves their propensity to let the dough rise for too long, rendering it too heavy to be properly used, Lamonaca does mention his love for a few eateries around town. "One of my favorite restaurants, where us Italians always eat at is Pasta Eater in Union Square," he says. As for pizza, his go-to is Song' E Napule on West Houston.
When he is not working the oven in his apartment, you'll likely find the Italian transplant delivering his fresh creations in Union Square or Times Square ("they're the easiest locations for everyone to meet up," he explains). But, lest you despair about your inability to try one of his pies, worry not: Lamonaca promises that his brick-and-mortar pizzeria is slowly but surely becoming a reality.
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