Marcos Diego Ortiz never thought he would get into the pizza game.
The owner of the self-proclaimed "Best Unknown Pizza in Tucson" comes from a rather diverse background in food service. Originally working for Costco doing prep, cooking and even presentation, he later moved on to help open the popular Wings Over Broadway as part owner. For almost a decade he worked with nothing but fryers and wings, hustling sometimes 12 hours a day, six days a week, and was beginning to get a bit burned out with not only the stress of being a restaurant owner but with the entire industry itself.
There was a little pizzeria he used to visit on the rare downtime, then called 'Erv's Pizza, to unwind, plan out the week and to enjoy a tasty New York style slice. Through time, Marcos struck up a relationship with the owner who one day admitted he wanted to sell his business as he was getting up in age and was done with the Tucson pizza race.
"And then I thought, 'that's it'," said Marcos in his place at Broadway and Swan. "I went home that night and said 'I'm good.' So I took a chance, parted ways with my old business partner, bought the pizza concept and moved it here to this location. I had no idea what I was getting into."
It is indeed a risky factor to open a pizza restaurant in Tucson right now. There is just a lot happening with all things sauced and cheesed on round dough and in the past couple of months you read about a few. Thing is, one has to make an exception with the kind of delicious product Broadway Pizza Café delivers on a regular basis.
There are devotees to certain American styles of pizza and each one claims to be the superior: The Chicago deep dish, the thick and squared Detroit method, the California puffy crust with figs or sautéed eel and then there is New York style which relies on scant amount of sauce, cheese and toppings usually found on slices the size of a child's kite.
It is the latter than Marcos has subsequently mastered.
"I knew nothing about pizza, I knew nothing about making dough. So for months I just immersed myself in the science of it all. I lived and breathed pizza ... I guess I still do when you think about it."
Somehow this Tucson native has transported the flavor of an aged Brooklyn pizzeria to the southwest. If you have ever spent any amount of time in a cramped pizza joint set up in one of the bustling boroughs, people lined up to get a slice, Marcos and the Broadway Pizza Café easily capture that essence. The flavor is impeccable. The sauce is herby without being overpowering, the mozzarella is made with a hint of buffalo milk which makes it palpable with a perfect melt and the toppings are locally sourced and used sparingly as a good east coast style should. With house creations such as the Fungus Amongus, which features a basil pesto, roasted garlic and a ton of mushrooms, or the Blanco that offers a velvety white sauce, spinach, artichokes and caramelized onions, it is the traditional toppings resting on his house made cheese, sauce and dough that recreates a stand on the upper west side that claims to be world famous for their pizza.
Marcos would be content with just local notoriety.
"We have a very good thing going here, but we are about to change some things up. For the better we think," he said.
First to go is the name. A knee-jerk reaction was to sort of title the place after his pervious venture but thinks that it doesn't really reflect what his restaurant represents.
"We're going with Wildcat Pizza," he said. "It is definitely describes who we are and what we do here. What do you think?"
Marcos is also introducing us to a new line of "east coast style with a southwest flair" pizzas. So far he has names such as The Old Pueblo, The Beardown and The Gumby's, dubbed after a group of benched, UA basketball players from the '80s. He isn't divulging (yet) as to what he is doing with them but he did hint at the upcoming San Javier pizza.
"I'm thinking a spicy enchilada sauce, my mozzarella mixed with sharp cheddar, red onions, black olives, fresh tomatoes, cilantro, avocados, and then finished with some fresh greens," he said. "Sounds good right?"
Of course it does. Everything this guy does is good. If not great.
Finally, he is revamping the small space to include a tap system which will feature select craft beers, some of which are brewed locally. So to pair with the best unknown pizza in Tucson, you can relax with a cold pint and imagine you are watching the hustle of Alphabet City as snow flurries down on Tompkins Square Park.
Except you have a view of the Foothills. And it rarely snows here.