Blog: Dave Mancini


Dave Mancini, 36, is the owner and founder of Supino Pizzeria in Detroit's Eastern Market. Dave was born in Sterling Heights and raised in Troy. He moved to Detroit in 1997 to attend graduate school in physical therapy at Wayne State University. Post-graduation, he practiced physical therapy for seven years and traveled to Italy, where he found the inspiration to start kneading dough instead. Supino Pizzeria takes its name from his father's hometown, a small farming village near Rome.

Dave's favorite food is pig in its various forms.

All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
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Dave Mancini - Most Recent Posts:

Post 5: Gelato!!!

I almost hesitate to write about this because I'm sure I'll be called on this in the future. I made the mistake of telling many customers that I was seeking a liquor license. That started about 11 months ago, but thanks to red tape I'm still saying the same thing now that I was then: "I'll have it in a few months."  (I do actually think it is that close now, but I should probably learn to not predict.)

All of that aside, I'm hoping to begin serving house-made gelati at the pizzeria by summer. I'm on leave from the 14th of March for Sicily (we're closed from then until the 29th, reopening March 30th), the generally accepted birthplace of modern gelato.  Corrado Assenza is considered by many to be the best gelato maker in Italy and he sets up shop in Noto, outside of Siracusa in the southeast corner of the island.  I'm hoping to pick his genius brain for gelato tips as much as possible. The dude is doing black olive gelato – whoa! – and it's actually supposed to taste really good.

Gelaterias are all over the place in Italy, and I punctuate every activity over there with a visit to a gelato stand. Eat lunch, get some gelato, check out the art museum, get some gelato, look at a beautiful church, get some gelato, dinner, get some gelato, sneeze, get some gelato.  It's a great way to live.  The best I ever had was a lemon gelato in the Trastevere district of Rome. It was so intensely lemon flavored and it had little bits of zest in it – just amazing.  

What makes gelato gelato and not just ice cream?  A few things, all meant to intensify flavor. For one, it is made with a large proportion of whole milk instead of cream. Allegedly, this means your tongue is less coated with fat so you can taste better. Less air is whipped into the product, so you've got more density, and again, more intense flavor.  Finally the product is to be served at just below freezing so it's barely melting when you get it, as opposed to the 10 or so degrees that ice cream is held at.  This means less cold, and less dampening of flavor.

So wish me luck, folks.  I'm hoping to have this thing together in the next couple of months.  Thanks everybody for reading. I hope my random thoughts weren't too much of a bore.  Ciao!


Post 4: The Bolognese Rant

The menu at my pizzeria is very simple. It's mostly pizza with a simple salad, two types of pasta, and a dessert.  We make the pasta in house as well. It's a manicotti or cannelloni style, but instead of using pasta sheets we make crespelle (francophones would call them crepes) just like my aunts do. They're filled with either a ricotta-egg-parm blend or bolognese sauce. When I opened I knew I wanted to do bolognese, and do it authentically. It's almost impossible to get an authentic version of the sauce. Just throwing meat into a sauce does not make it bolognese.  In fact, red sauce with meat is more akin to a neapolitan ragu.

The name comes from the town of Bologna in northern Italy.  People in Italy give great weight to food and food traditions. Case in point: properly made tagliatelle, a broad flat noodle, when raw should be 7mm in width, exactly 1/12,270th the height of the town's Asinelli tower (that's 319 feet, just to save you from doing the math).  The people take their namesake sauce just as seriously, so seriously in fact that the recipe is framed and hung on the wall of the town hall! One thing that recipe does NOT include is a lot of tomato.  Just a bit of tomato paste.  The sauce is NEVER red – it's rich and concentrated, slowly simmering coarsely ground meats with a bit of pancetta and some mirepoix in wine, stock and dairy, either whole milk or cream.  When it's done it is a light orange color. This makes for an awesomely soul-satisfying winter meal.

I've had some good meat sauces that are red, I just wish restaurants would name them accurately. Bolognese is to pasta sauce what the Beatles are to pop music.  So stop calling that Lady Gaga song 'I Am the Walrus'.  It's just not the same thing.


*Supino's will be closed from March 14-29 so Dave can do some R&D in Italy.


Post 3: I gotta say, it was a good day (sorry, Cube)

A couple of months ago on an unseasonably lovely Monday, I wandered into Curl Up & Dye on Cass north of Willis in Midtown (helping Detroiters look like Detroiters awesome tagline from this fantastic little salon's Myspace page) for my semiannual haircut without an appointment (because that's sort of how I operate). I was told I would have a 45 minute wait. So how to entertain myself for a bit?  

Then it occurred to me that this is one section in Detroit that has newly established the sort of 'walkable neighborhood
retail density' that we all get geeked about.  Just around the block on Canfield I went to grab a beer at Motor City Brewing Works.  On my way there, I passed two stores that, like my business, are closed on Mondays. But most days of the week, you can check out beautiful, locally crafted art and gifts and vintage clothes at City Bird, or fantastic design elements for your home, curated by the eminently tasteful Claire at the Bureau of Urban Living next door.  I finished my beer and cruised around the block, past the Avalon Bakery (their bear claw pastries are the greatest) on to Goodwell's, a natural foods store par-excellence, and home to one of the tastiest avocado sandwiches you'll ever sink your teeth into.  Now I'm a carnivore, but this is one vegan meal that can satisfy my people.  I still had four minutes left as I walked by another anchor of this neighborhood, the Spiral Collective, and got back just in time to get a great haircut while listening to the owner drop the occasional f-bomb, one of the particular charms of this place.

So, I was really excited – and this is not even mentioning a soon-to-open, artisanally-minded Corridor Sausage Co. (did I mention I'm a meat eater?), rumors of another brewery in this same block, and a take-out branch of Slow's (um, did I mention my carnivorous habits?)

I love living here – I can walk to the Burton Theater from my home, see an always interesting, sometimes disgusting, sometimes funny-as-hell film and then discuss it with the guys who own the place – have you ever discussed a film with Mr. Loeks?  Me neither (yeah, I know he doesn't still have a partnership in the Star theaters, but it's the only name I could come up with – which strengthens my point further!)

At the initial conception of my pizzeria, I knew I wanted to open in Detroit – I had lived in the city for about four years at that point and it was becoming clear what people now mean when they say Detroit is like a small town in a big city.  I saw the same people at my local haunts all of the time and I knew the guys who owned establishments that I frequented.  This is night-and-day for me – I grew up in Troy, which is essentially a 6x6 mile grid populated by strip malls, office complexes, and residential subdivisions.  It's come full circle for me – I love that I know many of my customers by name.

The even better news is that I continually hear about exciting new projects in development.  Keep an eye out for Astro Coffee. You may have caught a small feature on bean-brewing genius Dai Hughes in a prior issue of Model D.  That's one of nine or 10 great ideas that I've been hearing about in recent months.  
I know Detroit is still a bit rough around the edges, but it's like the mole that accentuates the beauty of the model.  OK, so there's a whole lot of moles – but the model is only getting hotter! 


*Supino's will be closed from March 14-29 so Dave can do some R&D in Italy

Post 2: Otto's Pizza

In 1862, then-Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck was negotiating the unification of Germany and delivered a speech making the point that it would take military strength, 'blood and iron', not sweet talk, to effect change.  The phrase was originally mistranslated as 'blood and eggs' and this would lead to the unlikely circumstance of Otto having a pizza named for him, the Bismarck (thanks, Josh Elling, for the history consultation).  

It's a pizza with a runny-yolk egg on top.  Our version also has prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, but the egg is the real point.  And we don't have ground beef as a topping.  I mention these things because food should be delivered by someone who understands it.  I understand sunny-side up eggs – delicious, rich, unctuous fattiness.  Mmmmm.  Gray, sauteed ground beef?  Not on the menu – I cannot stomach ground beef on pizza.  It doesn't fit. It works in meatballs, meatloaf (as I write this I'm considering the possibility of a meatloaf pizza), and I love a good, slightly bloody burger.  But to just sauté it with a little seasoning and throw it on a pie?  I don't get it.  So I don't know how to make it taste good.  And I don't put it on my pizzas.  

The gratifying thing for me is that many people are catching on to the egg as a topping. In recent months, the orders for the Bismarck pizza are increasingly frequent.  We crack them raw on top of the pie just before it goes into the oven – one to a small, four to a large.
 
That's another beautiful thing about pizza – if you have good crust you can try just about anything on top of it.  This past weekend I tried shaved, roasted celery root as a topping. I think it worked, based on customer response. Swiss chard pizza was good, the seasonal butternut squash has a cult following, and potato pie has been pretty well received.  I may just have to try that meatloaf thing. It's still stuck in my head.




*Supino's will be closed from March 14-29 so Dave can do some R&D in Italy

Post 1: I'd Rather Stretch Dough than Stretch Patients

You've probably heard it a million times if you've entertained the idea of opening your own business – to be successful, find something you're passionate about and figure out how to make it profitable, or at least to foot the bills you will generate. There was truth in that for my case, but I found two other valuable things that I feel get less mention – flexibility and determination.  The latter may be fueled by passion but it is still a separate concept.

I was comfortable in a position as a physical therapist prior to my new gig as a pizza guy, but I was bored.  It's a good way to make a living but it just did not light my fire.   I would go home and read recipes and knead dough while colleagues of mine studied therapy journals. There's some irony in the fact that the restaurant jobs I secured to pay the bills during grad school were the genesis of my eventual career change.  

Soon after graduating I took a trip to my father's tiny hometown of Supino, outside of Rome, where my cousins make delicious pizzas in backyard wood-burning ovens that are as ubiquitous there as grills are here.  I spent the next seven years, while practicing as a full-time physical therapist, perfecting pizza recipes.  My recipe evolved and is now quite different from the focaccia-like crust of the Supinesi pies, but I still named the pizzeria for the town because it was the real inspiration.  I have always been partial to a thin crust (I hesitate to use New York-style as a term here – some New Yorkers have told me my crust is too thick, others say too thin.  Let's just say my crust is thinner than most of the ones you see around here.)  It took a long time with lots of frustration, toil, frustration, swear words, tears, and frustration, but eventually I got it right.  

And then I had to start looking for space – this took as much determination. You just have to keep looking and keep trying. If you have your feelers out you're going to find the right fit.  In my case this is where flexibility came into the picture. It would cost me 30 grand to install new hoods and ductwork for a wood-burning oven in an otherwise ideal space.  $!%$#^@#$^!!! That was not financially feasible for this son of a practical Southern Italian and a thrifty Scot.  

Back to the drawing board with the dough, I had to figure out how to make an exceptional crust in a gas oven.  So it was a few months more of work and consultation.  That few months doesn't sound like a lot relative to seven years, but it was one of the toughest moments of my life, having a day job, trying to get a space in order to do business, AND reworking the product that was the cornerstone of the concept.  

I work a lot of hours at the business now, but it all seems like gravy compared to that time.  And a last note to those folks who are a little more well-traveled. If you think it's too late to act on a dream, consider Julia Child. She was 36 when she first ate a meal in France, and was 49 when she first made any money in connection with food, as one of three to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Now she's the eternal 'It' girl of continental cuisine in the U.S!  It's never too late.




*Supino's will be closed from March 14-29 so Dave can do some R&D in Italy.


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