Tonys Pizzeria is fitted into a former compartment of the Egyptian Theatre in Downtown Boise a little restaurant wearing an appearance and character that would not have looked out of place in 1927. This is not merely window dressing: Tonys is intentionally antique, carried on one mans shoulders, dedicated to craft and the use of high-quality ingredients. The result is refined, elegant pizza: pizza for an anniversary or business lunch.
There is a slim, Manhattan-style streetside patio under the Egyptian eaves, lovely for late-evening dining this time of year. On weekend nights, the bustle of the theater and nearby bars makes the patio feel especially lively (although the near-constant caution warning from the adjacent parking garage should push you to the southernmost of the patio tables). Inside, the restaurant is strikingly smalla tall, bricked-in strip with the kitchen at the back. Bright artwork pops from the walls.
One night, my wife and I were taking in the room and looking out through the vast windows, whispering about what the space might have once been. Suddenly, a photograph appeared at our table, and Tony Vuolo himself, from behind the counter, told us we were now sitting in what had been a row of small retail stores.
Tony is the brother of Gino Vuolo of Ginos Italian Ristorante in Meridian. In a chef coat and jeans, Tony has the look of someone whose restaurant is his universe, comfortably ruffled and a little world-weary, a man who will be here long into the night getting ready for the next day. He engages with the guests throughout the whole space from his station, sometimes in Italian, and will interject during service to make suggestions. He told us how he laid the brick himself in this room, how although there have been opportunities to grow the business by moving somewhere else, he cant even imagine it.
Like placing each brick, he makes each excellent pizza, using ingredients made carefully from scratch: dough that becomes a thin, charred crust on the pizza and calzones; a light sauce referred to on the menu only as San Marzano tomatoes; and handmade sausage and meatballs. Every Naples-style pizza is 13 inches, which can be enough for two people for lunch, but should be paired with a salad or, though it seems an indulgence, even with a calzone for dinner.
A superb first course is the antipasto plate ($13.50): artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, house-roasted red and yellow peppers, thin salami, prosciutto, pepperoni, capers, tomatoes, mushrooms, a bit of arugula, and gorgeous fresh mozzarella cheese. Though the tomatoes were a little wintry, everything else was of exceptional pedigree and thoughtfully chosen. This is served with a plate of crusty focaccia, aromatic with rosemary, and hot from the oven.
We liked this especially as a prelude to a vegetarian pizza, the Dolce Vita ($15.50), with goat cheese, spinach, sun-dried tomato, and mushrooms. On another night, we had a New Yorker ($15.50), covered in meats including the meatballs and sausage, sliced thin like delicacies. This was good with a glass of Italian DAbruzzo red ($7.50) or an Italian Peroni beer ($3.75). But the scene stealer of the evening was a calzone with pork loin ($8.95) and lush ricotta, with a side of sweetish juicy tomato sauce, the epiphany of allowing the quality of ingredients to do the work. The range of toppings is confined to classical Italian, and this restraint only adds to the timelessness of the experience.
Tonys is nearly absent from the Internet, with just a blip on social media. As of this writing, you will not find the menu anywhere online. No paper menus were available for takeout, either, which can make a dining decision a challenge; often, I like to look over a menu before deciding where to eat.
And one night while picking up a primavera pizza to go ($14.50, with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and asparagus delicious),I asked if I could take a picture of the menu for future reference. Ooh thats a Tony question, said the server, surprisingly. (On service: There seem to be far too many servers on shift for the number of tables, and nowhere for them all to go when not attending to you.) She said the preference is for people to dine there, where the pizza would be at its best. I scribbled a few notes and left without my photo.
Its a decidedly take-it-or-leave-it approach in the modern world. If you ever drive by late at night and see the kitchen lights still on, that is Tony, making his case for the way things used to be.
Email Alex Kiesig: firstname.lastname@example.org