Pierino Mancini was 12 years old when he and his family boarded an ocean liner and embarked on a journey to America. During the voyage, young Pierino narrowly escaped getting washed overboard.
That was 54 years ago, and happily, Pierino (now known as Peter) grew up and had a family of his own.
His 35-year-old son, Dave, tells the story of his father’s escape from the waves as he works in the kitchen at Supino Pizzeria at Eastern Market, a restaurant he named for the town in Italy where Pierino was born.
It’s a town he visited once on a family reunion in 2001, and it inspired him to try to make pizza as good as it was there. “I was blown away,” he says of the taste of the dish made in what he describes as just a poor farming community.
Before the trip, Mancini studied physical therapy at Wayne State University, where he was dating a fellow student. In a rash moment, he told her he knew how to make pizza.
He says it took a month of trial and error, but he taught himself to make what he calls “serviceable” pizza. Mancini’s pizza is much more than merely serviceable now.
After returning from Italy, he devoted himself to finding out what made the crust so much better there.
He did a lot of reading on the subject, and after months of experimenting, he believes he figured out the delicate balance of water, flour, and yeast that makes the perfect dough, as well as the best oven. He uses a huge Marsal, which has left-to-right burners that cook the pizzas evenly, as well as a brick surface that produces crisp crust.
Mancini had been working in his field as a physical therapist when he decided to look for a space and open his own pizzeria.
Supino Pizzeria opened in August, after a complete renovation of the space at 2457 Russell St. that had housed Flat Planet Pizza. Soon after, he heard from his old girlfriend, who said she always knew he would open a restaurant.
The high-ceilinged storefront has been completely renovated, with walls painted a cheerful tomato-red and wooden tables that once were work tables at the Delphi plant in Flint. There are also clever metal wall sculptures made from reclaimed flea-market finds and other castoffs. The slightly gritty look is just right for the market setting.
Although the menu is focused on pizza, there are also good salads of mixed greens with lemon-basil dressing, housemade manicotti, and a dessert of crespelle (crêpes) with ricotta, chocolate sauce, and pistachios.
All thanks, really, to the quick hands that saved the little boy on the boat 54 years ago.
2457 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-7879. Open Tue.-Sat.