All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
He was late.
It was about an hour before lunch, and Charlie Green sat tight, waiting for Pino “Joe” Pozzuoli to show up outside Joe’s Pizza, the famous spot on Carmine Street in New York City. Green’s mind brimmed with tomato sauce and cheese, his gut having bounced back and forth between the iconic slices of New York’s pizza joints. He’d met, for example, with the pizzaiolo of the legendary Patsy’s in East Harlem. As the story goes, Frank Sinatra liked to have the food flown to him in Vegas before concerts.
While Green waited, another joint on the famous corner of Carmine and Bleecker caught his eye. A banner flew in the window announcing that it had true blue brick-oven pies from Naples. Curious, as Green tells it, maybe pizza-drunk enough to ignore what could have easily been a tourist trap, he wandered inside. There, he saw a man eating a bowl of applesauce, a surly expression etched on his face. Green asked for a pizza, and the applesauce man growled that the oven wasn’t yet hot enough.
Green waited patiently. After a few minutes, Green asked, “How hot is it now?” The man, as the Green’s tale goes, walked over to the oven grumpily, jabbed his naked arm into the roaring heat, and responded “600 degrees.” It needed to get to 1,000 degrees.
It was the Jedi pizza moment, apparently, that catalyzed Dallas’ now 11-year-old joint: The applesauce man was Salvatore Olivella.
Green’s idea wasn’t new. He’d grown up in New York, a student of the ways of good pizza, and aimed to open an NYC-studied joint in the heart of Dallas. There would be a line around the block for the real-deal slice, the one invented by Italian-American immigrants, Green thought. Maybe you’ve had the real New York city stuff, the Naples-inspired blistered tomato sauce mingling with bubbling fresh cheeses and charred, superb crust from a wood-fired oven hot as the Earth’s core.
So Olivella is the ideological grandfathers of what later became Olivella’s in Dallas.
Eleven years later, Olivella’s original location on McFarlin, adjacent to Southern Methodist University, is in a bigger space with the same crispy-thin pies. A metro margherita, layered with in-house mozzarella before the light and bright tomato sauce on a thin bark of a crust, shows up via delivery. It’s been sliced in neat rectangles. Fresh basil chars right into the pie. It tastes, as the best pizzas do, like a few emboldened ingredients that you can visualize in your mind when you're taking a bite: good tomatoes, better mozzarella and crackly, blistered crust.
The sandwiches and pasta are passable, but the pizzas are fantastic. The simplest ones are some of the most reliable, no-bullshit pies in DFW.
“We train our servers to tell customers who want to add all kinds of toppings on our pizza, 'Don’t do that,'” Green says. “Once you start putting sausage and olives and onions on it, that’s generic.”
Eventually, the restaurant grew from 900 square feet to a sizable spot with a patio. In the past few years, Green opened sequel restaurants in Victory Park and Lakewood. Soon there will be locations at Plano’s Shops at Legacy and Las Colinas’ main drag. You might even find a bone-in veal chop or two.
“I was a very successful entrepreneur and a very unsuccessful entrepreneur,” he says.
Once, Green partnered with his college buddy to make men’s boxer shorts with college logos on them. That company grew fast, then went broke. Green tried sales. He even wrote a little. Pizza in Dallas was the idea that stuck.
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Why? Green pinpoints the super-thin, crispy crust and his simple sauce and house mozzarella as keys to his success. He has fighting words for the Vera Pizza Napoletana-registered crowd. (The certification brands pizza true to Naples’ traditions.)
“I got to tell you: I like eating that pizza about once or twice,” he says. “It’s soggy. I like a crust that’s firmer — that Patsy’s style.”
Whether you believe it or not, Olivella’s continues to thrive. It also raises the question that’s going around these days: Is there such a thing as a truly authentic pizza? One thing’s for sure: If you’re looking for pineapple on your pizza, you’ll have to order from somewhere else.
Olivella's, 3406 McFarlin Blvd. (original location)