It’s humid, dusty, and loud as hell inside of Nick Anderer’s latest shot at beaming Roman charm to the East Village. He considers three square splotches on the wall—white, gray, and a slightly darker gray—as if we’re at the Met, only with drills buzzing around us and a construction worker as our tour guide. Anderer crosses his arms and chooses white walls. This is easy stuff. Hard stuff: when the kitchen counter came in eight inches off on one side and almost two feet on another, or when Anderer’s team hit oil while excavating for plumbing, setting things back a few months. I ask him later how he hasn’t lost his shit yet. He smiles, laughs, and says, “I mean, this is fun for me.”
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As Executive Chef of two successful and highly-acclaimed restaurants in Maialino and Marta, Anderer is a culinary veteran by now. This time, he’s on the business side of the industry, readying the August debut of Martina, a fine-casual pizzeria with a paired-down, cheaper menu, as well as service at a counter instead of tableside. Martina also has a smaller space than most of Anderer’s ventures, which included stints at Gramercy Tavern and Mario Batali’s Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca. Although Anderer has never built a restaurant from scratch before, especially with such a small team, he’s betting that Martina’s location—nearby NYU’s campus, corporate offices, and residential living—and an affordable menu closer to what he’s seen in Rome will make the last year of planning worth it.
The Master of None-reminiscent origin story of Anderer has been well-documented. He grew up cooking with his Japanese-American mom, who studied Italian cuisine with a teacher from Bologna, but never pursued a career as a chef until he studied abroad in Italy as an art history student at Columbia. He fell in love with Italian culture and cuisine, and begged the first chef at Buzzy O’Keefe’s Water Club for a job when he returned to the states. For the next 15-plus years, he worked his way from an line cook at An American Place to a partner and Executive Chef at Maialino and Marta, learning under top chefs like Michael Anthony and Larry Forgione along the way. His last bit of cred in the industry? He’s close with restaurateur Danny Meyer—who studied in the same art history program as Anderer—whose Union Square Hospitality Group helped bring Maliano and Marta to life, and now Martina.
People are gonna love it or hate it, but whatever they love or hate it’s gonna be our vision.
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When I heard about Anderer’s concept for Martina, I hoped what he had in mind would be close to what I saw when I visited my Grandpa’s hometown east of Rome when I was twelve—small place, cheap food, quality ingredients, maybe a soft-serve gelato machine. With about twenty items on the menu, he nailed everything except for the Italian women (the trip was a hell of a kickoff to puberty). Aside from the basics, like a quattro formaggi pizza, there’s the capricciosa—Italian for “capricious”—for New Yorkers who can’t make up their minds, with everything from olives to fried eggs on the pie. Martina will also import meats like salame picante, its answer to pepperoni, from Tuscany for its toppings. “Everything is about careful sourcing of ingredients and making sure that whatever it is you’re putting on that pizza is the best possible version of itself it can be,” Anderer says.
With Martina, Anderer will experiment with hospitality—he wants to figure out how to toe the line between serving customers food quickly, but not making them feel like he made their meal before they walked in the door. That means snacks and drinks ready right after you order and take your buzzer. Meatballs, Martina Mista salad, seasonal vegetable dishes (starting with zucchini), potato croquettes, etcetera. For booze, Anderer wants to offer the same quality of craft wines and champagne as his recent spots. “So if somebody does want to go high-brow, low-brow and have a seven-dollar pizza with some awesome champagne they can do it without breaking the bank,” he says. Not to mention that gelato machine, serving a basic vanilla flavor that he’ll use to make desserts like affogato.
When you meet artists and businessmen as successful as Anderer—especially in a lethal culinary scene like New York’s—you expect them to at least be intense and fast-talking, and at the most an overcooked steak away from unleashing a Gordon Ramsay-esque nuclear tirade. Anderer’s mild-mannered and precise in his words, and seems like the kind of guy who would cook you a greasy late-night meal if you were a few too many beers in.
Don’t get it wrong, though—he still has the edge chefs often develop the hard way, talking about beating the guy next to him and loving the competitive edge that the restaurant industry breeds. In 1999, as a young cook at Babbo, he rallied after bombing his first night at the pasta station. “I think it was that competitive thing, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna beat this mother-effer,'” he says. “And that was the moment I was like, ‘Yeah I wanna cook and I wanna be the best at this.'”
In the age of Yelp and Twitter-bred citizen restaurant critics, Anderer knows the hurdles won’t stop coming—the first complaint, customers upset about the height of the chairs, hammered NYU kids barreling through the doors at 12 a.m. “That’s what keeps me up at night,” he says. “How are people going to receive what you’re doing?” But competitiveness has been Anderer’s M.O. since the night at Babbo. “This one, for better for worse, you’re gonna see it,” he says. “People are gonna love it or hate it, but whatever they love or hate it’s gonna be our vision. It’s something that we created from scratch.”
For more on Martina, stay tuned to @MartinaPizzeria on Instagram and MartinaPizzeria.com.