Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria is a slice of New York on the main street in San Rafael. Co-owners Mike Forter and Peter Cooperstein first met when they worked together at a local pizza restaurant in the '80's.
Forter grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley. “I ate pretty good pizza," he said, "but of course Manhattan is known for the great pizza crust made very crispy in old school wood burning ovens, which cook at very high temperatures." Moving west in 1980, he was both cook and manager at several Northern California pizza restaurants.
Cooperstein, who had attended Cornell and MIT business school, applied at a place Forter was managing.
After the stint with Forter, time passed. One day Cooperstein called, announced that he was ready to start a venture, and asked if Forter wanted to join forces. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1987, the first Amici's opened in San Mateo. “We got really busy very quickly. At the time, nobody had what we had and no one was doing the artisan types of pizza we were making with the unique toppings and thin crispy crust in our seven hundred degree ovens," Forter said. “Over the years, the menu has evolved mostly because of customer taste and also because of great ideas from the many wonderful chefs who work with us.”
Currently there are twelve locations throughout the Bay Area. Everything is made fresh at each. Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, the San Rafael pizzeria has thirteen tables.
In the Amici restaurants, the walls are decorated with prints from The Brearley Collection, rare black and white photographs of icons like sports figures and Frank Sinatra, as well as of Boston and New England landmarks.
Besides artistan style toppings, they also serve the combination pizzas everyone loves. The free delivery extends to Fairfax, San Anselmo, Corte Madera and Smith Ranch Road.
“It is unusual in this business,” said Forter, “to send out a driver with only one pizza so it doesn’t get cold or soggy but we do it all the time, making our labor cost high but our customers happy. We also do half-baked which people put in their home ovens for only two to three minutes on a pizza stone or directly onto the rack. Instructions printed on our boxes tell you exactly how to do it.”
Dubbed "the best pizza west of New York," by Ralph Barbieri of KNBR radio, two favorites on the menu are the pizza Margherita with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil and the spicy pepper chicken. The vegan version has Daiya vegan cheese and vegetables. There is also a nice selection of pastas which include fettucini alfredo and linguini puttanesca.
“We are also known for our pesto sauce with pine nuts,” Forter said, “and we serve an interesting bread salad called panzanella with artichokes. It is popular in Italy and at Amici’s we toast the bread in our pizza oven.
“In San Rafael and our other locations we have many repeat customers, and see the same faces often,"Forter said. "People get hooked on a particular pizza or dish of something else we make and keep coming back. Though we are a pizza place, we are also known for our great wine list and the kind of service you would normally find in a fancier Italian restaurant.”
Some beer and wine choices are offered, including Robert Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon “Coastal” Private Selection. Their house wines are good too - Chianti Ruffino DOCG from Italy and the California Chardonnary is Redwood Creek.
In response to reader , here is Amici’s recipe for Mustard Italian Dressing which has been on their menu since the day they opened in 1987.
Check San Rafael on Thursday for the video on how to make the spice pepper chicken pizza.
Mustard Italian Dressing
½ teaspoon crushed garlic
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar (or honey)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 ounce ice water
1 ounce balsamic vinegar
½ cup cider vinegar
1.5 cups olive oil
Place all ingredients except vinegars and oil, in order listed, in the food processor bowl. Turn on machine and add the vinegars with machine running. Pour in the oil slowly, so mixture emulsifies. Blend 15-30 seconds longer until the color becomes lighter and mixture is thick.
At Amici’s they offer the dressing on any of their salads. Because it is sweet, it would also be good as a marinade or on any Asian type of salad.