Nearly New York

Mazara Pizza and Italian Deli

2302 30th Street, South Park

“Real pizza?” says Jeremiah. “The first five years I was out here, I had it flown in from New York.”

Good Lord. Some guy in South Park is having his pizzas flown in from the South Bronx? See, that’s what pizzas do to people. Turns them into zealots. Me, I’ve found them overrated at the best of times. Bits of dough with a few gooey chunks of stuff on top.

Jeremiah’s the guy ahead of me in the order line. It’s Friday evening, around 7:00. Carla’s on a girls’ night out, so I just happened in here, looking for decent-priced belly-filler. Found this place near Rebecca’s at 30th and Juniper. Ah, Rebecca’s. Still open 24 hours on weekends, still looks like a dowdy library with milky, poster-taped windows. But I love it for its antique, unmatched furniture and the incredible scones ($2.50, or $3 for the savory ones), which they bake on the spot. Was tempted, but then I noticed the place kitty-corner across Fern, 30th (whatever, they swap names here). Said “Mazara Pizza,” and below that, “Mazara Trattoria.” It looked more like a liquor store.

I crossed over, and then I could see people dining in a side room all gussied up with chandeliers and murals of the Italian countryside and tablecloths and low lights and carpets and, heavens, there were lots of people. Reminded me of that trattoria Olympia Dukakis goes to alone in Moonstruck.

But the liquor-store part — nothing romantic there. Just neon strip-lighting, three cream-and-maroon Formica bench-tables (the seating’s fixed) and, along the left wall, seven tall refrigerated cases stacked with beer. Above the cases, a bunch of flags flying the colors of places such as Argentina, France, and Finland. Hams and cheeses hung from the ceiling. The right wall was blocked by stacks of wine. The counter was at the back, with half a dozen people in line ahead of me.

So, time to wait. The entrance to that sophisticated part you see from the street has three kitchen towels and an apron strung up over it, each displaying a map of Sicily. Right behind the counter, cooks and servers weave back and forth around each other and the pizza ovens. One guy’s dashing between the two, order book in his hand, phone to his ear, shouting welcomes to the front and orders to the cooks out back. “Hi, how’s everything. Got the family tonight? Dine in? Dine out?”

“That’s Sam,” says Jeremiah. “He makes as good a pizza as anybody around here.”

“Just around here?”

“Well, remember, I’m from New York. I used to fly half-cooked pizzas for my parties here, because there is a difference. The water back East is less mineral-loaded, which influences the flavor, the quality of the dough. That’s how serious I am about these pies. But these guys really do a good job, even though the sauces are sweeter in California.”

By now, I’m at the front of the line. Oh Lord, the menu goes on forever. But it only takes a moment to see that the part I can handle is pretty small. Pizzas start at about $11 and climb to over $30, and entrées run from $11.95 (spaghetti with meat sauce or marinara, plus house salad and garlic bread) to $18.95 (for pollo reginella — chicken breast with eggplant, tomatoes, mozzarella). Good news is, if you get an entrée, they sell you a glass of house wine at $2.99. And if you get one of the “shop special” entrées, that glass of house wine is on the house.

But no, I ain’t in that market. Not tonight. So I’m looking at sandwiches. They have 6-inch ($6.29), 8-inch ($6.99), 10-inch ($7.59), and 12-inch ($8.59). It’s pretty simple: you choose from a couple dozen fillings, things such as pastrami, tuna, Toscano salami, prosciutto, Philly cheese steak, grilled eggplant veggie, baked pepperoni and mozzarella.

For me, it’s an easy decision. The moment I see eggplant — and grilled eggplant at that — ye olde juices start running. So I order the 6-inch and go look for a beer while they make my ’wich. And, really, it’s a wonderland in that beer cabinet. Not just the usual once-were-exotics, like Steinlager from New Zealand, but a whole bunch of really strange brews, such as Allagash, a Belgian-style brewski from Portland, Maine. (Can that be $20? For a bottle of beer?) Then there’s the Bashah from Scotland, a black Belgian-style double India pale ale created by San Diego’s Stone Brewery and Scotland’s BrewDog brewery, for $8.99. That would almost buy you a straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti ($15). I end up going for a Negra Modelo, because at $3.50 it’s about the cheapest in all seven cabinets.

I take the sandwich in its plastic basket and sit down at a bench. The sandwich is all it should be: crispy outside, fresh, nice hot eggplant inside, with lots of other veggies, including green bell peppers, good, strong-tasting olives, and onions. And a hot sauce that kicks. The beer’s good...though, heck, honestly, the pleasure difference between this and a 75-cent Pabst Blue Ribbon from Vons ain’t that great.

Sam says the name Mazara comes from a town on the coast of Sicily. “Our family has been running this for 23 years. We make our own dough, not frozen stuff like the chains. Friday night, like tonight, most of the neighborhood turns up, part of the weekly ritual. This is a very stable community.”

Which reminds me. Time for that other stable outfit, Rebecca’s, and that fresh-baked scone.

The Place: Mazara Pizza and Italian Deli, 2302 30th (at Juniper), South Park 619-284-2050
Type of Food: Italian, pizza
Prices: Mozzarella, Italian sausage, and mushroom pizza, $12.95 (12-inch) to $31.45 (28-inch); spaghetti with meat sauce or marinara, plus house salad and garlic bread, $11.95; pollo reginella (chicken breast, eggplant, tomatoes, mozzarella), $18.95; sandwiches (e.g. pastrami, tuna, Toscano salami, prosciutto, Philly cheese steak, grilled eggplant veggie, baked pepperoni and mozzarella), $6.29 (6-inch); $6.99 (8-inch); $7.59 (10-inch); $8.59 (12-inch)
Hours: 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Monday –Thursday; 10:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday; 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Sunday
Bus: 2
Nearest Bus Stop: 30th and Juniper

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Mazara's is the best pizza in North Park (note to Ed Bedford: South Park starts on the south side of Juniper and runs south to the north side of A Street). We love to get their special pepperoni - really great spicy sauce and great crust. For $10.99. Yep. The best straightforward, spicy, tasty, cheesy new York-style pizza in North Park, for that price, and the people in the shop are super nice!

HonestGovernment, you have just sold me. I will have to try that pizza, possibly this next weekend. Thanks! :)

BTW, my son attended Brooklyn (now Einstein) in South Park.

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