REVIEW: Manicomio is Finally Open and They Have an “Extra Sauce” Button!

Pizza Man Mike Napelitano behind the counter at Manicomio pizza and deli on Biltmore Ave.

Hello, Asheville!

Gosh, I used to start every article I wrote with those two words, and then I stopped that practice because I was writing for more and more of a national audience, as so many tourists were looking into Asheville as a food destination, and seeking reliable local advice on where to eat. This time, however, I am largely addressing my original audience, you, the locals! yay! My compatriots, my friends, my family, the people I see, know, love, and talk to every day. YOU are the people that I’m addressing right now, because you are the very same people who have asked me at least one million times each, over and over again, with a burning curiosity matched only by a feverish desire for a decent fucking slice of pizza, “When the fuck is Maicomio’s going to open?” The answer as you may already know by now, is… tah-dah… IT’S OPEN ALREADY!

Manicomio opened roughly a month ago, and I have eaten their food exactly twice, and it was great both times.

That’s what’s called cutting to the chase. I know you guys basically only care about one thing when it comes to food reviews: “Wuzzitennygoood, Stoo?” So, yeah, I’ve eaten their food twice, and it was fuckin’ good, both times. I’ll give more deets in a min, but first…

Some of you might remember that back in December 2016, I sat down with Manicomio co-owners and pizza veterans Mike Napelitano and Jon Leibowitz, to conduct an interview for Ashvegas [ LINK ]. In this interview, these two smart, savvy, and extremely hard-working gentlemen told me they were hoping to have Manicomio open and dishing out pizza and other Italian delights by March or April of this year, 2017.

That did not happen, and here’s why…

As worldly as they are, Mike and Jon were new to town back in 2016, and so they just didn’t know. What didn’t they know? They didn’t know how fahhhhcking difficult it can be to take-over one of the several ancient, neglected, deteriorating retail spaces in this fucking town, and renovate it for a new business. They didn’t know about the dreaded Asheville build-out, which is like no other in this land, and can potentially lock a prospective business into a perpetual state of “Coming Soon,” trapping it in limbo for months, even years, or sometimes even sapping all the money and energy from hopeful entrepreneurs until there’s none of either left and their dreams are gone.

Thankfully, that did not happen to Mike and Jon, but typical of other experiences in Asheville restaurant build-outs I’ve heard tale of, everything that could go wrong with the building itself, did go wrong. Just in case you don’t know, Manicomio is located in former home of Hannah Flanagan’s stale beer and grimy food emporium, which had been empty and ignored for years, falling deeper and deeper into a state of disrepair until Mike and Jon came along. From a caved-in roof, to a flooded basement full of brand new equipment waiting to be installed, Mike and Jon were, at times, beleaguered with the build-out to say the least.

I ran into Mike a LOT over the Spring and Summer, and he often had a very exasperated expression on his face. I’d ask, “how’s that build-out coming along, Mike?” And looking me straight in the eyes, he might heave a sigh, cock his head, take a deep breath, and start with, “Stuey, I’m telling you…”

I felt for him, and for his young partner Jon, as they took on such monumental tasks as adding a wrap-around porch to North side of the building, digging a hole in the earth to add steps and a door from the courtyard to the basement, and of course installing two massive pizza ovens… which both promptly broke on opening day. . __ . Even when the construction and installation were nearing completion, staffing the new venue with qualified pizza makers and servers during the current labor shortage here in the Asheville food scene was a tough prospect, but hey, Mike is a tough cookie, and Jon seems as solid as a rock, so they pushed through the hard times, and as I write this, their pizza ovens are hot, the kitchen is rockin’ with a sizable and capable staff, the seats are full of pizza fans, and personally, I think Manicomio is going to do great. The food, space, and location are all going to be very popular with Ashevillians and tourists alike in my opinion.

Tracking my own Facebook posts. Interest in Manicomio steadily increased over the 8 months that we all awaited their arrival.

Now, as I said, I’ve only eaten the food twice — once in-house and once to-go — so I can’t write an extensive review, but the things I ate were great, so I’ll review those for now and go back for the rest.

On my first visit I had a meatball sub, while sitting down to lunch with my buddy and fellow Asheville Food Tours guide, Paddy Riels.  Paddy ate a slice. Then a week or so later I purchased three pizzas to-go for a family pizza party. My family members brought different pies from various neighborhood pizza places to the party, and I’ll tell you what: I didn’t even touch the pizza from the other places. Fuck that. The Manicomio pizzas were too fucking good for me to waste even one bite on those other pizzas. Pfff to those pies.

Manicomio pizzas are BIG and flat and thin and greasy as fuck and I mean all of that in a good way.

Where I grew up, a slice of pizza wasn’t properly a slice of pizza unless you could fold that fucker in half length-wise, tip it ass-end-up, and let a shit-ton of grease run out the pointy part onto your plate, to be sopped-up later with crust, because any decent pizza experience is all about eating the fuck out of the crust, dipped into pizza grease, once the cheese and saucy parts of the slice are all gone. Seriously. That’s an important part of my complete culinary ritual of eating pizza.

If you ever see me leaving my crusts behind, it means one of three things:

  1. I’m not actually hungry, but just want to totally pig out on nothing but the saucy-cheesy parts of the pizza…
  2. The crusts fucking suck, or…
  3. There ain’t enough grease on this pizza!

In my world, if there’s some real good grease and some real good crust, then every single bite of every slice gets eaten before a new slice is taken on. You’d better believe that I finished every morsel of crust and every drop of grease of every slice of the Manicomio pizzas I had at my family pizza party, and I noticed that the pies I brought from Manicomio were the most popular pies at the party with the other party people too. I had purchsed a plain cheese, a pepperoni, and a meatball pie. Allll gooood! Manicomio uses aged and shredded mozzarella, BTW, not “fresh” mozzarella, a la Marco’s or All Souls. I like both.

So, the pizza hit all the nails on the head for me, and is exactly like the pizza I grew up eating in Boston, so YAY, but how was the meatball sub? Here’s what I posted on Facebook about it the day I ate it…

At long last… Manicomio pizzeria and deli is finally fucking open and Mikey is behind the counter working the ovens and training a new young pizza maker! Mikey told me the fucking ovens broke on opening day, and he was having other typical woes of first-week BS. I listened and then ate the fuck out of a meatball sub and it was fucking good. Great meatballs, thick spicy sauce, bread by Geraldine’s Bakery. For me, it coulda used a bit more of that great sauce, but I’m a sauce person. I always say, “Sauce me.” Paddy got a slice of cheese pizza, and said it was “New York City good.” He even ate the crust. He told me that he never eats the crust. Me? I’m gonna eat my way through the menu and give Mike my honest feedback along the way. I grew up eating great Italian food in Boston. I know it when I eat it. So far so good. Just a little more sauce, but that’s me. #saucefan

Facebook post from @StuHelmFoodFan

Yes, I admit it, I’m kind of a dick. And when I went into Manicomio a few days later, Mike approached me with the most dead-pan look on his face ever, and said, “Sandwich a little dry for ya, Stuey?” Ha ha ha! I totally copped to it, and Mike assured me, “We have a button on the register that says ‘extra sauce.’ You like sauce, you just ask for extra sauce, and we push a button right on the register for you, Stuey.” Ha ha ha! I wasn’t recording at the time, so I’m paraphrasing Mike here, but that’s pretty much exactly what he said to me, adding that, “You can never get it right with sauce on a sub. You put on too much, some guy says you made the bread soggy, you don’t put on enough, some other guy says…” then he looked at me, pausing just long enough to shrug a little bit, “So we have a button that says, ‘extra sauce.'”

I fucking love this guy.

First of all, he calls me “Stuey.” Secondly, I gotta love anyone who adds an “extra sauce’ button their cash register. That is, in fact, one sure way to win my heart. As I said in my Facebook post, and as I say in real life, “Sauce Me!”

PS – There are no pictures of my food in this post, because the pictures I took of my sub were terrible… and I totally fucking forgot to take pictures of the pizzas. Hey, I was at a party with my dang family. Sometimes even I stop taking pictures of food for an hour or two and just enjoy life. #truestory

BREAK IT DOWN, STU
Upon 2 visits and a limited sampling of the menu I’m giving Manicomio a thumbs-up. I’ll be going back, eating my way through the menu, and keeping you updated of my progress as I devour their offerings.

Manicomio Pizza & Food
Address
: 27 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Hours:
Wednesday 11AM–10PM
Thursday 11AM–10PM
Friday 11AM–11PM
Saturday 11AM–11PM
Sunday 11AM–10PM
Monday 11AM–10PM
Tuesday 11AM–10PM
Phone: (828) 505-1510

One thought on “REVIEW: Manicomio is Finally Open and They Have an “Extra Sauce” Button!

  1. Love the ‘za, been twice and it’s pretty spot on for a long island slice, the sauce is fantastic. Only thing I dislike is the customer flow, you’re waiting in line to order/pay in between the kitchen and seating (so you’ve got customers walking back after paying squeezing between, kitchen staff delivering food, people getting water, or folks going to the john.) Hope they roll out a 2 slice lunch special like Barleys and Favillas.

    Like

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