Home / Celebrity / Lucali Pizza Miami Beach: An Exclusive Tasting and Interview With Mark Iacono

Lucali Pizza Miami Beach: An Exclusive Tasting and Interview With Mark Iacono

lucali pie

The amazingly blistery crust at Lucali Miami.

Arguably the best pizza in New York, Lucali is a neighborhood joint known for its charred crust and famous regulars like Beyonce and Jay-Z. New Yorkers wax poetic about Lucali’s perfect sauce to cheese ratio and that oh-so-thin crust. In fact, customers wait hours to get a table at the Brooklyn eatery, where cash is king and wine is BYO. Recently, there have been rumors that Lucali’s perfectionist owner, Mark Iacono, is taking his pie-making skills to South Beach.

Well, the wait is over! Last night, I was invited to a friends and family tasting of the South Beach version of Lucali. Situated smack in the Sunset Harbour neighborhood, this cozy spot is serving straightforward, delicious pizza: bubbly, thin crust; savory tomato sauce; and a soft layer of stretchy mozzarella cheese. It all works! The pizza isn’t oily, heavy, too saucy or loaded down with gimmicky ingredients. It’s actually so light that I had three slices last night, which is a record for me!

ant lucali

Old School Brooklyn: Antonio Misuraca and Mark Iacono.

Iacono has partnered up with his cousin Dominic Cavagnuolo to run the Miami location of Lucali. Mark has even entrusted Dom with the secret sauce recipe, which no one knows. The Brooklynite actually makes the sauce batch by batch each day in order to keep the ingredients and mix his own proprietary blend. In fact, no matter how much I asked, he wouldn’t reveal any details.

“It’s old school Brooklyn, New York-style pizza,” Mark says. “Places that I grew up with having pizza back in the day. There was that old man making pizza fresh every day. Pizza sells itself. Everybody loves pizza. Then people started using cheaper cheese and cheaper sauce because they figured it was still going to sell. They look at it as more of a business. For me, I love the look on someone’s face when they bite into my slice for the first time.”

Dom actually traces the authenticity of the pizza back to their grandmother in Brooklyn: “We know what pizza is supposed to taste like. Every Sunday our grandmother made a fresh pot of sauce and we would hover around the oven. We would have a little plate and piece of Italian bread waiting to dip the sauce in. We couldn’t wait to taste the sauce. It was blistering hot but we ate it. I still have those fond memories. It’s like yesterday to me. We all sat around the table, 30 of us, every Sunday. Grandma’s gone, but the tradition moves forward.”

In fact, Lucali’s pizza and calzones do feel like an artisanal experience. The dough is hand-rolled in front of customers, using a wine bottle to thin it out. The sauce is perfectly ladled out, followed by a smattering of hand-grated mozzarella cheese and huge bunches of fresh basil. Then it is paddled over to the 800-degree brick pizza oven, where it is cooked for just under two minutes. The pie emerges hot, bubbly and aromatic and straight to the table. It is best consumed immediately. Save the matzo-thin crust for last.

lucali dough

Hand-rolling the pizza dough with a wine bottle.

Everything at Lucali is made by hand, and the ingredients are simple and garden fresh (from the basil to the artichokes). I took a tour of the kitchen and there’s not much there because Mark doesn’t believe in cutting corners with prepping before service. There are no vats of processed cheese or frozen dough. “This isn’t fast food,” Dom emphasizes. “There’s a lot of love and passion that goes into it. That’s part of the greatness.”

Miamians are just going to have to get used to waiting for their pizza, though. “I’m noticing that the people down here want their food right away,” Mark observes. “Sit, relax, enjoy the music and wine.” The only concession to locals is the addition of salads on the menu, which will give customers something to graze on as each pie is made to order. “We’ll never add appetizers and pasta,” Mark promises. “My places have a restaurant feel but they are pizzerias. You want pasta, there are so many great Italian restaurants. But we are a pizzeria.”

Since Mark is known as a perfectionist—he doesn’t even consider his Brooklyn location officially open yet—he has been experimenting with his dough due to some of the Miami elements like the water, temperature and humidity. “It is different down here,” he admits. “The water is different, but it’s not something you can’t work with. The temperature, the humidity. It’s just a question of making adjustments. I’m making dough every six hours to perfect it.” He attributes Miami’s bad rep for pizza to the fact that so many terrible pizzeria owners moved here in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “They couldn’t make it in New York so they came down here,” he says. “They saw opportunity and you got stuck with those guys.”

lucali slider

Another glimpse of the pizza!

That certainly isn’t the case with the Miami Lucali, which still doesn’t have an opening date. The 70-seat restaurant (more than double the size of New York) is clearly a work in process, although I did ascertain that they will be open for dinner first before tackling lunch. There’s also a wine and beer bar next door with an emphasis on unique, low-production vineyards. Lucali, and the adjoining wine bar, will definitely become the hot spot for transplanted New Yorkers. At dinner last night, Antonio Misuraca, who grew up with Mark, noted that he felt like he was back in Brooklyn, in fact.

lucali oven

The brick pizza oven heats up to 1,200 degrees.

Dom concurs: “This was meant to mimic what Lucali looks and feels like back home. We wanted to duplicate that and give it a Miami feel, while staying true to our roots. Lucali is all about authenticity. This [Sunset Harbour] neighborhood was the closest we could get to replicating that feeling. That’s why we’re here.”

As for Mark, who heads back to Brooklyn on Friday, he is still improving his pizza. One gets the sense that he will continue to tinker for the next few years, despite the fact that the entire crowd was raving last night. “We’ve had pies that have been right up to par with New York,” he acknowledges. “It’s just about keeping it consistent and authentic.” Amen to that!

lucali mozz

Fresh mozzarella is hand-grated seconds before it goes into the pizza oven.

9 comments

  1. Anthony Pellicane jr

    Im originally from new york , HORRAY !!! If you need help with product give me a shout , i work for Chefswarehouse and can help you with your product needs , Thanks Tony

  2. WE LIVED AROUND THE CORNER FROM LUCALI PIZZA BROOKLYN, NY AND WE ATE THERE EVERY SATURADAY NITE AFTER CHURCH AND WE LOVED IT. AND NOW WE LIVE IN FLORIDA AND WE ATE IN LUCALI PIZZA MIAMI BEACH, AND IT IS STILL GREAT. CONGRATUALTIONS MARK, WE LOVE YOU, PHYLLIS AND AL

  3. Lisa Santiago-Reneo

    Congrats to 2 old and dear friends Mark and Dominick I am thrilled for you both. Everyone who knew the Iacono’s knew Grandmas delicious sauce I know you don’t serve meatballs but she had the best of those as well. Good Luck you will do awesome. Hey Mark and Dom i will come and visit Lucali’s my next trip to Miami Xoxo

  4. Blasts from the past…..Brooklyn, pizza, HOME….and an old schoolmate, Dominic Cavagnuolo! ALL THE BEST! Maybe you could bring the next Lucali to Charleston, SC!

  5. If the Miami Lucali is anything like the one in Carrol
    Gardens then we hit an out of the park Ebbetts field home
    run. My son is a personal friend of Mark and when we visited Brooklyn about 2 years ago while walking with
    my son and his family we ran into Mark in the neighborhood. My son said
    meet Mark he is opening a Lucali in Miami. Im brooklyn
    born and raised from Bensonhurst. Mark
    is a man of few words and said “Brooklyn Pizza in Miami”
    I never had a pie in Florida that tasted like Brooklyn
    Pizza. Mark said politely “it will happen I am working on it”. The next night the whole family had pizza and
    calzone in Carroll Gardens. Best my wife and I ever tasted.
    My son flew in from Brooklyn for the private tasting
    party. The next day he called and he said its the exact same
    thing as Lucali in Brooklyn. My wife and friends are going driving down from Ft Lauderdale to Lucali in my Miami soon.

    All the best Mark,

    Sincely, Mel Dubin

  6. All the best my pizza brother. I wish I was there.

    Ciao,

    Paulie Gee

  7. That will be $68. Please; not including the tip!

    Went there last night and sat in a beautifully lit restaurant with no menu and was greeted by well trained staff! That was the extent of the positives. We ordered a Pizza; half plain and half Pepperoni and shallots (we were told that the pizza was 20″ so we planned on taking the plain side home to the kids).

    Just a little back ground; been in Miami for 44 years and South Beach for 26; was in the food service business for over 20 years both on ownership and food distribution and was laughing at what the waiter’s response to my question as to why there was easily an eight inch crust that had no ingredients on it , “I asked the chef the same question the first time I saw our pizza and he said this is what we serve in Brooklyn.” OK!

    They boast about a 20″ pizza but the obnoxious size of the crust; leaves you with a 12″ pizza with ingredients and the rest a crispy cracker needing olive oil to consume.

    Here’s the kicker; the bill came to $68; for two glasses of chianti and the pizza. $28 for the pizza and a couple of bucks for each additional ingredient, remember we had it on half ($32 total) and $20 for the wine. No wonder they do not have a menu; most people would get up and walk out if they saw the price before they ordered.

    I know what your thinking, just suck it up and don’t go back if you can’t afford it; we eat at all the best restaurants on Miami Beach, a few nights a week and never have a problem with paying even the astronomical if the food is great.

    Here, the pizza crust from tip to the beginning of the crust was limp (we only had pepperoni and shallots not a lot of wet vegetables), not like any other wood or coal fire pizza restaurants where you can hold the pizza; the dough was wet, flavor salty and really nothing special or extra ordinary.

    My thought, is that they came down here hearing they can take advantage of the South Beach diners and charge $38 for a 12″ pizza that may have ingredient costs of $3. Maybe their thought is the only way to make a profit by paying the high rent, labor (including the pizza cook that calls himself a chef (pizza and calzone!, come on chef) is to back into what they are charging us local patrons and see if we will pay it.

    I look forward to sharing my experience of a $38, 12″ pizza story with everyone I know!

  8. Congrats Marc & Dom! Can’t wait to taste!

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